Indiana town names delight and confuse ... mostly confuse


Last week we discussed the entomology of ants, or possibly the antymology of location names, or the etymology of naming ants. It turns out that many of the names of our familiar towns, counties, and other places have interesting origins, although I’m not sure South Bend or Fort Wayne are anything more than obvious.

(As an aside, I always got a kick out of the moment in the movie Planet of the Apes, when an ape refuses to believe that the crash landed astronaut could have grown up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Who, he inquired, would name a town after a fort?)

We get the obvious with Indiana – which today would have been named NativeAmericanAna – and the more obvious with its capitol, Indianapolis, which is Greek for “Who designed this crazy highway system?”

Around here we also go from the not so obvious (Ligonier? Apparently named after a Fort in Pennsylvania that drove off, ironically, Indians) to the pretty obvious (Think there were wolves around a body of water near Wolf Lake?) A lot of our place names, as might be imagined, come from Native American words.

However, sometimes we didn’t get those right: The Ojibwa tribe named a nearby large body of water Michigama, which means – yep – large water. But noooooo – that spelling wasn’t good enough for us European folk. We had to go with Michigan.

The state of Michigan, by the way, is divided by a body of water called the
Straits of Mackinac, and as everyone knows Mackinac is a word meaning “Why didn’t you just turn it into two separate states?”

Now we move to Churubusco, possibly the second coolest name for a town ever, and named after a famous battle of the Mexican-American war called the battle of … wait for it … figured it out on your own, didn’t you?

Actually, Churubusco was a village near Mexico City, and probably didn’t appreciate the attention. Here’s a neat little connection for you: after the battle a brigade of volunteer US soldiers were billeted in the convent of Churubusco. Those soldiers were from Albion, New York.

No, just kidding – they were from New York, though. Would have been cool.

True to form, that wasn’t its original name. The place was a native
American temple named Huitzilopochco, but while trying to pronounce the word the Spanish conquistadors kept getting attacked, so they just jotted down the first thing that came anywhere near close to it. Actually, even that doesn’t make sense: They probably just made up an entirely different name to spite the original

Originally Churubusco, Indiana was two towns divided by a railroad track: Franklin and Union. Combining into Franklunion just seemed a bit silly, and as it happened a lady who lived there had a relative who had just fought in a battle – at Churubusco, Mexico.

The Miami Indians had inhabited the area before that, but they all retired and moved to Florida.

These days Churubusco is known for the “Beast of Busco”, a giant turtle who comes out on Christmas night and eats little children who don’t go to sleep before Santa gets there. It’s possible I’m mixing the story up a little bit, but the germ of it is that a giant turtle was spotted in a nearby pond, possibly wearing the remains of a Santa Claus outfit.

The story became so famous that I actually mention it in my novel Storm Chaser, but only in passing – literally. You’ll have to buy the book to see what that means. *evil laugh*

Now we move on to my favorite name: Huntertown.

I used to mess with my kids by telling them that Huntertown was named after our families. My mother’s side, of course, the Welch’s.

But no, Huntertown was settled in around 1832, while my Hunters didn’t arrive in Indiana for more than a hundred years later. I’d always assumed that Huntertown was named by some hunters, maybe somebody trying to cut down on the deer population because they’d heard automobiles would someday be coming, and they wanted to prevent the coming carnage.

Much to my surprise, it turns out Huntertown was founded by William T. Hunter – love that name – along a plank road connecting Fort Wayne to a place called Lima, which is now called Howe. Why? I don’t know.

In true Albion fashion (Albion was originally called “Center”), Huntertown was originally no more than a forest clearing, and was called “The Opening”. That didn’t seem like a good name for any town that wasn’t featured in a Stephen King novel, so William took advantage and did something we could only dream of these days – he named a town after himself.

Don’t think I haven’t tried that.

Huntertown, at least before the recession, was one of the fastest growing areas in northeast Indiana, and I’d like to think that wonderful name is at least partially responsible for the growth. By the way, the newspaper there, Northwest News, is housed in a former bank building that was robbed in the 1930’s by the John Dillinger gang.

So you see, history is interesting. It all depends on how you word it.

No comments:

Post a Comment