Place names – English or Scottish

Place names in the U.S. – are there more English names or Scottish?

A recent story out of the UK tells of a woman in Barnstaple, Devon, (England) who witnessed an accident on a road in the area, and tried to notify Barnstaple police. Somehow her call was routed to police in Barnstable, Massachusetts, and confusion (if not hilarity) ensued.

Barnstable in Massachusetts was named after Barnstaple in Devon; it appears that spellings were revised since then in England.

On the Free Republic discussion thread I linked above, someone lists a number of Massachusetts place names that are English place names, probably reflecting the origin of the founders of the American towns:

”AND..towns of Yarmouth, Falmouth, Dover, Weymouth, Boston, Barnstable, Ipswich, Chelsea, Bolton, and many more have their American counterparts in Massachusetts.

And a number of these also have towns in Canada with the same names.”

This pattern was reflected in the Massachusetts town my maternal ancestors helped to found; it was named for a town in Hampshire, England, and when that Massachusetts town became too populated for my ancestors, they moved farther out, to the Maine woods, naming their new town, again, for the hometown in Hampshire, England. Then later other new towns founded by descendants farther West bore the same name. Heritage seems to have mattered.

However now we have the descendants of Scottish or more likely Ulster-descended colonists insisting that their ancestors were the most numerous, particularly in the Southern colonies. Some even claim that Scots or Ulstermen were more numerous than they are credited for in New England. But if that’s true then why were there not more place names from Scottish towns? In New England the names were heavily English, with some exceptions, notably places with Indian (“Native American”) names. There were some Scottish names.

This Wikipedia page lists a great many Scottish place names from many of the States. Undeniably there are quite a few, but I think they are attempting to ‘appropriate’ many English names by claiming them to be Scottish. One of the most egregious examples is the name Lee. Many instances of the name ‘Lee’ being used as a place name is credited as Scottish. I suspect that many of the ‘Lee’ place names in the South are in honor of the illustrious Lee family, especially our great General Robert E. Lee. One example is the town of Leesville, Louisiana.

But even before General Lee there was Henry Lee III, known as “Light Horse Harry” Lee, and the statesman Richard Henry Lee, who played a role in the decision to seek independence from England. I’ve encountered people on the Internet who say that General Lee was ‘Scots-Irish’, and I have to set them straight; the Lee family history is documented and can be looked up. The Lee family is of English provenance. General Lee has many admirers in England, where he is looked by many who know his background as a kinsman; I have to say I wonder if there are more people who know General Lee and his accomplishments on that side of the Atlantic than on this one.

So no, General Lee was not Scots-Irish; England has had many sons who were brave men and great military leaders, and it’s time we spoke out and stated that obvious fact.

As far as the name ‘Lee’, no doubt it’s used in Scotland as a surname or a place name, but the name ‘Lee’ is also found in Ireland. By the way, maybe Bruce Lee was Scots. The name ‘Bruce’ is obviously Scots, and if ‘Lee’ is also — he must be a real Scotsman.

Also on the Wikipedia list of Scottish names, they list the name Milton. I looked for the origin of the name and according to this source it is English, with the first recorded usage of the name by an Alan de Milton. Now usually the ‘de’ part indicates Norman origin. So I think Milton can’t be claimed as a Scots name, even though there may be Miltons (people or places) in Scotland.

Yes, there are a good many Scots place names in our country, but I think the Wikipedia list stretches facts to include towns named after prominent people or founders, though that does not mean that the bulk of the town’s citizens came from Scotland or had Scots ancestry.

I think that many non-English origin Americans, especially those descended from the peoples England conquered or dominated have an axe to grind, and they often seem to display a need to demote English-descended Americans or the English themselves as having been less important than they really were. It is often, consciously or not, about ‘payback’ for past perceived wrongs, about toppling the English and their American progeny from their place, taking them down a peg — or two or three, and promoting themselves to the place of honor. I believe in giving credit where due, and I don’t deny the Scots (or Ulster folk, many of whom are not in the least anti-English, quite the opposite) their place in history. If only hatchets could be buried, and old grievances from centuries ago put aside.

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