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What's in a (Place) Name?

Submitted by Jack Cullen - August 25, 2013

Sometime ago as I was perusing an Illinois road map, for some forgotten purpose, I began to notice the frequency of place/town names ending in "ville". This prompted me to start listing all of so named places. It was actually quite interesting, this seemingly tedious task.

I discovered that there are at least 143 "villes" in Illinois.

There are "villes" inspired by color - Greenville, Orangeville, Brownsville, and Grayville. Some places may have been honoring an occupation (or a family name) - Carpentersville, Smithville, Cooksville, Millersville and Sawyerville. A location appears to suggest the origins of Brookville, Cornerville, Orchardville and Ridgeville. There are a number of places seeminly named for a guy - Earlville, Edwardsville, Lawrenceville, and Chesterville among them. However, there are also several that seem to honor a lady - Janesville, Madonnaville, Floraville, and Roseville.

No doubt there is a story behind each name just as there is for every place.

As I studies the map there were more names that piqued my interest. There were beautiful Indian names such as Algonquin, Mendota, Nokomis, Pontiac, Peoria, Ottawa, Geneseo, Paw Paw, Pocahantas, Kickapoo and, yes, Minonk. Minonk is an Ojibway word meaning "Good Place". As Casey Stengel would say, "You can look it up."

The French were among the earliest European explorers of this region in North America hence such names as LaSalle, Joliet, Marseilles, Creve Coeur, Marquette Heights, Lacon and DesPlaines.

In Fayette County there is a St. Elmo, a St. James, a St. Paul and St. Peter. Hancock County has not a "ville" within its boundaries, nor does Jasper County.

Towns with names of states are: Ohio, Oregon, Dakota, Hampshire, Tennessee, Wyoming, Washington, Virginia and Vermont. There are famous place names such as: Athens, Paris, Toledo, Cuba, Havana, Peru, Cairo, Geneva, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Thebes, Sparta, Teutopolis, Alhambra, Venice, Lebanon, Vienna, and Cooperstown, although Nokomis has the finest baseball museum in Illinois.

And then there are the unique and colorful names such as: Iuka, Boody, Rising Sun, Cave-In-Rock, Karnak, Lively Grove, Ruma, Beaucoup, Loogootee, Moweaqua, Oquawka, Bone Gap and Hooppole. Also: Sandwich, Archie, Towanda, Cerro Gordo, Minonk (again!), Quaker, Oblong (There was a wedding announcement: "Oblong man marries Normal woman" in the Pantagraph years ago).

Finally, Bungay, Emma, Ozark, Onarga and Nauvoo.

And, remember, all of these places are home to good folks in Illinois.