First Name, Surname Symmetry

On April 22, 2012 · 8 Comments

I wondered recently about towns bearing someone’s first name combined with counties bearing the same person’s surname. This interest had been sparked by learning that Gail was the county seat of Borden County, Texas. Both were named for Gail Borden, the condensed milk guy (and so much more). The only other instance of this first name – surname symmetry I’d known about was Horace in Greeley County, Kansas, and Horace wasn’t even the seat of county government.

The ever-inquisitive readers of Twelve Mile Circle discovered several more examples. I enjoyed every one of them and I recommend that readers go back to that original article and review the comments. They provide quite a compendium, and perhaps the most complete set of this obscure geo-anomaly anywhere. A couple of comments fascinated me enough to investigate them a bit further. Credit should go to the people who first brought them to my attention, with my sincere thanks and appreciation.

"John Deeth" offered Schuyler, Nebraska. It’s the seat of government in Colfax County (map).

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I would never have discovered this combination on my own because I had no conceptualization of Schuyler Colfax, or why he should ever deserve the symmetry of a town-county combo named in his honor. I could have driven through Colfax County ad infinitum — and I have driven through Colfax County — and this never would have clicked. This also demonstrates rather clearly a truism in U.S. politics. Being elected the President of the United States is a magnificent event bringing instant fame and name recognition. Being Vice President on the other hand, in the famous words of John Nance Garner (VP to Franklin D. Roosevelt for two terms), is "not worth a bucket of warm piss."

It’s hopefully a safe assumption that most 12MC viewers, including those reading from outside of the United States, have at least heard of Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Union Army during the Civil War and 18th President of the United States. Now meet the guy who served as Grant’s VP during his first term (1869-1873): Schuyler Colfax.

Schuyler Colfax portrait
Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

Schuyler Colfax isn’t exactly a household name, however he was quite accomplished during his lifetime. He rose to Speaker of the House of Representatives and then became Vice President when he was only 45 years old. There’s no telling how successful he may have become had he not been implicated in one of the many scandals of the Reconstruction era. His downfall came during the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal which involved gifts of stock to influential government officials from a construction company helping to build the transcontinental railroad. After his fall from grace, Colfax followed a well-worn path blazed by numerous failed politicians before and since: he became a lecturer and went on the speakers’ circuit, thus proving that political pundits are nothing new.

He was fortunate in a sense to have been Vice President during a period of homesteading and rapid territorial expansion. Colfax became a label applied to many locatons throughout the United States in his honor. Imagine if the same were true today. There would be a bunch of places called Quayle, Gore, Cheney and Biden actually named for the men themselves instead of simply coincidental.

Schuyler the town in Nebraska, was situated along the Transcontinental Railroad. I wonder if Schuyler the person might have begun to appreciate this delectable irony as the years passed by.

In a related tangent, "Mr. Burns" noted that the City of Ulysses is the seat of government in Grant County (map), Kansas. It’s nice to see that both sides of the Grant-Colfax ticket were favorably bestowed with similar geo-oddities. Grant is just two counties south and one east of Greeley County by the way, so this might be a nice little corner of the state to experience a couple of first name – surname combos in one swoop.

"Joe" offered McKinney, the seat of government for Collin County (map), Texas.

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I found this one remarkable for several reasons. Both locations are named for Collin McKinney who was an important figure in the Texas Revolution and in the early formation of the Republic of Texas. He was one of the principal authors of the Texas Declaration of Independence and its oldest signatory. Thus, his surname survives through the town name and his first through the county, which flips the order of precedence observed by other examples.

This might also be a first name – surname combination that contains the most residents. This rapidly-growing suburb of the larger Dallas metropolitan area recorded some of the greatest percentage population increases of the last decade. McKinney currently has about 130 thousand residents and Collin Co. about 780 thousand.

The Handbook of Texas contains a fascinating biography. One can thank Collin McKinney for all of the small, square counties in Texas. It was he who suggested their regular shape and arrangement (Wikipedia claims without attribution that he promoted areas of about 30 miles square so a rider to travel to the county seat and return in a single day, although I haven’t been able to corroborate that independently). Bottom line for all you County Counters out there who are trying to nail-down all 254 counties in Texas: you can either thank or curse Collin McKinney depending on your outlook.

As if that were not enough, Collin McKinney actually lived in the place named for him during the latter part of his life.

"Ian" postulated several combos based on U.S. Founding Fathers. I think my favorite instance was Jefferson County, Florida. It had a small unincorporated town called Thomas City although that’s not much more than a dot on a map. However the county seat is Monticello, which of course is named after Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Albemarle County, VA. Here’s where it gets even stranger: when looking at the map I discovered that it abuts a county in Georgia named Thomas. Thus, one can drive from Thomas in Georgia to Jefferson in Florida. It’s only coincidental, though. The county in Georgia was named for Jett Thomas (a War of 1812 veteran who was instrumental in the founding of the University of Georgia). I still found it amusing.

There were other honorable mentions: "Lindsay" suggested George, WA (which is one of my favorites) and "Greg" mentioned Hernando, in De Soto County, Mississippi (which I flew directly over on my last airline trip).

Thanks everyone. It was great fun!

On April 22, 2012 · 8 Comments

8 Responses to “First Name, Surname Symmetry”

  1. Lindsay says:

    Another one I recently found was DeWitt in Clinton County, Michigan.

  2. Ken says:

    I have driven through the Colfax County and both Grant County and Greeley County. I had never heard of Colfax, but while driving through both Grant and Greely Counties (on the same day) I noticed the county seat/ county name converence.

  3. Jonathan Schlesinger says:

    Thank you again for your writing! I wanted to suggest the short-lived “Joe, Montana” as another possible honorable mention. To read about the town of Ismay, MT–which briefly changed its name to Joe as a publicity stunt– you should check out “Bad Land: An American Romance” by Jonathan Raban. “Bad Land” is a terrific book for anyone interested in learning about the populating and depopulating of the Northern Great Plains.

  4. Reid says:

    I wondered if you had a rule against reverse listings, or were just unaware of Millard, Fillmore, Utah? The reverse is that the county is Millard, and the county seat is Fillmore, so that it doesn’t necessarily “look” right when stated in the usual city, county, state order.

    A slightly greater stretch involves the names Jasper and Newton. There are pairs of counties (Indiana and Texas, for starters) which are adjacent and named for these two Revolutionary War soldiers. And in Illinois and Iowa, Jasper counties have Newton towns within them.

    Thought you might like to know.

  5. Dennis McClendon says:

    Hernando, county seat of DeSoto County, Mississippi.

  6. Mike Lowe says:

    I dredge up this post with good reason. In a fun way, I curse Collin McKinney. It’s taken me since 2007 (none added in 2011) to actively and finally bag all 254 Texas counties. It took several trips and I _live_ in Texas. The last four had to wait for this year. They are just north of Abilene and they are very empty.

    I finally got Kent county earlier this month. I bagged the last county in New Mexico the same day. NM was _lots_ easier.

    For those interested, my county map is here:

    My page on Mob Rule is here:

    I’m already thinking of the Midwestern counties I’ll get when I visit Chicago next year. I’m also trying to win a trip back to Hawaii next year. I’m at 835 counties and counting. Few of my trips visit the county-dense northeastern USA.

    • Congratulations Mike! I know how you feel (almost) — my home, the Commonwealth of Virginia has 95 counties plus 38 independent cities that are considered county-equivalents. I still have 12 left and they are clustered in the most distant corner of the state from me. I’m hoping to knock them off sometime in the next few months and my initial planning implies that it will take THREE FULL DAYS, which is hardly an efficient return on investment although we county-counters gotta do what we gotta do.

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