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Rev. Joey N. Welsh: A good name counts, Part I

Another Angle, by Rev. Joey N. Welsh: A good name counts in Kentucky county names, Part I first published in the Hart County News-Herald 5 November 2006
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By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh

A good name counts in Kentucky county names, Part I

Having a good name is no small matter. Proverbs 22:1 tells us, "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." Ecclesiastes 7 declares that a good name is better than a fine perfume; I think that the reverse meaning of this passage is true as well, because having a bad name can really stink things up for a person.

In Kentucky's early history many people with good names were celebrated when counties were named for them. A few of the commonwealth's 120 counties were named because of other reasons. Barren County was named for expanses of treeless terrain found by its early European settlers, while both Rockcastle River and Rockcastle County through which it flows were named for geologic formations found along the stream. Bath County took its name from springs that were thought to have medicinal value.

Laurel County likely was named for the beautiful mountain laurel plant. Ohio County originally stretched north to the river for which it was named; Jessamine County's name is of uncertain origin. Union County was named for an idea: "the united desire of its residents to form a new county." Most counties, though, were named to honor men, and I mean males. None of Kentucky's counties was named for a woman, though Bourbon County derived its name from the French royal family -- all of them, male and female -- at the time of the Revolutionary War, when the colonies received crucial aid from France.

Several counties were mapped out and named in 1806, becoming functional entities by 1807. Their bicentenary year is a good time to recall these counties and the stories of the names they carry. All of these counties took their names from men who yet lived in 1806, an accolade that would never be granted in our era.

Clay County was named for General Green Clay (1757-1826). General Clay, an older cousin of Henry Clay, was an early Kentucky legislator and military leader, though his exploits in the War of 1812 came well after the county was named in his honor. Clay County was formed from pieces of Floyd, Knox, and Madison counties; its county seat is at Manchester.

Hopkins County, with its seat at Madisonville, was named after Samuel Hopkins (1753-1819). Hopkins was famed as an officer on George Washington's staff during the Revolutionary War. He came to Kentucky in the 1790's and served as a judge and state legislator. He went to Washington, D.C. to serve in the U. S. Congress, but even that was after Hopkins County was formed from a portion of Henderson County.

Lewis County was named for the explorer Meriwether Lewis while he was at the height of his fame following the successful conclusion of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis had served in the U. S. Army and as secretary to President Thomas Jefferson before the explorations. Later, after the county was formed from a chunk of Mason County, Lewis served as Territorial Governor of Louisiana, dying in Tennessee in 1809. The county seat town is Vanceburg.

Clay, Hopkins, and Lewis -- all of them were good names of high repute during their era, and that fact remains unchanged 200 years later.

Next Week: a colonel, another 1806 county, and Mark Twain's Kentucky ancestry.


This story was posted on 2010-11-14 03:04:13
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