I saw a post yesterday recommending that place names be based on some permanent feature of the places, rather than being named for people or impermanent features. It got me to thinking about place names here.
The community we live in is named Keeling and was named for the Keeling family that once lived around here. But there have been no people named Keeling living here for at least the last 50 years and probably much longer. We live on Slatesville Road, so named because our community (a smaller part of Keeling) once had a post office of its own and was known as Slatesville. Slatesville was named for the Slate family, which lived right across the road from our farm. Slatesville has been gone for about a hundred years and there are no people named Slate living here now. The farm to the west of us in known as the Ford Place. Although I know a little about the Ford family that lived there, they’re all long gone. There have been no Fords living here for at least 50 years. The Hart Ingram and Watt Guy farms are near us, still bearing the names of men now long dead and forgotten. No descendants of either live in the community to the best of my knowledge. Midkiff’s Bottom is still here, but the Midkiff family is long gone. And so it goes. Families don’t last as long as the land, of course. Even in communities like ours, where folks aren’t as nomadic as typical Americans these days, bedrock families can vanish from the scene in just a few decades.
Names based on physical features haven’t fared much better. To the east of us is the Oak Grove community, but it no longer can be identified by an oak grove. Likewise Laurel Grove, which is south of us. The community is still there, but the laurel grove isn’t. If someone who has lived on this road a while uses “the schoolhouse” as a point of reference I know where they mean, but there isn’t a schoolhouse there (or any other building for that matter) now and there hasn’t been for a long time.
There are parts of this farm we still refer to as “the orchard,” “the stable” and “the pigpen.” But they’re gardens now. The orchard, stable and pigpen are all long gone.
No doubt the Sopani and the Occaneechi (who inhabited this area before us Europeans) had names of their own for the areas around here and for the trails which became our roads. Likely they chose names that were meaningful to their lives here, but which would would not be relevant to ours.
Old-timers around here refer to our farm as “the Guerrant place.” As that is our name, that would seem to make this at least one place where the place name still fits. But when they call it that, they use a pronunciation of the word that fell out of use many decades ago. Anyone unaware of our history who heard them say the word wouldn’t even realize they were talking about us.
It’s a funny business, this naming of places.
By the way, for any who made it this far, I understand that WordPress is now sometimes putting ads in these blog posts. I have no control over the ads, no say in who the advertisers are, and receive no revenue from the ads. Wordpress will graciously remove the ads if I pay them $30 a year for that privilege. I’d rather not do that. So for now, I just ask your pardon.