What's in a Name? For This Area, a Lot of History.

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By John Kelly
Thursday, April 26, 2007

How do you get a county named after you? Well, it helps if you're a noble. That's what I discovered when I looked into where our local names came from. I discovered a lot of other things, too.

Prince William County

Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, was George II's second son and was only 9 when his namesake county was established, in 1730.

William was a born military man. He dabbled with the Navy but instead chose an Army career. He fought alongside his father in the Battle of Dettingen, in the War of the Austrian Succession. By 1745, he was the head of England's army. A year later, he was in command during the Battle of Culloden in Scotland against forces loyal to Bonnie Prince Charlie.

That battle earned William the nickname "the Butcher," after English troops under his command rampaged across the countryside, shooting and bayoneting thousands of Highlanders, burning their farms and stealing their cattle. It was a bit of ethnic cleansing that diminished William's popularity. He died in 1765 at age 44.

Arlington County

The county takes its name from George Washington Parke Custis's estate. As for Custis's estate, it took its name from an English nobleman named Henry Bennet, later Lord Arlington. During England's Civil War, Bennet took a saber in the face, a blow that cut down to the bone. For the rest of his life, he wore a black bandage across his nose to cover the unsightly scar.

Alexandria

We know whom Alexandria is named after. We just don't know much about the guy. John Alexander was a Scottish planter who was living in Stafford County when he paid Robert Howson, an English ship captain, 6,000 pounds of tobacco for the land that would eventually take his family's name.

Fairfax County

Thomas, Lord Fairfax, didn't just talk the talk, he walked the walk. After inheriting enormous holdings in Virginia's Northern Neck from his mother, he twice traveled to America. The second time he stayed for good, even hiring a young man named George Washington to survey some of his land.

Loudoun County

John Campbell, the fourth Earl of Loudoun, was more of a farmer than a fighter. That would have been perfectly fine, except that King George II sent him to the colonies to oversee the French and Indian War. He dithered and was recalled to England after less than two years.

Fauquier County

No less a figure than Thomas Jefferson once called Francis Fauquier "the ablest governor who had ever served in Williamsburg." Fauquier technically never was governor. From 1758 to 1768, he was lieutenant governor, but he filled in regularly for his absent superiors.

Washington, D.C.

That's an easy one. The capital is named after our first president, George Washington, a onetime surveyor, a successful planter, a slave owner and the young nation's consummate soldier/politician. As for the District of Columbia portion, that's named after the Italian who "discovered" the New World: Christopher Columbus, who, it is said, sunburned easily.

Julia Feldmeier helped research this essay. "John Kelly's Washington" appears Sunday through Thursday in the Metro section. To learn about whom other Washington area counties are named for, visithttp://www.washingtonpost.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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