Slate.com points us to a (possibly) interesting U.S. map that lists locales by the literal meanings of the underlying name. For instance, my own hometown of Champaign, Illinois, comes from a French word, not for the delicious bubbly (via the grapes of the Champagne region), but rather for a flat, open area of land — a plain plane, so to speak.
The headline of the Slate piece takes us up I-57 to Chicago, a word derivative of a French term meaning stinky onions, evidently the defining characteristic of the Second City before it was the First City. I actually knew of Chicago’s secret onion heritage from reading Rodman Paul’s classic, Mining Frontiers of the Far West, where he tells us about the early audacious stature of Galena, Illinois:
The Fever River District, as it was called, boasted a boisterous population, and was fully equipped with saloons, dance halls, vigilance committees, and daily mayhem, while the site of Chicago was still an onion swamp.
Chicago is now the biggest city in the state of the Land Where People Speak Normally (well, at least in Normal they do, I suppose), whereas Michigan means Big Lake and Wisconsin means Red River.
Contrary to popular belief, Fond du Lac does not mean “fondness of lactose products,” but actually means font (founding, or, in this case, bottom) of the lake. And, of course, Appleton is not a tribute to this region’s prolific apple output, but instead is named for Amos Lawrence‘s presumably lovely wife, Sarah Elizabeth Appleton.
Or is it?
As it turns out, after Appleton became Appleton, the aptly named Reverend Reeder Smith convinced Lawrence to use the town name as an early college development strategy. To wit, they told renowned philanthropist Samuel Appleton that the town was actually named for him, Samuel. Marital vows only go so far, I guess. For his part, Samuel was so pleased that he wrote a check for $10,000 to endow a library – adjusted for inflation, that comes to about $250,000 in today’s dollars.
Assuming you can still trust a library after that, you can read a blurb of the sordid history here.
Finally, for those of you wondering, there is no truth to the rumor that Samuel Appleton was known to his friends as “The Big Apple”.
Summertime rolls, indeed.