Why Do We Call Places By People’s Names

Old places with old names

Yesterday I traveled with Pap out to Asheville. As he often does he entertained me with tales from yesteryear. One tale was was about Indian John, he was one of Pap’s friends who went to college with him under the GI Bill. The tale in itself was humorous, but that wasn’t what got my attention.

We were traveling down the other side of Topton headed into the Nantahala Gorge when Pap said something about Indian John’s place. I said “Oh he still lives there?” Pap said “No I don’t know where he lives. I’m not even sure he still lives.”

It struck me as funny that Pap would call the house by the road the Indian John place even though he no longer lived there. Made me have the silliest notion to walk up on the porch, knock on the door, ask if they knew who Indian John was, and if they realized they were living in his house?

The old mill pond

Of course places named after folks who used to live there isn’t anything new. Most towns, cities, communities, mountains, creeks, etc, are named after someone long gone on.

Just down the road from me there’s a house that we all refer to as the Johnny Hampton place even though he’s been dead for years. There’s Miss Cook’s place where there isn’t even a house left. The old mill pond resides in the pasture just beyond the hill, but there hasn’t been a mill there in well over 60 years.

Old white farm house

Closer, there is a big white farm house. In my growing up years it was Clarence’s place as in down by Clarence’s. But after Clarence and his lovely wife Ruby passed away the house become Pickle’s. It took years, but finally it became down by Pickle’s. Now Pickle is gone too.

I wonder if someday when Chatter and Chitter’s kids ask them about the big white house will they say “You mean Pickle’s place?” Will they then ask me to remind them exactly who Pickle was and why we all seemed to miss him so?

Clate and marys old house

Closer still there is a house long deserted with the outhouse still in the yard and the log cabin corn crib falling in, it’s Clate and Mary’s place. It’s been Clate and Mary’s house since Pap was a boy. I remember being sad as a child when I heard Clate kept escaping from the nursing home, trying his best to get back home.

Maybe that’s it, maybe those old places have to hold on to their old names cause the folks who lived in them were real and they lived real lives that intertwined with all their neighbors up and down the creek. Seems only right they should leave some impression of their vivid presence behind if only in a name.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in February 2010.


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  • Reply
    Charles Howell
    April 21, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    My Great Grandparents are buried on a ridge in Daybook N. C. which is a few miles out of Burnsville. I was at a Howell reunion in Burnsville several years ago and Dr. Lloyd Bailey, the organizer of the event, took my sisters and me to their graves which happened to be on “Howell Branch” road. My second or third cousin still lives there. I came back to my home in California bragging about my road. I feel connected in a special way and have plans to hopefully restore a tumbled down house at the end of the road. My piece of Appalachia! Can you believe? Dillard Howell & Sarah Honeycutt, parents of Robert Vance Howell who was my dad’s father, all born there I guess.

  • Reply
    Nancy M.
    May 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Around here people always call it by who used to live there. If you weren’t raised up here, good luck finding anything! LOL!

  • Reply
    Madge @ The View From Right Here
    May 1, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I hadn’t really given that any thought but now that I do think of it… places here are ‘the allen’s place,’ or the ‘smith house.’ Yes, even after people have passed for years, their name(s) are still attached to the places they lived… nice isn’t it?

  • Reply
    April 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Quite frankly, I don’t know any although I am sure some of the long-timers here in Angier know a few.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    April 29, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    I identify our farm. when asked, as ‘the Clifford Freeman place’ — though the Freemans have been gone over thirty years. And next door is ‘the Goforth place’ and they’ve been gone even longer.

  • Reply
    Laura @ Laura Williams' Musings
    April 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    I don’t live in the same area I did growing up. I’m 4 hours away now.
    However, growing up, there were landmarks to go by…. Mamie Smith’s house is still Mamie Smith’s house at the end of the holler I grew up in even though Ms. Mamie has been gone a good 30 years I reckon. I have no clue who lives in the house now but it’s still Ms. Mamie Smith’s house. Same with some other houses and old grocery stores (aka convenience stores in today’s terminology).
    Sometimes I miss my old hometown and old stomping grounds but I love where we live now. Just old memories tear at ya sometimes.

  • Reply
    April 29, 2012 at 12:46 am

    I brought this one up before. As our farm grew, we added small acreages to it. “Tim’s place”, The Ford place”, etc… The interesting thing is the house I grew up in should be “Paul’s place” or something like it. Neighbors still call it the “Hinkler place” even though they have been gone for half a century.
    I have found that land left by a relative seems to keep it’s moniker. For example, “Uncle Bill’s” place is still referenced by his name. I don’t think most of the relatives remember who he was, but he left Grandpa the property!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    April 28, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    You certainly stirred up a lot of memories in your readers. Their comments to this already wonderful post (I remember the same response when you first posted it) come out as poignant essays and marvelous stories, each a tonic on this estranged Appalachian soul. What a pleasure to read you and read your buddies; made all the better with the music playing.

  • Reply
    Danette Mowery
    April 28, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    When we first moved here, the address was a Route and Box #. The firemen used to give directions to our area based on a neighbor’s house — I guess they’d lived here long enough to be the best known landmark!

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    April 28, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    I like the idea of naming places afte people; it helps to learn the history of various areas. Sometimes, certain people make a big impression on their neighbors or larger portions of society; maybe a particular family or person brings happiness and closeness to an area.

  • Reply
    Sally K - North Coast Muse
    April 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    There’s a woods on the edge of a lake near my hometown known as “Lucas Woods.” The lake was a man-made flood control project and the Lucas’s owned the property in that area that was flooded. Of course, that’s not official name. Just what the locals call it.

  • Reply
    April 28, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Pap’s friend was younger than him-so it couldn’t have been the one that was born in 1901. But it probably was the one Kenneth remembered. But would that mean-2 folks from the same family died in a rock accident?
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and
    Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    April 28, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    If I might add some information for Ed Ammons, Indian John’s place
    was the first on the left about a
    1/2 mile beyond the Topton Bridge
    going East. Then Fred Guffey’s
    place next to it, then Brookside
    Campground. We use to slide down
    from the railroad behind Indian
    John’s on pasteboard boxes. Boy,
    what a ride. John and Flora had
    twin Girls, Myrle and Pearl. They
    were the oldest kids and Johnny
    was his boy, about my age. He
    worked for years and probably has
    retired from the Nantahala Power
    and Light Co. (Now Duke Power)
    He still lives and I see him at
    the grocery store occasionally.

  • Reply
    B f
    April 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    this takes me back. do you remember when the oldsters would name their bean seed etc by the person that shared them? i remember mom saying (for instance ) “now these are the Mary beans, i want to keep a start ”
    now that pretty much sums up my age
    or ” that happened up here at the old Webb place”
    well thats about it for today, have a great weekend

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Tipper, it’s about home, place, family and friends….in the country of Appalachia. It’s just the way we measure and count things.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 28, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    John Ervin Reighard 1901-1959 is in my family tree. He was born in Topton and died in Murphy from “hit by rock after explosion went off in quarry.” He and his wife Flora Belle 1910-1990 are buried at Valleytown Cemetery in Andrews. I too would like to know if this is the “Indian John” you and your dad are referring to. His residence is listed as Topton, Macon, NC, so it would have been after you crossed the mountain traveling east. The county line is at the top. You and Ken have me really interested now. How far after you topped the mountain and on which side of the road was it?

  • Reply
    April 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    When I meet new folks in town, they always ask if I’m the one living in the old Young place. I’m ready to start saying, “I wish Mr. Young would pay his taxes, insurance and do better on the maintenance.” I’d like to thank Mr. Young for letting me live here for the past 23 years.
    Have a blessed weekend.

  • Reply
    April 28, 2012 at 11:59 am

    In response to Pap’s story of
    Indian John: Perhaps he’s the same
    one I knew. He was a drop ball
    operator in a quarry west of
    Atlanta, I think for Hichkock Corp. Anyway, they pulled a shot
    before folks were ready and John
    Reighard dove under a steam shovel
    and a big rock hit him anyway. He
    was killed instantly. I was
    playing with his boy when word
    came that he had been killed. I
    know this family, everyone is all
    gone but his son Johnny now. This
    took place in the late ’50s.
    I still live less three miles
    from Indian John’s place…Ken

  • Reply
    April 28, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Guess that’s just part of being country folks. We do that here too.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    April 28, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Mitchell has been living on this spot for almost 30 years. Not long ago an oldtimer(an endangered species, quickly headed for extinction)was asking him just exactly where on White Oak we live. Much explaining, followed by much confusion. At long last, Mitchell said,”You know where the Old Yoder Messer Place is?” Light dawned.

  • Reply
    April 28, 2012 at 11:41 am

    What great memories this brings of driving around the country with my dad and the names of all the farms we passed. I am sure people drive by our farm and say that’s the old Peterson place. I sure hope they do. My sister and I still own it and lease out the land for pasture.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 28, 2012 at 11:34 am

    There’s something exceedingly nostalgic and at the same time reverent about place names that honor those who lived, loved, worked and hoped on a land they called home. Now long gone, the names of the places honor their memories and should give present-day wanderers (and wonderers) pause to seek and find who these people were. The commuinity where I grew up had these places (and still does). The very name of my birth community reminds us that Cherokee once dwelt threre: the Community (and political district) name–Choestoe–means, in Cherokee, “The Dancing Place of Rabbits.” This name could mean either the many rabbits that live there and come hoppping out to give pleasure to observers, even now; or it could mean that the Cherokee Rabbit Clan lived there in the days before the white man came to claim the land through land grants and purchases. There is the Collins place that harks back to my ancestor Thompson Collins who was there when Union County was formed in 1832; the same is true for the Dyer Place which remembers another ancestor, Bluford Elisha Dyer, Jr., another prior to 1832 settler to the valley. And I could go on: the Hunter Place, the Nix Place, the England Place, the Reece Place. Our poet, Byron Herbert Reece (1917-1958) memoralized this place-name tendency among Appalachian people by writing in his poem, “Choestoe”:
    “Yes. Sprung from the hard earth,
    nurtured by hard labor.
    We know the names that built the fallen dwellings
    going to ruin in old dooryard orchards.”
    And there is much more in his poem “Choestoe” that speaks of a lifestyle still lingering in the stories we tell and the places we honor where the time apart can lead us to
    “Deep…coves…where noon is always twilit,” and where we can find
    “Peace…quiet and unhurried living,
    Something to wonder at in aged faces.”
    It will always be home to me;
    the place I go in mind’s-eye, and heart-s-song, even if not in person as much as I would like.
    It is the place where its names speak volumes of my beloved Appalachian way of life.

  • Reply
    April 28, 2012 at 10:23 am

    We lived for 20 years in a house we built inside a 90 degree corner in a township road in northern lower Michigan. My husband’s grandparents first purchased that 40 acres about 1914. When we moved, one of our daughter’s (15 year old) friends said, “What will we call that corner, it’s *always been Warren’s corner”. We were the first house inside that curve, but the 4th house ever build on the 40 acres. 3 miles toward town from the house was a store that is still called by the name of the family that owned it in the 50’s and 60’s, even though it changed hands after their death.
    It’s just the easy way to bring places to mind, link them with a name everyone knows.
    Thanks for the great post!

  • Reply
    Ken Kuhlmann
    April 28, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Places that are named after someone who used to live there are very common here in Nebraska also. Not only the places they lived at, but also land marks. The second hill north of where we live is called “Gergie’s hill”. It was named after Ray Gergen’s with Gergies being the neighbors way of saying Gergins. There are roads, bridges and other land marks that are named after other people. These names were so common that even the rural fire dept used them as well as the post office and others.
    We now have road numbers and street signs. I guess this will be better in the long run, but most of the old timers, like me, still use the names of the people from our past to tell where we are going or where we are at.
    Thanks for the memories that this brought back.

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    April 28, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Touched a deep chord this morning Tipper.
    Around here there is the ‘old Houser place” house long gone, we pick asparagus there, ‘The Bailey log cabin’, a few logs and the rock cellar remain, as well as the iris, hidden a big blackberry thicket. Many others dot our hills, along with memories of those empty but not forgotten places.
    I sometimes wonder if some day in the future, someone will come along to the ‘Shipman place’, enjoy and appropriate the flowers from my yard, maybe harvest the fruit treessnf berries. I surely hope so.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    April 28, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Looks like a “skif of snow” fell at Clarence’s place…On the roof and then what is odd it is piled up on the window staves, like a Christmas picture!..Then there is some in the top of the evergreen on the left…but none on the ground..Clarence(?) doesn’t look cold standing there and such a purty blue sky..Was there some kind of weather phenomenon going on that day, at the Clarence’s/Pickle place?
    Now then, I believe that Clate made it back from the nursing home or Mary’s a’lookin’ for him…For there appears to be someone lookin’ from behind the curtain in the right window, with a hand a’settin’ on the window sill!
    Oooh Tipper, I just wouldn’t stand there I’d be hi-tailing it outta there!…
    Thanks for a Great Post,
    PS…How in the world do city folk give directions! “Well,you just go down past the mall, turn right past the po-lice station, and on left, count to you see the 77th sidewalk on the right, with a large dog and a chain link fence…That ain’t it but Seth’s place is somewhere close by there! LOL

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 28, 2012 at 9:51 am

    As I was growing up about every house place was referred to by the names of past residents. As you state many would eventually change to a more current resident but many never changed. The Old Morgan Place became the Verlin Place because my Great Uncle and Aunt raised much of their Clan there before moving west. There’s still the Old Hanse Place even though there hasn’t been a house there in my lifetime, the same holds for the Old Tom Hampton Place. I now find the younger generations looking at me with a blank stare when I use these names as references. All these places are now part of the Needmore Tract which Cresent sold to the Nature Conservancy which is managed by NC Wildlife Commission. They are all growing up and reverting to a wild state. It’s sad that the history of the region is being lost and the memories of all the rugged individuals who lived, loved and raised families on them will soon be be gone. The hikers and white water enthusiasts will be totally unaware of the history they are trampling over. Thank goodness there are a few of us “Bone Rattlers” whose interest in Genealogy helps keep their memories alive. This is our small effort to honor those who have gone before us whose Genes and the environment they faced helped each of us become the person we are.

  • Reply
    Carol Killian
    April 28, 2012 at 9:48 am

    So true. My Uncle W says Ms. Holt’s place. She was my granny om Mother’s side. She passed in 1973. Have a super Saturday,

  • Reply
    Gorges Smythe
    April 28, 2012 at 9:46 am

    I think country people do that more than city folk, because they actually KNOW their neighbors. Gotta run. Soon we have to head over Cross Hill and go to town! 😉

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    April 28, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I wonder if the reason places retain the names of people dates back to a time when roads did not have names and it was just easier to say “Tipper’s Place”?
    I also think that it gives you a nice visual of the place when you use someone’s name to describe a place.

  • Reply
    Charles Ronald Perry, Sr
    April 28, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Thank you Tipper for your postings. I do enjoy them so much. You ought to put all of them together in a book or even write a book of fiction and weave the characters and stories into the tale. You have a natural talent for writing.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 28, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Wiggins Creek had two main branches. Ammons Branch and Monkey John Branch. All the Ammons’ I know about in the area lived on Monkey John Branch. No monkeys lived on Ammons Branch as far as I know.
    The story that’s been handed down is that there were two John DeHart’s living in close proximity and to tell them apart folks called one Monkey John. Why, I haven’t determined yet. “Plain” John is now lost in obscurity while Monkey John’s name lives on. What a Claim To Fame!
    If I’m lyin I’m dyin! Google-Monkey John Branch Swain NC and you can see.

  • Reply
    April 28, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Pierce’s Corner is just west of my house tho’ they have been dead for several years. Of course, our place is still called the “Little’s Place” by some folks–even tho’ we’ve lived here for 28 years.
    In his book, Country Matters, Michael Korda talked about this. He knew he had finally ‘arrived’ when his place was called by his name—-tho’ he’d been there for years, too. (It’s a good read.)
    Did this come about for places in the country since we didn’t have road signs? But, if you weren’t from the area, you still were lost.

  • Reply
    April 28, 2012 at 8:25 am

    this is done in rural Georgia and some rural, as in farm country here in FL, but not in the cities. to many people

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