Simple Town Names Reveal Much

The simplicity of town names has always been intriguing to me.  People don’t seem to take the same care in naming towns as they do their children. 

Take the name of a city in North Carolina, for example: High Point.  Basic.  Uncomplicated.  Without elaboration. A survey in my home state of Virgina of towns with the word “high” in their names yields High Hills, High Meadows, High Rock, High Woods, Highland.  The people who named these places obviously were unpretentious.

I can recall some fleeting conversation when I was a kid when I brought up the simplicity of these names to my father. In my recollection, his observation was that the original settlers were not highly educated or literate. Thus, the basic town names. This makes sense to me.

I have lived in two towns  in two different states with the same name.  They each had the family name Black in them.  Their history is easy to discern.  One of the towns honors a family who brought the railroad to the vicinity.  The other honors the family of some original settlers. 

Sometimes the names are replacements for old ones which obscure some bad history.  One of the towns  honoring the Blacks used to be called Stark’s Folly.  It seems a fellow named Stark founded the settlement in order to raise bananas there.When the climate showed itself to be unsuitable to growing them, he was laughed out of town. The other town with  Black in its name used to be called Draper’s Meadow.  It was the scene of a massacre  by Indians which wiped out the village.

Many times the new names are improvements. The original name of the city in Virginia I grew up in is Big Lick.  Although Roanoke is confused at times with the ill-fated island settlement off of North Carolina, I think it probably saves the city from being the butt of jokes on Jay Leno’s show.

The simple place names of Virginia and other states on the Eastern seaboard are a testament to our history.  After the original settlements in the 1600s, the “Great Migration” west occurred in the following century. It populated the western Appalachian Mountains with some hardy pioneers who might not have been Harvard graduates, but who had the inner stuff to build the country.


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