by Brad Herzog
21 Sep 2014
I have some close friends who decided to name their first child Sedona. People tend to ask why they named her after a city in Arizona — albeit one of the more breathtaking spots in the country, as evidenced by this photo. Our friends reply that no, actually, the city is named after a woman. Her name was Sedona Miller Schnebly. It’s a beautiful first name (a heckuva lot better than Schnebly).
But this gets me thinking: Do folks in Sedona even know where the name came from? Do the denizens of Charles Town, West Virginia, know that they live in a place named for George Washington’s younger brother? Do Tyringham residents realize they live in the only town in Massachusetts named after a woman (first name: Jane)?
Every time we used to watch Johnny Carson “live from Burbank, California,” was any of us aware that David Burbank was a local dentist? Thomaston, Connecticut? Seth Thomas was a clockmaker. Ebensburg, Pennsylvania? It’s named after a little boy, Eben Lloyd, who died in childhood. Marysville, California? Mary Murphy Covillaud was one of the few survivors of the ill-fated Donner party.
A trip through the origins of place names is a fascinating excursion, and there can be poetry in the genesis of such places. Literally. There are towns in New York, Homer and Virgil, named for the Greek and Roman poets of yore. And Orinda, California, is named for a poet named Katherine Philips. Confused? Well, her nickname was “Matchless Orinda.”