What’s in a name?

When it comes to West Virginia, that’s a big question.

There are thousands of town and communities  statewide.

Wikipedia lists 2,984 unincorporated ones which means they don’t have any formally organized municipal government.

And each has a reason for its name.

Many reflect early settlers, but especially prominent business owners who helped grow the area.

Railroad and coal magnets (or their family members) were often namesakes.

But politicians, other historic figures and even battles also figure into some names.

And don’t forget natural features that stuck with pioneers when they first chose a home.

Here are some of the more unusual names, and the reasons behind them:

Big Chimney, Kanawha County:

For the salt works there which apparently built a “big chimney.”  

Big Stick, Raleigh County:

Theodore Roosevelt, Twenty-sixth President (1901-1909)

Refers to President Theodore Roosevelt, who believed in talking softly and carrying a big stick.

Bluefield, Mercer County:

The Blue Tree

Because of the growth of a dark blue flower and blue grass that grows there.

Cairo, Ritchie County:

Cairo, EgyptFor Cairo, Egypt.

Cedar Grove, Kanawha County:

cedar trees

Because a large cedar forest was growing there.

Clayton, Summers County:

The Vauxhall balloon

For a Cincinnati balloonist who crashed on Keeney’s Knob in April 1835.

Danville, Boone County:


For Dan Rock, first postmaster.

Elk Garden, Mineral County:


Because of the traditional location there of an elk lick.

Gary, McDowell County:

Elbert Henry Gary

For Judge Elbert Gary, president of U.S. Steel Corporation.

Grantsville, Calhoun County:

[General Ulysses S. Grant, Union Army]

For Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Helvetia, Randolph County:

Helvetia. . .

The ancient Latin name for Switzerland, because many early settlers were Swiss.

Hundred, Wetzel County:

West Virginia | Hundred

For Henry Church, and his wife, early settlers who lived to be 109 and 106 years old, respectively.

Hurricane, Putnam County:


After Hurricane Creek, which was thought to be damaged by a hurricane because the trees were bent in the same  direction. Surveyors discovered that a hurricane had earlier leveled many trees there.

Jumping Branch, Summers County:

Log over creek

For a log that had fallen over a creek, making an easy place to cross.

Lost Creek, Harrison County:

Message Tree

Because of a message carved on trees along the creek before the region was settled, according to tradition.

Lumberport, Harrison County:

Raft of Logs, Columbia River

Due to a boat yard where timber was dressed by hand and floated in rafts to market in Pittsburgh.

Monongah, Marion County:

Monongahela River, Morgantown WV

Named for the Monongahela River.

Moundsville, Marshall County:

Grave Creek Mound State Park

For the mammoth Grave Creek Indian Mound there.

Ona, Cabell County:

Long ago beauty pageant

For a girl named Ona who won a beauty contest held to determine the town name.

Pie, Mingo County


Named by postmaster Leander Blankenship (about 1870) because he liked pie, according to information from granddaughter Kathy Deskins.

Quinnimont, Fayette County:

Grandview - New River Gorge

Latin for “five mountains.”

Ronceverte, Greenbrier County:

WV-076 Ronceverte

French for “green brier.”

Sistersville, Tyler County:

Sistersville Historic Marker

For two sisters, Sarah and Delilah Wells, owners of the land there.

Skelton, Raleigh County:

Skelton - Christ the Consoler 15

Named by coal operator Samuel Dixon for his birthplace, Skelton, England.

Star City, Monongalia County:


For the Star Glass Company there.

Terra Alta, Preston County:

Terra Alta, West Virginia

Latin for “high land.”

War, McDowell County:

Welcome to the City of War

For War Creek, named by Native Americans because of a battle that occurred near the source of the stream.

Wheeling, Ohio County:

Engraving: 1854 View Of Wheeling, Virginia

Said to be from a Native American word for “place of the skull.”

(Sources include: jeff560.tripod.com, West Virginia Blue Book and The Synthetic Place Name in West Virginia by Hamill Kenny).