Have you ever thought, “How did that town or river or county get that name?” Have you ever noticed that once a name is used many times it just seems to fit? That is true with people as well as places. Being new to the Covington area, I have questioned where some the names of our cities and counties have originated.
Sometimes the name is obvious such as Lake Jackson is named for the town it is closest to, which is Jackson.
Sometimes it is not obvious. Our home is on a street named Willow Pointe and I have not seen a single willow on it. I guess is sounded nice to the planner.
Take the name for Newton County. When formed by an act of the Legislature on Christmas Eve 1821, it was from land in Jasper, Walton, and Henry Counties; it was named for Sergeant John Newton, a Revolutionary soldier. It seemed a natural fit at the time since he had been a companion of the Revolutionary hero, Sergeant William Jasper, who Jasper County is named for. By the way, Jasper is the second name for that county. When formed in 1807 it was called Randolph County for Virginian John Randolph. When he temporarily fell in political disfavor the name became Jasper.
The county seat for the new county of Newton was at first called, Newtonsboro. But very quickly it became Covington. It was named for Brigadier General Leonard Covington, a veteran of the Revolution, the Indian War, and the War of 1812. He was a hero of the Battle of Crysler’s Field in Ontario. He was mortally wounded in that Battle on November 11, 1813. It was a defeat for the Americans that halted their invasion of Canada.
The history of Oxford and Emory are inseparable. Emory was chartered in 1836. It was named for Bishop John Emory, who had died a year earlier. He was known for his passion for education. Emory University has been blessed through the years with endowments from those connected with Coca Cola. At a commencement at Emory University, the President of Coca Cola at the time commented it was too bad that they didn’t name the school for Methodist’s first Bishop, Thomas Coke. The school would be “Coke University.”
Oxford is the only city designated as a Historic Shrine for the United Methodist Church. It was named Oxford after the school in England that Methodist founder John Wesley attended and taught at.
The early streets of the town all bore names of noted Methodist.
What is today Porterdale was first known as Cedar Shoals. In the 1830’s as settlers moved into the area near the shoals on the Yellow River the name Cedar Shoals was adopted based on the beautiful cedar trees that grew there. As manufacturing and commerce increased over the next century the decision was made to incorporate. This happened in 1917 and was named Porterdale in honor of Oliver S. Porterdale and the Porterdale Mills.
One of the more interesting names I found was the town of Newborn. At first it was called Crossroad and then Sandtown. Early in its history there was a revival in the town where many were “born again”. Someone commented it is as if we have a new town, a town born again”, thus the name Newborn. Starrsville and Mansfield were named for early settlers in the area.
Stepping across the county line, Walton County was named for one of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence as was Gwinnett and Hall Counties. According to tradition the name for the town of Social Circle came from a new traveler coming upon a group passing a jug around. When invited to join he commented this “sure is a social circle.” Or it could have been brought by an early settler from Bullock County where there was a community by the same name. About seven miles away is the town of Jersey. Before the War Between the States it was called Centerville. It was said they were in the center since they were seven miles from Social Circle, Monroe, and Covington. But when trying to get a post office, they discovered someone already had the name Centerville. So what started out as a joke, Jersey was named from a prize bull that one of the citizens had recently obtained.
As for local rivers two may not be as obvious as they sound. The South River is the most west of the rivers that flows into Lake Jackson. Early English settlers tended to refer to the western fork of a river as the south fork. The Yellow River, I am told, is a translation for the Creek Indian word “Welauneechatchee”. The Alcovy River is a shorten version of a Native American word, “Ulcofauchatchee” Are you not relieved that we do not have to call one of our high schools or expressway exits by the longer version!
When all is said and done, the real value of a name is not where its roots are, but what those who live with that name have done with it. I am indebted to those who wrote the History of Newton County Georgia, the story of Newborn, and Wayfarers in Walton for much of the information I shared with you. All three volumes can be found in the Covington Branch of the Newton County Library.
B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington.