Let's Reminisce: Sources for some local place names
By Jerry Lincecum
Dec 18, 2018
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From my childhood days in central Texas I can remember being curious about the names given to communities.  We lived in Round Prairie and my Lincecum grandparents were in Bald Prairie.  When I asked my dad what a "bald" prairie was, he said that a name was needed when the community received a post office.  The town site was on open land (prairie) located on a rise between two creeks, and it somewhat resembled a bald head.  Since my motherfs father was very bald, the name made sense to me.


As I grew older, I began to collect other place names that were unusual or intriguing, such as Cut and Shoot (in Montgomery County) and Looneyville (Nacogdoches).   After settling in Sherman and becoming active in the Texas Folklore Society, I met a colleague from East Texas State University named Fred Tarpley, who had pursued a scholarly interest in Texas place names.  Recently I rediscovered a book he published in 1980, entitled 2001 Texas Place Names, based on the extensive research he had completed with the help of some of his students and many residents of the communities.  Here are a few highlights from this area.


The community of Bells was originally named Gospel Ridge because of its many churches, but when the Texas and Pacific Railroad came to town the bells rang so loudly that residents decided to change the name.  Although the surnames of men predominate in place names, chivalry, no doubt, accounts for the frequent use of womenfs given names, such as Ethel and Ida in Grayson Co.  However, sometimes there is more than one possible source.  In the case of Ida, for example, was it the daughter of the first postmaster or the lady who operated the first store in her home?  The town of Ethel would have been named Beulah, except that the post office department rejected the first proposal because that name was already in use elsewhere.


Tarpleyfs research sometimes reveals that there is forgotten history behind familiar place names.  Despite my knowing where the names for Grayson County and its county seat came from, I was not aware of the political machinations behind them.  After the county was named for Peter Grayson, a Sam Houston Democrat, the opposing faction was appeased with the county seat being named for an anti-Houston Whig, General Sidney Sherman.  Other heroes of the Texas Revolution were memorialized in Sherman, with streets running east and west (in the 1846 townsite) being named for generals, such as Crockett and Fannin.  Streets running north and south were named for trees (including Pecan and Elm).


Fannin County has one of the most famous Texas place names: Bug Tussle.  This small community was once popular among Sunday School classes for picnics.  One anecdote describes how swarms of bugs attracted to an ice cream social spoiled the party.  Another explanation for the name maintains that after the Sunday school picnics there was nothing to do except watch the tumblebugs tussle.     


One Fannin community was given a famous literary name.  Joe Dupree had just finished reading Sir Walter Scottfs novel Ivanhoe when the post office department asked that a name be submitted for a new station.  In contrast, another community that seems to have a sister town in Italy, Ravenna, actually took its name from the numerous ravines in the vicinity.


Correcting misinformation is one good reason to consult Tarpleyfs book.  For decades now I had been believing (and telling others) that the names of Van Alstyne, Anna and Melissa came from the same family.  The very plausible story was that a prominent early settler named Van Alstyne had two daughters.  While it is true that a railroad executive had two daughters named Anna and Melissa, his name was Quin, and while he named Anna after his daughter, the town of Melissa may have been named for someone else.  As for Van Alstyne, there is no question that it was named for a lady who was a major stockholder in the Texas and Pacific Railroad when the town was founded.


Jerry Lincecum is a retired English professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: