Captains Less Prestigious

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.


View Larger Map

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.


View Larger Map

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.


View Larger Map

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.

Captain Sturt’s Cottage (photograph) is located in Grange, which is part of the larger City of Charles Sturt, and a suburb of Adelaide.

If only they could have named it the City of Captain Sturt…


View Larger Map

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.

9 Replies to “Captains Less Prestigious”

  1. 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.

    Switching military branches, for similar reasons Major William Deegan enjoys a far greater degree of fame (infamy?) in the New York area than one would expect for an Army Corps of Engineers officer. The Major Deegan Expressway is both a main thoroughfare and the site of near-incessant traffic jams, as any listener to radio traffic reports will know.

  2. Not quite what you’re looking for but try “Thunderbolt’s Rock” near Uralla New South Wales.
    Originally called split rock it was renamed after the notorious bushranger “Captain” Thunderbolt.

      1. Captain Thunderbolt is also remembered by “Thunderbolt Way” a road running through the region where he was active. I have travelled over some parts of it and plan to do a trip up it soon. The region still is wild bush, almost totally uninhabitated and so beautiful.
        Recently the region was used by a suspect (Malcolm Naden) to hide out from the police. Naden was on the run for almost seven years and was finally caught by a police dog.

  3. heh heh, want some fun? Try and track down all the places and monuments and roads named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. He was such a hero back in the War of 1812, everyone scrambled to name something after him.

    I’m in Erie, PA, and we’re gearing up for the 200th anniversary of Perry’s victory in Lake Erie. The irony is just how many places in *this* area are named for him that people are unaware.

    For instance, there’s a school district in Mercer County, about 60 miles south of Erie, that is called Commodore Perry School District. He never once stepped foot in the county, nor did he ever travel through or mention the place. But there it is, a school in the middle of all this farming fields with a masted ship as its logo.

    Here’s why: Mercer County, PA was a hub along the Venango Trail, which changed to the Perry Road in the early 1800’s. When the War of 1812 broke out, and Perry put out the call to the nation to help him build the fleet, all of western PA gathered up materials for this task. They used this trail/road to get all the supplies and materials up to Erie for the ships to be built. For a long time afterwards, it was the best road in Western PA between Pittsburgh and Erie. Currently, PA Rt 19 and Interstate 79 loosely follow the road….)

  4. GNUS tells us that there are 239 features in the US that contain the name captain.

    The list below (staring with Cabin John is refined to only “populated place” features:

    Cabin John 589873 Populated Place Montgomery MD 385831N 0770929W 171 Falls Church – 12-SEP-1979

    Captain 1482318 Populated Place Craig VA 372332N 0802717W 2037 Waiteville – 28-SEP-1979

    Captain Cook 358717 Populated Place Hawaii HI 192949N 1555518W 1247 Honaunau – 06-FEB-1981

    Captains Choice 1514521 Populated Place Island WA 481323N 1224022W 75 Coupeville – 01-NOV-1992

    Captains Choice 1710861 Populated Place Anne Arundel MD 390050N 0762914W 59 Gibson Island – 04-DEC-1996

    Captains Cove 1232281 Populated Place Georgetown SC 333224N 0790334W 20 Brookgreen – 01-MAY-1993

    Captains Cove 1710862 Populated Place Anne Arundel MD 390450N 0763403W 66 Round Bay – 04-DEC-1996

    Captains Cove 2507992 Populated Place Accomack VA 375924N 0752522W 13 Chincoteague West – 30-OCT-2008

    Captains Grant Mobile Home Park 216602 Populated Place Sussex DE 383610N 0751104W 7 Frankford – 01-OCT-1989

    Captains Grove 1706613 Populated Place Roanoke VA 371953N 0795728W 1112 Roanoke – 03-DEC-1996

    Captains Hill 589892 Populated Place Worcester MD 382103N 0750559W 7 Ocean City – 12-SEP-1979

    Captains Knoll 1668848 Populated Place Worcester MD 382109N 0750656W 3 Ocean City – 07-NOV-1995

    Captains Quarters 1686446 Populated Place Douglas GA 334350N 0844359W 1109 Campbellton – 30-APR-1996

    Captains Walk 1709831 Populated Place Anne Arundel MD 385806N 0763054W 43 South River – 04-DEC-1996

    1. Correct. I was searching only for places named for an actual identifiable human captain (other than Captain Cook), rather than to a generic captain. I used that same list you found and originally thought Captains Grant Mobile Home Park might be a good example, however when I found the actual site it was “Captain’s Grant” (GNIS had removed the apostrophe).

  5. I know it’s a higher rank and not a placename, but I always chuckle when seeing signs for the Admiral Fell Inn in Baltimore Harbor. Naturally I picture said admiral as having partaken a bit too much in a nearby tavern and found himself unexpectedly and unwillingly treading water in the adjacent harbor.

  6. Sorry for replying to this so late… there [i]is[/i] a populated place named for a specific captain (who isn’t Cook) elsewhere in the world. It is the village of Kapitan-Petko-Voivoda, Bulgaria.
    (Yes, Petko Voivoda was a real person. I didn’t quite get in what way he was a “captain” though; but he was, and IIRC even his Wikipedia article says so.)

    (On my search, I found a few Brazilian places named Capitao-something as well; however, I didn’t know enough Portuguese to comment on them in any meaningful way.)

Comments are closed.