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Although the subject is not an important one, yet, in a literary point of view, and as a matter of curiosity, the investigation of the names of American towns may not be entirely destitute of interest.
In New-England, the names of towns and counties are chiefly borrowed from Great Britain. It would seem that the puritan fathers were desirous of preserving some memento of the country from which religions persecution drove them, to seek an asylum among the wilds of America. Where there had been native settlements, the Indian names were for a while retained. Such was the case with Salem, Boston, and Providence. But the determination of the colonists was to eradicate every thing that perpetuated the native tribes, and the ancient names of Naumkeag, Shawmut, and Mooshasuck, gave place to those above-mentioned. Towns which received their names previous to the revolution, borrowed them from well known places in England. Those named after, were from the heroes and patriots who made themselves conspicuous during that contest.
Worcester, Leicester, Gloucester, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Bristol, Warwick, Somerset, Cambridge, Chelsea, Newport, Northampton, etc., are of the former class, and among the latter, are Hancock, Adams, Warren, Greene, Washington, Franklin, etc. It was quite a fashion, in those primitive days, to prefix the word new to many of their towns, and although they have attained the age of two centuries, they still retain it. New-York will probably retain her name until she is as old as London is now, or perhaps until she has shared the fate of Rome and Carthage.
The names would do very well, did not every state in the Union resorto the same vocabulary; and in many instances several counties in the same state have selected the same name. This is not only bad taste, but it causes much perplexity, and obliges one to designate the particular county as well as state, in which the town is located. The state of Maine includes among her towns many named after the European states and cities, both ancient and modern. The names of the patriots of the revolution, Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Jefferson, Lee, Montgomery, Hamilton, and Adams, have been given to counties and towns in all of the New-England states. There is a Washington in each of them, and a Franklin in all, save one.
The great state of New York or the 'Empire State,' as it is called seems to have ransacked the globe for appellations for her numerous towns. Every kingdom and empire has contributed its part. From the ancient kingdoms and states, she has borrowed Greece, Athens, Sparta, Troy, Jerusalem, Palmyra, Tyre, Utica, Corinth, Carthage, and Rome : Marathon and Macedon, also, have places among her towns. From the modern states, she has taken her Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Holland, Sardinia, Italy, Wales, China, Delhi, Peru, Chili, Mexico, etc., together with the following capitals : Stockholm, Petersburg, Copenhagen, Dresden, Berlin, Wilna, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Paris, Naples, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Madrid, Milan, Amsterdam, Turin, Geneva, Vienna, Florence, Antwerp, Warsaw, Batavia, Canton, Cairo, Lima, etc. Well may she be called the • Empire State,' when the greatest kingdoms and empires, as well as their capitals, have places within her boundaries ! Not content with these, she has transplanted the names of their heroes, philosophers, law-givers and poets to her towns, and occasionally thrown in an Indian, French, and English name among them. The ancient names are, Homer, Hector, Lysander, Marcellus, Solon, Horace, Pompey, Brutus, Cato, Scipio, Hannibal, Romulus, Tully, Camillus, Manlius, Cincinnatus, Cicero, Seneca, Plato, Milo, Virgil, Fabius, Euclid, and Ovid! In scriptural names, she has an Eden, a Bethany, a Bethlehem, a Jericho, a Canaan, a Lebanon, a Hebron, and a Goshen!
Diana alone represents the ancient mythology – from which circumstance, one would suppose it to be meant for the Ephesian goddess of nature, denoting the nutritive power of the soil, as well as the mother of nations. The great men of England have contributed their part, and are as well represented as the learned of olden times. Scott, Byron, Milton, Dryden, Hume, and the unknown Junius, are each the appellations of her towns. All the revolutionary heroes, all the eminent statesmen, all the celebrated geniuses, and all the large land-speculators, have, with their names, added a link to the heterogeneous and conglomerated mass of counties, towns, and villages, which constitute the state of New York.
The cities and towns in the middle and southern states are generally named from European places, or from the surnames of individuals, with the words, town, field, boro', ville, etc., affixed to them. The names of distinguished Americans are common, as they should be, to all the states.
There is a county or town of Washington in every state and territory of the Union, except Delaware ; and in the majority of them, there is both a county and a town of this name. The name of Franklin occurs twenty-one times, exclusive of numerous Franklinvilles, and Franklintons. Jefferson, Madison, and Munroe, including a few with the termination of ville, and ton, each occur from fifteen to twenty times. Adams nearly as many. Jackson, with the terminations, thirty-six times. Hancock and Montgomery are about as frequent as Adams. Distinguished generals appear to have the preference over philosophers and statesmen, in having their names given to towns. Twenty-five towns, some of which are places of considerable importance, bear the appellation of Warren; nineteen that of Fayette and Fayetteville ; and the residence of the latter general, • La Grange,' has been given to ten more. Stcuben, De Kalb, Pulaski, Knox, Lee, Macon, Jay, Pinckney, and Livingston, have their places. Columbia is found in sixteen different states, exclusive of ten Columbus's and as many Columbiana's and Columbiaville's. Fredonia, Freedom, Freeholă, Freeman, Freeport, Freetown, and other names commencing with Free, occur twenty-two times.
Milton, England's favorite bard, has not been sufficiently immortalized by the country that gave him birth. Sixteen towns in the United States feel pride in bearing his name.
The capitals and principal cities of foreign countries seem to have been favorite names with the founders, or the persons by whom our towns were christened. Athens, with which so many interesting events are associated, occurs eleven times ; Berlin, eight; Canton, eleven ; Dover, ten; Dublin, six ; Paris, nine ; Troy, eleven, and Salem, sixteen times.
The name of Union, including its terminations, is found to occur thirty-nine times; but as these notes were made a year ago, since when the mania for building towns and cities in the West has raged to an alarming extent, it would not be unreasonable to add some half dozen more Unions to the list. As it is, several states must contain two towns of the same name.
Liberty, so closely connected with Union, appears not to have been as attractive as the latter, ten towns only bearing the name, and Independence still less so, as it occurs but six times.
The name of the brave and lamented Perry has not been forgotten; nor would it be, if alone confined to him. Twenty-one towns now bear his name. Clinton is deservedly another favorite with his countrymen. His great work in the state of New-York has immortalized his name.
Fourteen towns of the name are known in the country. Centreville is found seventeen times; Springfield, sixteen; Richmond, sixteen; Brownsville, fourteen; Fairfield, fourteen; Concord, twelve; Manchester, sixteen; Kingston, twelve ; Middleborough, Middlebrook, Middlebury, Middlefield, Middleford, Middleport, Middleser, Middletown, Middleville, and Middleway, collectively, occur fifty times.
Native animals have contributed their part in furnishing appellations for our towns, as Elkhill, Elkhart, Elkhorn, Elkland, Elklick, Elkmarsh, Elkridge, Elkrun, Elkcreek, Elkgrove, Elkton, and Elkville. Twenty-three places have names derived from Buck, nine Buffaloes, six Bulls, ten Beavers, including those with dam, kill, creek, valley, etc., affixed : Raccoon, Wolf, Swan, Sunfish, Eagle, Doe-Run, Crab-Run, Butterfly, and other choice selections from animated nature, may be found.
Our noble forest trees have generously lent their names, and constitute no inconsiderable part of the innumerable array we have attempted to describe. The oak, in particular, is prolific with its appendages, occurring thirty-six times, in the following names : Oakdale, Oakhill, Oakgrore, Oakham, Oakfiat, Oakfield, Oakland, Oakorchard, and Oakville. There are also places named after the Cedar, Chestnut, Hickory, Locust, Maple, Mulberry, Cherry, Pine, Hazle, Poplar, Elm, Laurel, Butternut, Sycamore, Walnut, and Willow trees, with and without terminations.
The name of Greene has contributed largely in furnishing appellations for our towns, both singly and with its numerous terminations. It occurs no less than eighty-five times, in Greenfield, Greenford, Greenhill, Greenville, Grecnock, Greenbush, Greenport, Greenriver, Greenboro', Greenbury, Greenfork, Greenstone, Greenvalley, Greenwich, Greenwood, Greenmont, Greenland, Greenbay, and Greenbank.
The name of Smith, as in Smithfield, Smithford, Smithdale, and with similar terminations to the name previously mentioned, occurs twenty-six times. Sandwich, Sandhill, Sandplains, Sandbluff, and names commencing with sand, are found forty times. Pleasant, with Pleasant Valley, hill, mount, ridge, plain, vale, view, and ville, occurs forty-three times. Williams, with its terminations, thirty-five times. Fairhaven, Fairplay, Fairport, Fairtoun, Fairview, Fairgrore, Fairmont, eighteen times. Brown, with the common terminations, thirty-nine times. Wood, with the usual terminations of
land, lawn, bury, etc., and the unusual names of Woodpecker and Woodcock, forty-four times. Belleville, Bellefonte, Belleview, etc., twentyeight times. White, with the terminations of creek, deer, field, hall, haven, lake, house, land, ville, town, river, and White Horse, White Eyes, White Pigeon, White Post, etc., occurs fifty times. Bloomingdale, Bloomfield, and words beginning with Bloom, twenty-two times. Clarksville, Clarksboro', Clarkson, twenty-nine times.
Towns and villages situated on hills or mountains are frequently named after celebrated mountains, but this class of names are equally used to designate places situated on plains. They seem to have been favorite names with those whose privilege it was to apply them. One hundred and twenty-six towns are found in the United States with names commencing with Mount. Mount Vernon occurs sixteen times. As specimens of others, may be selected Mount Zion, Mount Pleasant, Mount Olympus, Mount Hope, Mount Jackson, Mount Washington, Tabor, Pizgah, Carmel, Gilead, Horeb, Lebanon, Israel, etc.
The most prolific source, however, of American names, is that of old and foreign names, prefixed by the word New — as New-Lordon and New-York. Of towns with this class of names,
there are two hundred and fifty-seven. The following are examples of them : Newark, Newport, Newton, Newcastle, Newcomb, Newbury, Newburg, New-Haven : also, New Egypt, New Paris, New Troy, New Jerusalem, New Sweden, New Britain, New Canaan, etc. The latter few which are but specimens of about two hundred certainly in very bad taste, and exhibit a want of information on the part of those by whom they were named.
The attempt to Grecianize modern names, has not been attended with success, and is the most ridiculous method yet resorted to. Jackson-opolis, Perry-opolis, and a few others, are all that exist.
There is another variety of names which, for their cii. qularity, should not be omitted in this list. Many may doubt their existence : all we know is, that there are places of these names, and that they are of sufficient importance to contain a Post Office. The same remark will apply to every place here mentioned. To designate the states where the following towns or villages are situated, would be useless; it is sufficient to say that they may be found. They are : Horse-shoe, Split-Rock, Horse-head, Hat, Long-a-coming, One-Leg, Painted Post, Spread-Eagle, Thoroughfare, Traveler's-Rest, Wild. Cat, English Neighbor, Good Intent, Good-Luck, White-Horse, HalfMoon, Temperance, Economy, Harmony, Industry, Trinity, and Unity.
The most singular thing connected with the subject, is, that our country itself is destitute of a name, and our countrymen cannot assume to themselves the distinctive appellation which the natives of all other countries in the world are enabled to. Our country is called the United States but there are the United States of Mexico, the South American States, and, in Europe, the German and Italian States. All of these, save the former, have a name
for we can say Mexico, Columbia, Guatemala, Germany, Italy, etc.; but by what name shall we call the United States of North America ? What its natives? It is true, they are generally called Americans, but this is coming no nearer the mark, than to call an Irishman a Eu
ropean : for persons born in Canada, Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, or Peru, are equally entitled to the name of American in addition to which, they have a distinctive appellation, which designates the country of their birth.
Natives of this country, when in foreign parts, are only known as Americans, or natives of the United States of North America. It is true they are sometimes called Yankees, but this is a nickname, which only belongs to the people of New-England - a name given them by the aborigines. A few of the states are so named that their inhabitants may be designated -as a Virginian, a Vermonter, a Kentuckian, etc. Others it would be extremely difficult so to classify; but nicknames have been invented as a substitute. For instance, natives of New England are called Yankees, those of Ohio, Buckeyes, etc.
In addition to the several varieties of names mentioned, there is another class which is deserving of notice. It originated from an intermixture between the French and Indian, and subsequently becoming Anglicized, is very difficult to analyze. In the northwestern parts of our country, and on the northern frontier, where colonies were first planted by the French, these names are found. They spelt the Indian names according to the value of their own alphabet, and to accord with their pronunciation, which did very well while they employed them; but when the Americans used the French words, with an English pronunciation, the Indian names were of course metamorphosed into words which neither people would acknowledge as belonging to their language.
In this class of names, may be included those of Dutch origin in the states of New-York and New-Jersey. Many, it is true, retain their original pronunciation ; but to these we do not refer. Our remarks only apply to those which, from their similarity to English names, have become so by use.
Indian names, so frequently referred to in these remarks, we have purposely avoided mentioning, as they compose a class which requires a close analysis, and which is of sufficient importance to form the subject of another paper.
There is a bud in life's dark wilderness,