Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how they form meaning. It’s a very interesting subject once you dive into it and see the spiderwebs of history with just one simple word. In North Carolina, we have several peculiar town names, so many that I’ve done two articles on the subject. But although we can discuss the strangeness of a town name, it’s sometimes more interesting to discuss where it came from. Want to dive into history a bit? Learn the history of these 10 town names.
1. Cerro Gordo
Cerro Gordo attracted me because it sounds like the name of a fried burrito stuffed with cheese and topped with avocado. This town is actually named after the Mexican Battlefield where General Winfield Scott fought in 1847. It means 'big hill' in Spanish.
Hatteras is a popular destination on the Outer Banks but have you ever wondered about the origin of its name? Hatteras is the English rendition of an Algonkian expression meaning 'there is less vegetation.' Quite literal...
As one of North Carolina's most historically rich towns, the name Bath is peculiar. History books cite that the name derives from John Granville, Earl of Bath.
4. Mars Hill
This charming mountain town and college got its name from a Roman hill in Athens, Greece.
5. High Point
One from out of state might assume High Point is located at the top of a mountain, hence the name. It's actually named from the fact it was the 'highest point' (at 223 ft.) on a railroad that ran from Charlotte to Goldsboro.
6. Lizard Lick
Lizard Lick has made my list of bizarre town names, and its origin is somewhat funnier than the name itself. Story goes, traveling salesman would go door-to-door in modern day Lizard Lick and were astounded at the amount of lizards they found basking in the sunlight and licking themselves. Alright...
Most people associate the name of Winston-Salem with Camel Cities rich tobacco history. Yet, the name was long in place before Winston or Salems were ever smoked. It was named after two neighboring towns merging into one. The town of Salem (which you can visit today as Old Salem) was named after the Canaanite city mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Winston was land sold north of Salem in 1849 and named in 1851 after Joseph Winston, a local hero of the Revolutionary War.
8. Kill Devil Hills
While history buffs will say, 'I knew that,' the origin of Kill Devil Hills is too fun not to share. Kill-Devil was slang for strong rum from the West Indies. After a shipwreck, many tried to salvage the rum and conceal it in the sand dunes.
'Welcome to Welcome.' This friendly town name has some interesting origins, and even made it on my list of weird town names. It is said there was a debate over what to name the town, and during the debate someone cried out that 'everyone is welcome here.' I guess they decided to call it a day and go with Welcome.
This fast-growing small town is sure a mouthful to say. Before the merger of both Fuquay and Varina, the two separate towns had names from separate origins. William Fuquay, a veteran of the French Revolutionary War, moved his family to the exact site of Fuquay and purchased 1000 acres of land in 1805. In 1858, during the early battles between North and South (before the actual Civil War) a young soldier named Ballentine got 'moral-boosting' letters signed with the pen name Varina. Eventually Ballentine found his mysterious Varina and married the Fayetteville lady. She left her home to live with him, and he named the post office and mineral spring after her. Alas when two railroad lines crossed they became Varina Station. The two neighboring communities joined in 1963 and were originally known as 'Piney Woods.' That's a lot of history for a lot of name!