It couldn’t possibly be true, a place named for Dwayne Johnson a.k.a "The Rock", the professional wrestler and actor?
This guy had more than 7 million Twitter followers and he followed only one person, Muhammad Ali. That would indicate someone of immense popularity, and yet, could that be enough to get an entire town named for him?
The Rock, Georgia, USA
No, of course not. The Rock in Georgia was not named for Dwayne Johnson and I never figured that was a realistic possibility. I was simply amused by the weird juxtaposition of a professional wrestler and a populated place with the same name. Johnson didn’t have any association with the state or for the town as far as I could determine. Nonetheless I never considered that The Rock — the town — had anything to do with the Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant chain either. However it did, as improbable as that sounded.
The Rock in Georgia was named for The Rock Ranch, and:
The Rock Ranch is a beautiful 1,500 acre cattle ranch located about an hour south of Atlanta in Upson County. It’s a place where families, school groups and even businesses can come to enjoy what we call "agritourism." The Rock Ranch is owned by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and dedicated to "Growing Healthy Families"!
S. Truett Cathy and kin are no strangers to controversy. There’s no doubt that The Rock Ranch would have a strong opinion on those Healthy Families that it was dedicated to Growing, regardless of where one’s own personal feelings fell on that spectrum.
Bequia by Globalgrasshopr, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
My tangential thought process led me to consider other placenames beginning with the definite article. It had to be unusual, I considered, and then I realized it may not have been all that rare even if it wasn’t the norm. A simple visit to the US Department of State’s A-Z List of Country and Other Areas demonstrated that quickly at a national level.
- THE Bahamas
- THE Congo (Republic of, and Democratic Republic of)
- THE Gambia
- Saint Vincent and THE Grenadines
The rule of thumb seemed to center upon entities named for something like a river or a group of islands. Those increased the likelihood of having the definite article tacked onto them. The Grenadines portion of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines fascinated me, I guess because Saint Vincent and the Grenadines included only a portion of the Grenadines. The largest island of the Grenadines, Carriacou, was actually a dependency of Grenada. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines had to settle for the second largest island, Bequia. Perhaps the name should be changed to Saint Vincent and Some of the Grenadines? It seemed like false advertising.
While not explicitly stated in the US Department of State list in this form, one often encounters THE Netherlands and THE Philippines too. I suppose while I’m at it I could add THE United States and THE United Kingdom. There used to be THE Ukraine although that began to shift to Ukraine by iteself after becoming an independent state in 1991.
Nonetheless I think the only two nations where the definite article would always be capitalized would be The Bahamas and The Gambia (vs. the United States and the United Kingdom, where lowercase would be acceptable in many circumstances). It all gets so confusing.
In the United Kingdom
I looked for instances of THE attached to placenames in many areas and found no nation with a greater prevalence than the United Kingdom. There must be hundreds of them. Some where quite remarkable such as The Burf, The Folly, The Glack, The Mumbles, and The Shoe. The best of course were the several places named The Butts because 12MC couldn’t resist another opportunity for lowbrow humor. This would be an appropriate time to turn on the video of Da Butt for some inspiration.
Many British placenames that sounded odd to the rest of us were rooted in things that made complete sense in their original context. English Heritage provided a logical explanation for The Butts:
An archery butts is an area of land given over to archery practise in which one or more artificially constructed mounds of earth and stone were used as a target area. The name originally applied to the dead marks or targets themselves but the earthen platforms on which the targets were placed also became known as butts… Archery butts can be recognised as field monuments through their earthwork mounds but documentary sources allow the best identification of archery butts, usually through place-names eg. Butt Hills… Archery butts are associated with the use and practise of the longbow which was in part responsible for England’s military power throughout the medieval period.
Thus, many of The Butts derived from archery fields although some did not: "The Middle English word ‘butt’ referred to an abutting strip of land, and is often associated with medieval field systems." In Britain, The Butts could have been associated with archery or with an odd leftover land remnant.
The Gazetteer of British Place listed two specific location of The Butts, one in Glamorgan, South Wales (map) and the other in Hampshire, England (map), although other sources listed more.
I noticed something interesting next to The Butts in Hampshire, Jane Austen’s House Museum. Jane Austen (1775–1817) resided here during the latter part of her life, where she wrote the novels Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. She may have also revised drafts of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey here as well. Thus it could be said that the famous author gazed upon The Butts regularly.
I’ve certainly noticed Florida’s northeastern bump above Jacksonville, and then the Georgia dip just to the west, both of which contrast with their generally straight remaining border. Sure, we’ve all seen it before and taken note of it. The meandering border through that segment followed the St. Marys River that rose from the depths of the Okefenokee Swamp and flowed to the sea.
Florida-Georgia Border, St. Marys River
I didn’t know about all of the other St. Marys Rivers in North America. Most strikingly they had very little in common with each other besides their shared name including a lack of an apostrophe, as consciously removed by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and the Geographical Names Board of Canada.
These differences may be appreciated best photographically.
Florida / Georgia
Inhabitant of the Salt Marsh by Jon Dawson, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
Some sources claimed that the name of the river along the Florida-Georgia border derived from Spanish control of the territory, and their nearby mission, Santa María de Guadalupe. Others associated the river with an Irish St. Mary. Evidence seemed lacking for either assertion. More fascinating was its Native American name, Thlathlothlaguphka, or "Rotten Fish." I wasn’t completely comfortable with that particular etymology either, in fact I’m pretty sure it was bogus, however it amused me so we’ll go with it.
Ontario, Canada / Michigan, USA
Katmai Bay breaks ice in St. Marys River by Coast Guard News, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Far to the north and in a much colder climate (map), the St. Marys River allowed water to flow from Lake Superior into Lake Huron, forming a natural border between Canada and the United States. French explorers first traveled up to its rapids, thus explaining the shared names of two cross-boarder cities, Sault Ste. Marie, after the river’s French name rivière Sainte-Marie.
Some of the earliest explorers included Jesuit missionaries such as Isaac Jogues who arrived at the rapids in 1641. Explorations by men seeking to spread their faith as much as open new lands left an impression on the geographic names that were bestowed during those early years. St. Isaac Jogues was later killed by Mohawks Indians in New York and was canonized in 1930, one of the eight North American Martyrs.
Maryland Dove by Alyson Hurt, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
Right around the same time that Isaac Jogues explored the Great Lakes, another group focused on the mid-Atlantic coastline. Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, arranged for two ships — the Ark and the Dove — and about three hundred settlers to depart from England for Maryland. The colonists arrived in 1634 and established St. Mary’s at the mouth of a river they gave the same name (map). The Maryland colony was established as a tolerant home for Roman Catholics and the initial settlement was named for Mary the Blessed Virgin.
A replica ship, the Maryland Dove, serves as a floating museum on the St. Marys River adjacent to St. Marys City.
Thus the derivation of the first three St. Marys discussed were related to three separate European nations: Spain (maybe), France and England.
Indiana / Ohio
The "Old" Wells Street Bridge by Samuraijohnny, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
I couldn’t find anything about the early history of the St. Marys River in Ohio and Indiana. The St. Marys and the St. Joseph joined in Ft. Wayne, Indiana to form the Maumee (map). I had better luck with Maumee. It appeared to be an anglicized name for a group of Native Americans known as the Myaamiaki. Readers are probably more familiar with another word that derived from the same tribe of Algonquian peoples, Miami.
I discovered additional St. Mary(s) Rivers including one in Virginia, one in Nova Scotia and one in British Columbia. The US Geographic Names Information System also listed a variety of St. Marys branches, runs, creeks and even a ditch.
My favorite might have been St. Mary’s Sugar Brook (map), in St. Mary’s-The Capes, Newfoundland and Labrador (yes, with an apostrophe). That was quite a name. It sounded poetic. It drained from a nearby hill, St. Mary’s Sugarloaf, allegedly the "428th highest mountain in Newfoundland and Labrador" at 242 metres / 793 feet.
Almost exactly a year ago, 12MC published Jeff Davis, a treatise on the use of the Confederate leader’s full name as a geographic identifier at the county level of government. Davis County wasn’t a good enough name for some of those deeply-Southern states, it had to be Jeff Davis or the more formal Jefferson Davis, to make sure everyone clearly understood the defiant reference. I intended to list other full-name (first name + surname) county combinations later and then it slipped my mind as the months passed.
Let’s begin with basic ground rules and caveats. I searched for first and last names only. I’m sure Pocahontas (Iowa, West Virginia) the great Powhatan Indian chiefs’ daughter had only one single name and technically might qualify as a "full name county" However in my own defense I also discounted royalty (sorry Prince William) and religion (ditto St. Louis) so hopefully I won’t be criticized too harshly as unduly Eurocentric.
I’ll highlight some of my favorites and list the rest.
Governor Wade Hampton by Wofford Archives on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) License.
Wade Hampton III served as a cavalry officer in the Confederate Army, and later as the governor of South Carolina and then a United States Senator. That would seem like an unlikely choice to inspire the name of a remote, frozen corner of western Alaska on the Bering Sea (map). Fewer than 10,000 people live in Wade Hampton. Its principal town, Hooper Bay (or Naparyarmiut in Yup’ik), barely registered as more than a small cluster of homes.
What did a South Carolina soldier and politician have to do with Alaska? Absolutely nothing, well, except for one tiny tenuous thread. His daughter Mary Singleton Hampton married John Randolph Tucker, a well-connected politician, and a real Virginia gentleman who descended from one of the Commonwealths most established families. President Woodrow Wilson, another Virginia native, appointed Tucker to the bench of Alaska Territory’s United States Court Division 2 in 1913.
After arriving in Nome some of his first few official acts dealt with the large St. Michael mining district south of Nome. He divided the district in half. The new recording precinct was named for his wife’s father, Wade Hampton… Judge Tucker served exactly four years on the bench at Nome but his father-in-law’s name has lasted to present day…
More properly the place is known as the Wade Hampton Census Area of Alaska’s Unorganized Borough so some might scoff at including it on the list. I liked the story so it remained.
Ima Hogg by Kent Wang on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
The Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas included a lengthy article on Jim Hogg County "in the Rio Grande Plain region of South Texas." (map) as well as an extensive biography of the man himself. James Stephen Hogg became the first governor of Texas who was actually born in Texas.
Jim Hogg is probably better know for what he did to his daughter. He named her Ima, as in Ima Hogg ("I’m a Hog" for those in the 12MC audience for whom English is a foreign language). Essentially he bestowed upon his daughter a name that declared that she was a pig. Sources differed as to whether he fully realized the implications at the time or not. The handbook said,
According to family history, Ima was named for the heroine of a Civil War poem written by her uncle Thomas Elisha. Her name became a part of Texas folklore, along with the myth of a fictitious sister supposedly named Ura. Ima Hogg was affectionately known as Miss Ima for most of her long life. She was eight years old when her father was elected governor…
Her unusual name certainly never hampered her success. Ima Hogg became a philanthropist, a patron of the arts, a master gardener and a force for historic preservation in Texas and beyond. Many referred to her as "The First Lady of Texas."
Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Ben Hill County (map) in Georgia was named for Benny Hill? Sadly, it wasn’t. This Ben Hill was Benjamin Harvey Hill, a 19th Century politician who "actively opposed disunion until the secession ordinance" and then served in the Confederate Congress. After the war he served in the US House of Representatives and Senate. I’m beginning to detect a pattern with all of these old Confederates and their full name counties.
I don’t have anything more to add except that — thanks to the Benny Hill reference — I have Yakety Sax stuck in my head.
There. Now you can suffer too.
And the Rest
- Anne Arundel County, Maryland (map): Anne Arundell (with two l’s unlike the county named for her) was wife of Lord Baltimore, founder of the Maryland colony. She was also the only woman I found on the Full Name Counties list. (source)
- Charles Mix County, South Dakota (map): Probably named for a Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (source)
- Deaf Smith County, Texas (map): Erastus "Deaf" Smith was a hero of the Texas Revolution. (source)
- Jim Wells County, Texas (map): James Babbage Wells, Jr., was a judge in south Texas and a Democratic party boss (source)
- Jo Daviess County, Illinois (map): All of the counties named for Joseph Hamilton Daveiss spell his name incorrectly; only one included both his first and last name though. He commanded the Indiana Dragoons at the Battle of Tippecanoe, where he died. People who died in battle often got more counties named for them than those who survived (unless they subsequently went on to become President or something, like Jackson and Grant). (source)
- Kit Carson County, Colorado (map): Christopher "Kit" Carson was a mountain man who gained renown as a guide for the Fremont expeditions and later as a frontier soldier; his highly fictionalized exploits were mainstays of numerous 19th Century dime novels. (source)
- Roger Mills County, Oklahoma (map): Roger Quarles Mills was another one of the former Confederate officers that later served in the US House of Representatives and Senate. (source)
- Tom Green County, Texas (map): 12MC already featured this place in an earlier article.
I can’t guarantee I found every example although this list should be pretty close. I examined the full set of US counties manually, and that’s 3,142 at the moment I think, so I could have missed one or two.