West Virginia June 20, 2018
Few People Know How Many Names This State Went Through Before It Became West Virginia
Back when this land we now occupy was still the state of Virginia, the First Constitutional Convention was held in Wheeling after the western counties of Virginia rejected the state’s intent to secede from the Union, and in so doing, decided a secession from Virginia was necessary to maintain their loyalty to the United States. But what would they call their new state? Many names were considered before landing on West Virginia.
In the months that led up to the Civil War, the country became divided. This division was also mirrored in Virginia. Through the middle of the state runs the Appalachian mountain range, a natural divide that was also mirrored in the people on either side of it.
In 1861, this divide became permanent when the western counties of Virginia vehemently rejected Virginia's intent to secede from the Union. So, politicians and lawmakers gathered together in Wheeling for the First Constitutional Convention to make decisions regarding the formation of a new state loyal to the Union.
Chief among these decisions was what to name the new state. Many options were on the table. The first name considered was
Kanawha, named after an Indian tribe local to the region.
There were two problems with the name, though. Firstly, there was already a county and a river that bore the same name, which could create confusion if a state name was added to the mix. Secondly, the name was hard to pronounce based on the spelling (its pronounced Kuh-naw). So, the name was scrapped.
Another name on the table was
Vandalia, also the name of America's proposed 14th colony. Benjamin Franklin owned a land company after English westward expansion grew following the French and Indian War. It was proposed to name a 14th colony Vandalia to honor England's Queen Charlotte (ruled 1761-1818), who was descended from a Vandal tribe. The colony would have been roughly what West Virginia is today, with Point Pleasant as its capital, but the plan fell apart during the Revolutionary War. So, the idea to revive the name made sense, but was ultimately rejected.
Allegheny was another name considered, named after the Allegheny Mountains, part of the larger Appalachian Mountain Range. The mountains themselves were named after the Allegheny River, which is a Native American word for "fine river." It was likely rejected for the same reason Kanawha was rejected, to avoid confusion resulting from an identical name for several regions.
Augusta was briefly considered because Wheeling, where the convention was being held, was in a region that was once called the District of Augusta (named after the princess of Wales).
But eventually, the conveners landed on West Virginia, a name many of them were fond of, since they grew up in the region. Virginia was named after celebrated ruler Queen Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, who was known as "The Virgin Queen." When the land that we now occupy was first being colonized, the company that sent out the colonists was the Virginia Company of London - a historic connection that many of the conveners wished to maintain.
It is probably hard for any of us to imagine living in the state of Augusta or Vandalia, but it could have very easily turned out that way. But, in the end, it is not a name that defines a state, but the people of which it is comprised.
Did you know that this many names were considered before West Virginia was chosen? Feel free to comment below and join the discussion.
To learn more about West Virginia history, check out
these amazing facts about West Virginia before it even became a state.