Heroes and Harem Owners: That's What's in a Name

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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 George's County

Prince George of Denmark was confident enough of his masculinity that he didn't mind being upstaged by his wife. Born in Denmark in 1653, Prince George was married off to the niece of England's King Charles II, Anne. The overweight, asthmatic George could have used this union as a launching pad to accrue power and influence in the English court. Instead, he stayed in the background. Anne eventually became a queen, but George never became a king. "I am her majesty's subject," he once said.

George, wrote one contemporary, "is very fat, loves news, the bottle, and the Queen." Another wag joked that his fits of asthma were "due to the fact that he was forced to breathe hard lest he should be taken for dead and removed for burial."

One of George's favorite hobbies, besides eating and drinking, was looking out the window of his wife's palace and "making malicious remarks" in his thick Danish accent about the people who walked by. If only there had been an E! Entertainment Television back then, he would have been the perfect sidekick for Joan Rivers.

Despite it all, or maybe because of it, Anne (who lent her name to Annapolis, by the way) loved her big Scandinavian lout and mourned his death in 1708. "A number of contemporaries," wrote historian Charles Beem, "believed that Anne never fully recovered from the loss of her husband."

Montgomery County

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

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.

Anne Arundel County

Lady Anne Arundell (pronounced "aaron-dale," by the way) was only 13 when she married Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore and the fellow who founded the colony of Maryland. It's unclear what happened to the last "L" in her name. It probably got lost somewhere around Route 50.

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 age 24. Charles busied himself with infrastructure -- overseeing the construction of roads, courthouses, 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 Southern Maryland county is named after. Because 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, also known as Mary Tudor.

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 go tohttp://www.washingtonpost.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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