From Norway to Shanghai: Where Indiana’s international town names come from?
If you’ve ever chuckled (or shook your head) over some of the names and, more importantly, Hoosier pronunciations of some of Indiana’s cities and towns, then you’ll want to locate an old copy of Indiana Place Names by Ronald L. Baker and Marvin Carmony (Indiana University Press, 1975). It’s a fascinating look at Indiana place names and their origins. Some active little hamlets in their day are now little more than an intersection of roads. You’ll also be surprised by the number of cities and towns that have changed names.
Indiana is a lot more international than you would think. Many Indiana towns were given the names from the country in which the settlers originated. Many settlers named their towns as a tribute to ancestors homelands, while others just thought the names of foreign lands were rather exotic sounding.
We have Ontario, Paris, Waterloo, Lisbon, Rome, Rome City, Bristol, Valparaiso, Morocco, New Palestine, Cuba, Lucerne, Mexico, Peru Vera Cruz, Honduras, Berne, Ceylon, Geneva, Antioch (in Green, Clinton, Jay and Switzerland counties), Alexandria, Dundee, Athens, Delphi, Cairo, Montmorenci, Lebanon, Tangier, Mecca, Holland, Frankfort (Frankfurt, Germany), Falmouth, Cambridge City, Dublin, Chili (Chile), Manilla, Moscow, Palestine, Oldenburg, New Alsace, Dover, Manchester, Aberdeen, Canaan, China, Chelsea, Troy, Darmstadt, Algiers, Ireland, Syria, Vienna, Leipsic (Leipzig Germany), Westphalia, Scotland, Geneva, Hamburg, Edinburgh, Samaria, Denmark, Brazil and Oxford. And these just scratch the surface of international names.
Here are some “worldly” town name origins – some fact and some local legend:
Monterey: Pulaski County – A tribute to the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican-American War
Argos: Marshall County – Originally named, Sidney, then Congressman Schuyler Colfax, later Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president, was asked to name the post office. A Greek historian, Colfax chose the name Argos after the ancient Greek city
Warsaw: Kosciusko County – Warsaw was named after the capital of Poland and the county after Polish and American Revolutionary War hero, Tadeusz Kosciuszkko.
Zulu: Allen County – According to From “Needmore to Prosperity: Hoosier Place Names in Folklore and History” by Ronald Baker, “a pin stuck in the book and fell on the word Zulu on a page about Africa.”
Norway: White County – Originally named Mt. Walleston, the name was changed to reflect the early Norwegian settlers.
Crete: Randolph – Allegedly named after a local woman named Lucretia.
Windsor: Randolph County – Named after Windsor Castle
Shanghai: Howard County – Named for Shanghai chickens owned by a resident in the area. Those chickens are now called Cochin.
Russiaville: Howard County – This is an interesting one. The town is pronounced “Roo-sha-ville”. It was named for Jean Baptiste de Richardville, which through the decades was somehow mangled to what we know now as Russiaville. The school’s mascot until 1949 was the “Cossacks”. While the pronunciation of Russiaville precedes the cold war, many insist that the pronunciation was to disassociate itself from Russia.
Perth: Clay County – Named after a town in Scotland, not Australia.
New Amsterdam: Harrison County – Possibly named for New Amsterdam, the former name of New York, a 17th-century Dutch settlement. New Amsterdam is the smallest town in Indiana with a population less than 30.
West Baden: Orange County – Named for a famous spa town of Baden-Baden in Germany
Pekin: Washington County – Named for Peking, China, but dropped the “g”.
Canton: Washington County – Not China, but rather Canton, Ohio.
Frankfurt: Clinton County – The Pence brothers settled on the land requesting the town be named for their German great-grandparents’ home of Frankfurt.
San Jacinto: Jennings County – Commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto
Versailles: Ripley County – Named after the Palace of Versailles, but not pronounced Ver-sigh, but rather Ver-sales.
Milan: Ripley County – Named for the Italian city, though again, it’s not the uppity mi-Lan, but rather MY-lun. East Coasters can’t look down on Hoosiers here either, there is a Milan, New York and they pronounce it the same way we do in Indiana.
Hindustan: Monroe County – Hindustan is the ancient Persian name for India.
Poland: Clay County – Not the country, but rather after James Alexander Poland, the town’s founder and first blacksmith.
Perth – Named after Perth, Scotland (not Australia)
Trafalgar: Johnson County – Named after the Battle of Trafalgar
Vevay: Switzerland County – This one is a two-fer with the town and county named by Swiss immigrants after their homeland. Pronounced Vee-Vee, not Ve-Vay.