What is really behind the names of towns?

Yesterday I took a short road trip through parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and I passed a lot of exit signs with names of various towns on them. 

Some of the town names were evidently derived from Indian influences.  For example Wanaque NJ, is based on a Lenni Lenape Native American word meaning rest and repose, and Whippany NJ, translates to “place of the arrowwood.” 

Some town names were based on people’s name.  Morristown NJ was named after a governor of the area, Lewis Morris. Allentown PA was named after William Allen, who purchased the land in 1732.

But what of those towns that have no evident explanation for the name? How might those names have been developed? If we were to come up with our own explanations, what would they be? 

For example, one of the towns passed yesterday was Annandale, NJ.  I did some research, and can’t find any explanation of the name, and where it came from. So I came up with my own explanation. 

[Note: the following is mostly likely not true, although, who knows?] 

mug of ale

In the geography now known as Annandale, there was a woman named Ann.  She was a kind and cheerful woman, with a great sense of humor.  Unfortunately, poor Ann had a bit of a problem handling her liquor and she was known as the town drunk; a pleasant and funny drunk, but a drunk none-the-less. 

One night, a group of town officials were sitting around the village center, talking and smoking their cigars, trying to come up with a name for their town. As they sat there discarding various other names, drunk Ann came stumbling by, hiccupped as she passed them, giggled, and then laughed uproariously. She appeared to be laughing at nothing at all.  And one man turned to another and said, “Hey, let’s name the town after Ann.”  They all thought that was a great idea since they really liked her, and after a bit of discussion they came up with Ann-and-ale. 

So that is my theory on how that town was named.

Where did the name of your town or city come from?


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