What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

Story by Jane Beathard

If it’s an Ohio county, city or hamlet, chances are the name has something to do with history, location, Indian heritage — or a hero of those early wars between the U.S. and England.

Considering that Ohio was mapped and settled between the late 1700s and mid-1800s, most places are named for the people and events of that time. Obvious examples are Hamilton County, named for Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Treasury Secretary; Madison County, named for President James Madison; Adams County, named for President John Adams; Henry County, named for Patrick Henry and Washington County, named for President George Washington.

Less obvious are counties named after lesser-known Revolutionary War heroes like Nathaniel Greene (Greene County); Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette (Fayette County) and Col. William Darke (Darke County).

Maj. Gen. Greene commanded American forces in the South during the war. Gen. De Lafayette, an American sympathizer, led troops during the siege of Yorktown. Col. Darke led the retreat from Fort Recovery in 1791. His namesake is the only Darke County in the U.S.

Another 1791 fatality, Gen. Richard Butler, killed in Gen. Arthur Clark’s defeat by Indians, is remembered in Butler County.

Gen. Joseph Warren died in 1775 at the Battle of Bunker Hill, but his memory sparked the name of Warren County. That same year, Gen. Richard Montgomery died in the American assault on Quebec. His name lives on in Montgomery County.

Gen. Jacob Brown defeated the British at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane during the War of 1812. But he’s best remembered as the namesake of Brown County. Holmes County is named for another hero of that conflict, Maj. Andrew Holmes.

Other counties named for Revolutionary War heroes include Morgan (Gen. Daniel Morgan), Paulding (John Paulding), Preble (Capt. Edward Preble), Putnam (Gen. Israel Putnam), Stark (Gen. John Stark), Van Wert (Isaac Van Wart — county name misspelled), Hardin (Gen. John Hardin), Mercer (Gen. Hugh Mercer), Williams (David Williams) and Knox (Henry Knox).

Lucas County gets its name from Ohio Gov. Robert Lucas who declared a lesser-known (but some would say longer-lasting) war against Michigan in 1835 over location of the state line. “Battles” between the two adversaries continue today — mostly on the gridiron.

Names associated with counties and towns in the northeast part of Ohio are likely to have a New England flair since that area (known as the Western Reserve) was first occupied by settlers from Connecticut and surrounding states. In fact, Trumbull County is named for Jonathan Trumbull, an early Connecticut governor.

In 1792, Connecticut gave a half-million acres of what is now Huron and Erie counties to its residents that were burned out by British sympathizers during the Revolutionary War. Not surprising, 1,870 former Connecticut folks moved there — earning it the nickname of “The Firelands.”

For reasons that remain unclear, many towns and villages in Mahoning and Trumbull counties are “corners.” Examples are Perkins’ Corners and Toot’s Corners in Mahoning County and Payne’s Corners in Trumbull County.

Just as northeast Ohio was influenced by easterners, southwest Ohio has a southern flavor since much of that region was settled by Virginians.

In 1784, men from Virginia who had fought in the Revolutionary War were paid for their service with land grants in a part of the Northwest Territory that lay between the Scioto River on the north and east, the Little Miami River on the west and the Ohio River on the south. This area became known as the Virginia Military Survey. Many of these former soldiers pulled up stakes and moved to the region. Most property deeds in that part of the state still carry the designation “VMS.”

Lynchburg in Highland County and Williamsburg in Clermont County are evidence of the Virginia influence.

Grist and lumber mills were vital to early Ohioans. Their existence persists in names like Cedar Mills in Adams County and Fowlers Mill in Geauga County.

Although long gone from the landscape, Ohio’s very first residents live on in places named Miami (Ottawa Indian word for mother) and Piqua or Pickaway — Shawnee for “man risen from ashes.”

The word Coshocton means “black bear town.” While Sandusky is the term for “at the cold water.” Ashtabula is native tongue for “place of many fish.” And many an angler has hoped that northeast river, county and city would live up to the name.

Ottawa means “trader.” While Muskingum stands for “town by the river” in the Delaware lingo. Auglaize is Shawnee for “fallen timbers.”

Kinnikinnick in Ross County is the Indian word for a smokable mixture of tobacco and red willow. Tymochtee in Wyandot County means “river and plains.”

Ohio’s abundance of freshwater springs gave rise to Springfield in Clark County, Springhills in Champaign County and two Springvilles — one each in Seneca and Wayne counties. Iron in the water of Greene County area gave the village of Yellow Springs its name.

New towns and villages spring up along the canal system that criss-crossed Ohio in the early 1800s. Among them were Canal Fulton in Stark County, Canal Winchester in Fairfield County and Stockport in Morgan County.

Although it is at the mouth of the Scioto River and sounds nautical, the City of Portsmouth is actually named for Portsmouth, New Hampshire — birthplace of many of its early citizens.

Geographic features and locations also played into some place names.

Cliffs along the Little Miami River gave rise to the name of Clifton in Greene County. Highland County lies on a hilly region between the Little Miami and Scioto rivers — a high land. Akron is Greek for “a high place.”

The French word for “a stretch of level land” led to the name of Champaign County. The French influence was also felt in Clermont County. Clermont means “clear mountain” in French.

Location helped set both names and mile markers for some towns. Middletown in Butler County is mid-way between Cincinnati and Dayton. Twenty Mile Stand in Warren County is 20 miles from downtown Cincinnati.

Ohio’s fertile soil and abundant forests gave rise to Bloomfield in Muskingum County, Bloomingburg in Fayette County, Bloomville in Seneca County and Blooming Grove in Morrow County. All were named for local gardens and orchards.

Orchards also played a part in naming Apple Creek in Wayne County and Apple Grove in Meigs County.

Sugar Bush Knolls in Portage County, Sugar Creek in Tuscarawas County, Sugar Grove in Fairfield County, Sugar Valley in Preble County and Sugar Tree Ridge in Highland County are evidence of the many sugar maple trees that grew in early Ohio.

Mining was (and is) important in eastern and southern Ohio. Towns like Mineral in Athens County, Mineral City in Tuscarawas County, Mineral Ridge in Trumbull County and Minersville in Meigs County got their monikers from that industry.

Iron furnaces in southern Ohio produced the metal for armaments that helped the north win the Civil War. Historic evidence of that contribution lives on in the names of Scioto Furnace, Franklin Furnace and Junior Furnace in Scioto County.

Some places were actually renamed over the years.

Cincinnati was first named Losantiville, meaning “city opposite the mouth,” referring to the mouth of northern Kentucky’s Licking River. In 1790, Gen. Arthur St. Clair, first governor of the Northwest Territory, renamed the city for the newly formed Society of the Cincinnati — a group of Army officers dedicated to preserving the ideals of the American Revolution.

Some Ohio place names are just plain quirky.

“Ai” in Fulton County was named for either an infamous Biblical city or early resident Ami Richards. No one knows for sure.

“Joy” in Morgan County is what the owners of a local oil well must have felt after hitting a gusher at just 200 feet. That well eventually produced 1,400 barrels a day.

“Jumbo” in Hardin County is named for P.T. Barnum’s favorite elephant. While “Joetown” in Morgan County memorializes three early residents named Joe.

Revelers at the hotspot known as “Put-In-Bay” on South Bass Island in Lake Erie may wonder more about their hangovers than location. But it was a legend associated with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the War of 1812, that inspired the name.

Perry reportedly said he would “put the British in the bay” just before sailing out of the town’s harbor to meet their fleet on Sept. 10, 1813.


Most information for this article came from two sources: “Ohio Place Names” by Larry L. Miller and the Ohio Gazeteer of 1841 by Warren Jenkins.

Salt Magazine

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