Saturday, August 22, 2009

Article #68 Name That Place

Do you know how your community got its name? It probably happened long before you were even born or lived in the area. Early settlers were quick to name their settlements. Sometimes new towns were called after places where they had just moved from, maybe to avoid homesickness? While living in New Harmony, Utah, we discovered it was named after Harmony, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of an early settler in our town. Many New England colonial towns were named after English villages that British immigrants left behind when they settled in America: New York, New Haven, Plymouth, etc. (Many of my ancestors sailed to America from Liverpool, England.)

Imagine the task of naming every lake, river, mountain, and canyon in a new area. (Photo of rock house built by my ancestor Francis Vernon who lived in Rockport, Utah after immigrating from England.) Many times Indian names or local early settlers’ surnames were used or an event that happened nearby. Some Indian chiefs had towns identified in their honor like Santaquin and Kanosh. Most states including Utah have mining towns called Silver City or Eureka. Early Spanish explorers here influenced the naming of the Spanish Fork area. They called the Ute Indians Yuta which later became our state’s official name.

The development of Utah counties is interesting. (Photo of Oscar Wilkins family store on the left and their house on the right in Peoa, Summit County, Utah. ) Wasatch county was named for a Ute word meaning mountain pass. Washington, Garfield and Millard (Fillmore) counties were all named after U.S. presidents. Other counties were named for famous people include Sanpete-Ute Indian leader San Pitch, and Davis for Charles C. Davis-a captain in the Mormon Battalion. Rich county was called after Charles C. Rich-an early Mormon apostle, Daggett for Ellsworth Daggett-an U.S. surveyor, Duschesne for a famous French explorer, Emery for George W. Emery-an early governor of Utah, Morgan for Jedediah Morgan Grant-an early Mormon leader, and Kane for Thomas Kane-a good friend of the Mormons.

Several counties were named after natural features: Beaver, Box Elder, Carbon, Iron, Salt Lake, and Summit. Juab was aptly identified by the Ute word for thirsty valley, Uintah, and Piute for Indian tribes. The counties of Grand, San Juan, Sevier, and Weber were named after rivers of the same name. Geographical features such as Alpine, Pleasant Valley, Willow Creek, Rock Creek, Green Valley, Glenwood, Milford, Moose Lake, and Dry Creek influenced their naming. Prominent citizens were often honored by having a street designated in their honor. We have a Brigham road named after Brigham Young (photo on right.) Ever wonder how St. George was named? Some say it was in honor of Mormon apostle George A. Smith.


  1. Maine has many interesting place names, many of them Indian, of course. Also we have many place names that come from places in Great Britain, such as Bath. Place names are fascinating.

  2. I always notice names of places, and want to know how they got them; even right down to streets in cities. My current town has a lot going for it, but its street names are totally boring!

  3. We too have names with some history attached to it..Guwahati means Guwa...beetlenut while hati means was a very big flourishing market for trading beetlenuts....

  4. Many names here are straight off of a map of England. The New England states share many English town names. I like the names out West that tell me about the place.

    Just figures, too, that New Harmony traces its name to Pennsylvania.

  5. You can tell the older parts of Hawaii because they'll have English street names. The newer places have Hawaiian names. I believe there was a law passed or something that henceforth all street names would be Hawaiian.

  6. People are still arguing about how Buffalo got its name...Many other words are Native American in origin.. New York was named after a duke I think...Michelle