John Kelly's Washington

What's in a Name? A Lot of History.

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.

Anne Arundel County

Like the vast majority of British nobles who gave their name to U.S. counties, Lady Anne Arundell (pronounced "aaron-dale," by the way) never set foot in America. But when you have a vast continent to name, you can't set your standards too high.

Anne was only 13 years old when she married Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, who founded the colony of Maryland. He never visited Maryland, either, but the pair of them must have taken an interest in their namesake territories. A ceiling in their home in England was decorated with plaster likenesses of the Ark and the Dove, the ships that brought the first colonists to Maryland's shores.

Only three of her nine children survived to adulthood. Anne died in 1649 at age 34. The next year, the first General Assembly voted to name the county after her.

It's unclear what happened to the last "l" in her name. It probably got lost somewhere around Route 50.

Montgomery County

Killed in a snowstorm on New Year's Eve 1775, while leading an assault on British-held Quebec, the Irish-born Richard Montgomery became the country's first national hero. At least 18 U.S. counties and towns are named for him.

Prince George's County

An overweight, alcoholic asthmatic who never shed his Scandinavian accent, Prince George of Denmark didn't make much of an impression on those who met him. But he was extremely loyal to his wife, Britain's Queen Anne. "I am her majesty's subject," he once said modestly.

Howard County

Lt. Col. John Eager Howard was the son of a wealthy Baltimore County planter who rose through the ranks of the Continental Army. At the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina in 1781, he ordered his men to make a bayonet charge that routed the enemy. His bravery earned Howard a silver medal from Congress. He went on to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress, governor of Maryland and U.S. senator.

Frederick County

What can you say about a man accused of having his own harem, and who was the central character in a notorious London rape case? Why, you can say that Frederick County is named after him. Frederick Calvert was the sixth and, as it turned out, last Lord Baltimore. In 1768, he was accused of "feloniously ravishing" a milliner named Sarah Woodcock, after luring her to his Epsom estate with the promise of work. Amazingly, Frederick was acquitted.

Calvert County

The Sopranos have their waste disposal business. The Calverts had their colony-running business. George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore (and a Catholic to boot), was the first of the clan to snag a piece of the New World, when he was granted permission to start a colony by the British crown. He died before seeing the colony established in Maryland.

Charles County

Charles, the third Lord Baltimore, was the first to have the pleasure of actually visiting Maryland. He arrived in 1661 at the age of 24. Charles busied himself with his colony's infrastructure -- overseeing the construction of roads, storage facilities for gunpowder and the like. It was under his watch that slavery was made legal.

St. Mary's County

We can't say for sure whom this county is named after. Since Maryland began as a colony friendly to Catholics, most experts think it was named after the mother of Jesus. Other sources suggest it was named after Queen Mary I.

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, visit

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