What's in a Name?
Did you know that places such as Cape Cod, New England, Long Island, New Jersey, and others, had Catholic names long before not only the Pilgrims arrived, but even before Jamestown was established in 1607? Many may be surprised to find out that America was a land where many of the original names of cities, towns, places, and rivers had a Catholic origin before the English Protestant colonists and settlers (who took over) changed them. Of course, it may be asked: Were not the Indian names the original ones, and should not these continue to be used, as is the case with many places and rivers today? Though the Indians may have given the first names to rivers, lakes, mountains and other areas, the answer is no. The reason for this is that the American Indians were idolaters and worshipped false gods. They did not worship or obey the True God and give Him the honor He deserves. God has revealed “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1 [23:1-DRV]), and all that is in the earth belongs to the Lord (Deut.10:14). Therefore, all the things of the earth belong to God and the things of the earth should be named in such ways that give honor and glory to God.
Since God designed creation in such a way that it points towards Him and His glory, then the naming of places should do same. Thus, the Catholic explorers and pioneers of this land proclaimed the truth that the earth, and all that is in it, is the Lord’s and gave Him honor when they named settlements, places, and rivers after those who gave the greatest honor to God: Our Lady and the Saints -the Lord is "glorified in His saints" (2 Thes.1:10). The suppressed knowledge of original place names has kept many from knowing this part of our Catholic American heritage, and all Catholic students (at the least!) should be made aware of these original place names and who named them. So, enjoy and let others know!
What are the original names of the following, who named them, and when?
Cape Cod (Massachusetts);
New York Harbor;
Long Island (N.Y.);
Hudson River (N.Y.);
Lake George (N.Y.);
Chesapeake Bay (Maryland);
Potomac River (MD);
Cape Fear River (SC)
Tampa Bay (Florida);
Mobile Bay (Alabama);
Columbia River (Oregon);
Rio Grande (Texas);
(Answers are below)
Early Spanish maps of America already had most of these names appearing on them by the 1540's.
Another way that the Catholic foundation of America -as a civilized land- is demonstrated, is by the fact, as pointed out in the "Catholics First" series of articles, that numerous well-known U. S. cities and towns began as Catholic mission/ settlements which, because of their success in converting the natives, eventually drew more settlers and developed into the towns and cities we know today. For example: Miami, Tallahassee, Pensacola, Mobile, Detroit, South Bend, Chicago, Green Bay, St. Louis, Sante Fe, San Antonio, San Diego, Los Angelus, and many others, all had their beginnings as Catholic mission/ settlements. Over-all, more than 350 American cities and towns have Catholic-type names. California has 52 named after saints; Texas has 21, while Minnesota and Missouri each have 18. States such as California, Texas, and Louisiana, have dozens of counties with Catholic names. California has eleven. Louisiana's southern and eastern parishes (counties) read like a litany: Ascension, Assumption, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Landry, St. Martin and St. Mary. These all give testimony to the Catholic origins of America.
In this section we show those more well-known cities and towns whose names were either changed, as a result of Protestant-Anglo possession, or were simply shortened since they had been established for so long that to change them would have caused confusion and serious complaints. We also provide the name of the missionary (or if there were more than one, the leader if known) who founded the mission and the year it was founded. Maybe you live in or near one of these places. If so, learn its history.
Mercedes(TX) . . . . . Our Lady of Ransom . . . . . . . . . . .Franciscan missionaries . . . 1757
Refugio(TX) . . . . . .Our Lady of Refuge . . . . . . . . . . .Franciscan missionaries . . . 1793
Sante Fe(NM) . . . . . Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis . .Don Pedro de Peralta . 1609
Socorro(NM) . . . . . .Nuestra Senora de Socorro(Our Lady of Assistance).Spanish missionaries . . 1629
Los Angeles . . . . . .Our Lady, Queen of the Angels . . . . . Don Felipe de Neve . . . . . .1781
(LA was an off-shoot of the San Gabriel Mission some five miles east, founded by Bl. Junipero Serra in 1771. Its full name in Spanish is Nuestra Senora ... de los Angeles. Thus, LA is not named after angels as most think, but in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as Queen of the Angels.)
Return to US Catholic History main page
Return to the Tower of David Ministry main page