I had no trouble finding populated places named for Captain James Cook, the legendary 18th Century explorer and navigator, along the edges of the waters he sailed. He wasn’t the only captain sailing the oceans during that period so I wondered if others had been memorialized similarly. Were there other places named "Captain X" in honor of those lesser-known mariners?
I consulted online place name databases and gazetteers of four large English-speaking nations to confirm that the phenomenon does not extend much beyond Captain Cook. There were a number of interesting exceptions which I will explore momentarily, however, those were few and far between. Let’s note a handful of caveats. I was looking specifically for inhabited places that started with "Captain." I’m sure there were plenty of sites that referenced people by surname without their corresponding title. For example the cities of Vancouver in the U.S. state of Washington and in Canada’s province of British Columbia suffer from that fate. They aren’t called "Captain Vancouver" even though both of them tie back legitimately to Captain George Vancouver.
I also discarded any obvious hits that did not refer to a specifically-identifiable human. All of those Captain’s Groves, Coves, Rocks, Islands, Hills, Knolls, Quarters and such all went into the trash.
Finally I searched databases of English-speaking countries only. It’s possible a rich legacy of other seafaring nations — Portugal and its progeny come to mind — may have spawned Captain place names too. It’s harder for me to find and query those databases because of my limited (nonexistent) foreign language abilities.
Nonetheless, and all those caveats aside, I found it hard to believe that I could find only one non-Cook populated place in the United States named for an actual captain.
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My source was the frequently-referenced U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System. It referenced Cabin John, Maryland in response to my request. This is a real place and I’ve not only heard of it, I’ve been there so I can vouch that it exists. "Cabin" in this instance is a linguistic modification of Captain, as explained by the community history:
There are several stories about the origin of the name "Cabin John"… However, in many old records, as far back as 1715, the creek is referred to as Captain John’s Run or Branch. Thus it would seem that Cabin John is a corrupt spelling of Captain John.
The name used to have much greater prominence locally because the western bridge of Washington’s famous Beltway (Interstate 495) used to be called the Cabin John Bridge. Traffic reporters would repeat the name thousands of times whenever a traffic backed-up occurred, which was a near daily event. That fame or notoriety has begun to dissipate over time after the name changed to the American Legion Bridge. This also created a bit of a litmus test: it’s easy to spot people who have resided in the Washington, DC area for a long time based upon their reference to the bridge (another test — what they call the airport further downstream along the Potomac River).
The Cabin John community continues to thrive as a populated place even though it no longer has its eponymous bridge.
The irony here is that even though this was the only populated place in the United States named for an actual captain (other than Cook), nobody really knows definitive the identity of Cabin John. He’s lost to history.
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Canada is filled with very specific captains of geography: Allan, Ball, Grant, Harry, Jack, Jesse, Jones, McPhee, Orlebar Soules, and Tom. Unfortunately, they all reference specific geographic features and none of those are populated places. I’ve decided to highlight the one I liked best: Captain Jack’s Tickle. I’m amused by the name even though I now understand the specific geographic definition of tickle in Newfoundland English.
Canada, you looked so promising with that big list of Captains. Why couldn’t one of them have been a populated place? I guess I’ll resign myself to Vancouver.
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I didn’t have much more luck in Geoscience Australia’s Gazetteer of Australian Place Names. Australia is the king of Captain Cooks and I found a bazillion things named for said Captain. The pickings got pretty slim after that. This is the entire non-Cook list:
- Captain Henry Waterhouse Reserve
- Captain Billy Mountain
- Captain Sturts Cottage
- Captain Baudin Reserve
- Captain Toby Park
- Captain Bert Madigan Park
How oddly specific. The only one that seemed like it might be a populated place (albeit a very small population) was Captain Sturts Cottage. I decided to explore. First I discovered that the possessive mark had been dropped when Australia added the cottage to its list of geographic names. The U.S. Geological Survey does the same thing so I wasn’t overly surprised or concerned. It’s actually Captain Sturt’s Cottage, and it is an historic site. Captain Charles Sturt was
one of the most important people associated with early South Australia… In 1828 he discovered the Darling River and in January 1830 the Murray River, which he followed until he reached present day Goolwa… it was his report of this journey that later influenced the decision in England to establish the Colony of South Australia.
If only they could have named it the City of Captain Sturt…
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The Gazetteer of British Place Names produced a single instance, Captain Fold.
Captain Fold appears to be a small community in Heywood, Greater Manchester. I couldn’t find much more about it other than accounts of a 19th Century mining disaster which took place fairly close to the Street View image I reproduced, above. There is also a Captain Fold Road located several miles away.
I have my doubts about the existence of a specific Captain Fold. I found some interesting references while poking through Google Books that appended an apostrophe-s (i.e., possessive) onto Captain, making it Captain’s Fold.
From there I looked a little closer at the definition of "fold." The Free Dictionary included one as "Chiefly British A hill or dale in undulating country" and another as "A fenced enclosure for domestic animals, especially sheep." Either of those seemed more likely than someone named Captain Fold running through the British countryside naming things after himself.
Captains less prestigious than Cook haven’t fared well. I found one definitely populated place albeit nobody knew the specific identity of the captain, one where the total population was a single household a century and a half ago, one probable miss and one complete miss.