Place Names Reveal Albion Etymology


One of my internet friends commented on what interesting place names we have in Indiana. Most people around here probably don’t think much about that, beyond cursing whoever thought it was a good idea to make thousands of future school kids have to spell Kosciusko County.

I mean, who needs to spell “county”, anyway?

Kosciusko was, of course, a Revolutionary War hero. You knew that, didn’t you? Sure you did. In fact, he’s considered a national hero of Poland, Lithuania (where lithium batteries are made), and Belarus, as well as the United States. The guy got around; just ask the people of Kosciusko Island, Alaska.

There’s also a county in this area named after Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski (the father of American cavalry). He worked with a General of local fame by the name of “Mad” Anthony Wayne, who was apparently angry a lot.

We also have a county named after Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, and aren’t you people to the northeast glad they used only his last name? He became famous for teaching discipline to the American soldiers at Valley Forge; Steuben accomplished this by forcing anyone who didn’t obey to write his full name out a thousand times.

There’s also a Steuben County, New York, which as far as I know is unrelated to Albion, New York.

But I digress, which I believe is also a community in Alaska. After talking to my friend, I realized some of the names of our communities had an interesting entomology (that’s a town just outside of Fairbanks).

Wait, entomology is the study of bugs. Etymology is the study of the history of words. Words such as “bugs”.

Man, I love this language.

Let’s take a look at the three communities that are closest to my writer’s heart, in that newspapers featuring my column are located there. (Okay, maybe “featuring” is a strong word, but my column can usually be found somewhere between editorial and sports, except during playoff season.)

Albion is the oldest known name for an island that we today call Great Britain. Apparently it’s derived from the white cliffs of Dover (the name, not the island), which are white, and cliffs, and honestly I’m not sure how they got Albion out of that. From there the word forms the basis of the Gaelic name for Scotland, Alba, from which a family came that eventually produced an actress named Jessica Alba. So we have them to either thank or curse.

Jessica Alba could not be reached for comment, but several Scottish gentlemen mentioned that they’d be happy to speak with her about it, possibly over a scotch.

The Canadian Confederation period happened once a month during 1867, and was accompanied by bloating and grouchy polar bears. During that reorganization, suggested names for the new country included New Albion and Albionoria, which means “Albion of the North”, and aren’t you Canadians glad you don’t have to sing “Oh Albionoria”?

So, the name Albion comes from the Old Country, just like potatoes and smallpox. That means we got the name of Albion, Indiana, from England, yes?

Well, no.

There are at least 22 communities in America named Albion, if you include the fact that it was an early name for a little town that later changed it’s moniker to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our town was originally named Center, because early settlers voted for the town to be the seat of Noble County due to it being in the – wait for it – center of the county.

There was no town there at the time.

Eventually, so the story goes, one of the people charged with naming the new town remembered a community he used to live in, called Albion, New York. Everyone else apparently gave some variation of “why not?” while the representative of Kendallville said “Hey – even though we’re in the corner of the county we should be the county seat!” He was ignored, because at the time the city of Kendallville was called “Corner”.

If they’d just changed their name sooner, they’d have the cool courthouse.

Meanwhile I’ve discovered there are supposedly three Albion’s in New York, so which one did the guy come from? And did he later move on to Albion, the little crossroads in southern Indiana?

Didn’t know there was a second Albion in Indiana, did you? I’ve never been there, but I hear they have two stop signs and a barn. No word on what the barn is named.

I see I’ve run out of space, which is the name of a town in Florida, so I’ll divide this into two columns and pretend I didn’t do it in order to fill space in winter, that time of year when I’ve been known to throw snow shovels at people who say, “Isn’t the cooler weather nice?”

(Yes, I’m well aware you’re reading this in April. I wrote this column ahead of time and used it now because of a big writing thing that I haven’t announced yet, and aren’t you intrigued? I left the mention of weather in because it reminds me of how wonderful spring is.)

Next week, if I haven’t set out walking south (hee!), we’ll talk about Churubusco and the best named community in Indiana: Huntertown.

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