Detail from a painting of the lost city of Indianola, Texas ~ Shannon Salyer
Courtesy Calhoun County Museum (Click image to view the complete painting)
Today, the privilege of naming a community seems reserved for real estate developers. The names they choose for subdivisions, gated communities, or urban high-rise housing — Candlewick, Pickwick Village, The Towers — function primarily as marketing tools. While the names may reflect an area’s history, or a neighborhood’s geographic location, often they do not.
In times past, residents named their own nascent communities. If contention over the choice arose among the citizenry, or if conflict developed between a town and the Postal Service, the history of the naming process could become as interesting as the history of the town itself.
Some places changed their name so often even residents could forget where they lived. In New Hampshire, the Plantation of Penney Cook became Penney Cook; then Pennacook; then Rumford; then Concord. In Arizona, Swilling’s Mill became Hellinwig Mill; then Mill City; then East Phoenix. Finally, the name we know today — Phoenix — became permanent.
Some names were obvious choices. Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Jackson rose to prominence as Americans honored men who contributed to the nation’s founding. On the other hand, Oxford, Paris, New London, and Winchester became almost as popular. It’s easy to imagine a little nostalgia in the naming process: perhaps even a longing to be as well-regarded as more historic cities. (more…)