You probably know where your name comes from. I was named after family--my mom’s Aunt Annie and my dad’s sister Ruth. Keeping the tradition, I gave my daughter, Giulia PearI, names from her dad’s side and mine. On the other hand, my cousin Dedra has her unusual name just because her mom heard and liked it.
But do you know the origins of your town’s name?
I have written here before about Henry Clay, the 19th-century politician who inspired the names of Clay County and Clay City. So when I saw the book Place Names of Illinois by Edward Callary, I was curious to find out about the names of other towns in Clay and Richland counties.
The majority of our counties’ towns are named after people: Berryville, Decker, Flora, Hord, Ingraham, Noble, Olney, Parkersburg, Preston and Wakefield. Only Wendelin takes its name from a saint, St. Wendelin of Trier, Germany, “the patron saint of country people and herders.”
After hearing so many people up here mispronounce it, I was glad to see this book clarify how to say Olney: “[AHL nee].”
Unfortunately, Claremont, Dundas and Passport do not show up in the book, and the origin of Iola is unknown. Apparently Amity and Calhoun also exist in other Illinois counties, but there is only one Wynoose in the entire United States.
Two names come from other languages. Oskaloosa translates as “black reed” in the Native American language of Choctaw, and Bonpas means “good walk” in French. “The pronunciation is usually [BUHM puhs],” Callary explains, “but has varied considerably as suggested by such recordings as Bum-paw, Bumpus, Bompare, Bompas, and Bonpass.”
Bible Grove, I heard people say, came from someone’s last name. Instead, “the traditional story,” according to Callary, “is that the community takes its name from an incident where hunters found a bible in a grove along Georgetown Creek.”
I have always wondered why our Louisville is pronounced differently from Louisville, Kentucky. Turns out, our county seat was originally founded as Lewisville, explaining why we still say the “s.”
You probably already know that Sailor Springs was a tourist spot. Thomas and Rebecca Sailor, the book explains, “developed the site into a spa featuring steam baths and mud baths in addition to the mineral waters. The springs were first known as the ‘milk-sick springs’ because they were thought to be toxic to cows and to humans who drank the cows’ milk.”
 When I was little, Xenia enchanted me; it started with an X but was pronounced as a Z. As you can imagine, it is the only Illinois town listed under X, and there are multiple theories about its naming, including “that it was named for a Princess Xenia of Greece,” or “that it was taken from the Greek word xenien (hospitable), suggested by a visiting member of the clergy who had been treated kindly by townspeople.”
 Zif, though technically in Wayne County was just a straight line south from my house, and I went to school with Zif kids and knew people who went to the Zif Baptist Church. This interesting name might come from a family, or, as the book says, “Zif or Ziv, the old Hebrew month corresponding to present Iyar, the eighth month of the Jewish calendar.”
Thus, Place Names of Illinois takes us from A to Z, though I had to stray into Wayne County to go further than X.
There are many interesting names in Illinois. I particularly like names from other countries, like Bogota, Cuba, Padua and Palestine. Cisne became more beautiful to me when I learned it means “swan” in Spanish. Waukanda, Illinois makes me think of the recent Black Panther movie; I’d love to visit Marrowbone, Paw Paw, Pocahontas and Young America; and the entries for Henpeck, Bug Tussle and Goofy Ridge are fun to read.
In the preface, Edward Callary writes that, “our history and culture, our beliefs, ambitions, and dreams, are encapsulated in the names we give our communities, schools, churches, and the myriad natural and artificial features that surround us.” And like the names we give our children, the towns we come from become a party of our identity, too.