Fauquier, one of Virginia's larger counties in terms of geography, has more than its share of village names that pique one's curiosity.

Taking the places alphabetically, I initially suspected Ada was an arbitrary name assigned by postal authorities. In fact, it was named for Ada Payne, who married Nelson DeNeale, the son of George DeNeale, a prominent landowner of the late 19th century. The village, four miles southwest of Marshall and once the trading hub of Dixon's Valley, had a post office from 1895 to 1905 and in the early 20th century featured Russ Moffett's store and Adolphus Moore's electrically powered grist mill. The only surviving nonresidential building from that era is the aptly named St. Andrew's Church on the Hill, built by Garland Russell in 1922.

Atoka, midway between Middleburg and Upperville, was named for a Choctaw Indian chief who never saw Virginia. Before 1893, the village was called Rector's Crossroads. But the post office department thought some people might confuse it with Rectortown, five miles away. A post office official staying with Zachary Pierce, owner of the largest farm in the area (later the home of Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and his second wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor), showed Pierce a list of easy-to-spell names, and his daughter Annie Pierce (later Gregg) picked Atoka. Years ago, she told me she liked the way it sounded.

Atoka had a post office from 1893 until 1907. Even though the post office had long since closed, reporters still used Atoka as the dateline of their stories when they wrote about Wexford, the nearby retreat purchased by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Today, the village store bustles, and the house belonging to Clinton Caleb Rector, the storekeeper during the Civil War, is headquarters for the John Singleton Mosby Heritage Area Inc., an organization dedicated to conserving and teaching others about the Virginia Piedmont's heritage and history.

At the Rector house, John Singleton Mosby organized his band of Confederate partisan rangers in June 1863. On a rainy night later that month, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart received his orders from Gen. Robert E. Lee about the Gettysburg campaign. Stuart might have misread the order, and his delay in not reaching Gettysburg until late the second day of battle assured the Confederates' defeat.

Botha, midway between Fauquier Springs and Remington, was named for South African soldier-statesmen Louis Botha, who fought against the British in the Anglo-Boer War. When the village post office was established in 1903, the war had ended, and Botha spoke in favor of reconciliation. In 1910, he was elected the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa. The name is pronounced "Bo tuh" in Afrikaans, accented on the first syllable.

As with Atoka, Botha was on the post office department's list of recommended post office names, which dated from the late 1880s. In 1885, with the United States expanding in area and population, President Grover Cleveland followed through on a campaign promise to place a post office every four miles in populated areas. The goal was to have no one walk more than two miles one way to pick up mail.

In Virginia, any name could be used for a new post office as long as there were no other post offices by that name in the commonwealth, Pennsylvania or Vermont. Handwritten abbreviations of those states were too close to the abbreviation of Virginia.

Clever's Oak, a Negro community a mile north of Goldvein, was the worshiping ground for slaves in Colonial times, according to old-timers. Many belonged to the Thompson family, which gave the slaves permission to practice the Christian faith. Before the first log-and-slab church was built in the late 1860s, the congregation met under a brush arbor in a grove of oaks.

Preaching in front of that arbor, the Rev. George Taylor, the first known minister in Clever's Oak, would place his Bible in a holder of two cut cedars. The receptacle reminded Taylor of a passage from Genesis 22:3, when Abraham, ready to sacrifice Isaac, "clave the wood for the burnt offering."

Conde, three miles east of Orlean, was unusual both for its name and the fact that its post office was established in 1927, more than 20 years after rural free delivery came to Fauquier, bringing mail to a mailbox at the home or farm. Rome was the initial name for the village, suggesting that someone familiar with ancient history renamed it for the Roman town of Conde-sur-l'Escaut in France. The post office, in Gilbert and Rose Ashby's store, closed in 1955, prompting the demise of Ashby's store.

Dudie, midway between Conde and Warrenton and accessible only by a series of narrow roads, featured Tom Parr's water-powered Carter's Run mill and a 1904-35 post office in his store. Parr, of Scottish background, recalled that "duddie" or "duddy" was a Gaelic word meaning ragged -- the constant condition of the roads. And so he suggested Duddie to the post office department, which accepted the name but left off the second "d."

Good Hope and Heart's Delight, small Negro villages in the county's south, were settled by freed slaves. Both names speak to a new way of life. The communities' Baptist church was founded by former slaves who had worshiped at nearby Zoar Baptist Church in Bristersburg. When the white congregation at Zoar helped build the blacks' first log church, the former slaves were so touched that they named their church Heart's Delight. A new brick building has replaced the log church and its 1894 successor. The church name soon became the community name.

Hardscrabble, a hamlet clinging to the Blue Ridge slopes, was once home to Rockland Methodist Church, of which the graveyard survives. Although elsewhere "hardscrabble" means barren or producing or earning only a very little, in southern mountain dialect the name translates as "the place had to scramble [pronounced 'scrabble' ] to keep its perch on the mountain slope." The Rappahannock County village of Scrabble has the same meaning.

Meetze, once a whistle stop on the Warrenton branch of the Southern Railway, took its name from Confederate veteran Capt. George Washington Meetze. Meetze, wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862, was brought by medics to the Weimar household, where daughter Mary nursed him back to health. They married, of course.

Considering the proliferation of Mosby names for Virginia streets, subdivisions and a public school in Fairfax County, one would not term the designation unusual today. But when Tom Sealock, who had ridden with Mosby during the Civil War, established a post office in Mosby in 1900, it was the first official appellation honoring the Confederate colonel, then 67. Located near the crest of the Blue Ridge, a few feet from the Warren County line, the combined post office and store closed in 1909. Today, a nearby Appalachian Trail shelter bears the Mosby name.

Pilgrim's Rest, a huddle of small houses between New Baltimore and Thoroughfare Gap, was settled by freed slaves who, remembering Hebrews verses 13-16, saw themselves as pilgrims in a new land. "God . . . has prepared a new city for them," Verse 16 reads.

Punkinville, the pre-1801 name for Paris, and still a revered nickname for the town, was not, as some assert, named for a wagonload of pumpkins rolling down the Blue Ridge slope and into town.

"Punkin" is a southerner's way of indicating an out-of-way place populated by hillbillies. Loudoun's Bluemont, back in the 19th century, was often called Punkintown. There's also a Punkin Corner in Prince William County. Movie buffs might recall the 1952 musical "Aaron Slick From Punkin Crick."

Scuffleburg, four frame-and-log buildings three miles northwest of Delaplane, had one passable road leading to it. Thus, people going to the hamlet barely had room to "scuffle in and out," old-timers said.

Pilgrimages of Civil War enthusiasts to the village were commonplace in William A. Martin's last years. (He died in 1907.) Martin, the village blacksmith, was the last surviving juror in the trial that sentenced abolitionist John Brown to death at Harpers Ferry in 1859. The village was also home to the shop of Benjamin O'Rear, who locals claim invented the threshing machine about 1825. He failed to patent it.

Shipmadilly, a cluster of homes just west of the town limits of Warrenton, stumps me as to its meaning, and I can't find anyone who knows what the name stands for. A "dilly" was an old Virginia word for a cart or small vehicle.

After the Civil War, incorporated towns, including Warrenton, did not welcome black residents. But the townspeople wanted the freedmen close enough to walk to town so they could be their house and maintenance help. Shipmadilly served that purpose.

Skinkertown consists of four neat plastered-frame homes midway between Middleburg and The Plains built by contractor William Nathan "Will" Hall in 1930 on land bought cheaply from William Skinker. As Hall and his relatives were black, he didn't dare call the quartet Halltown.

Locals in the county's southeast, in trying to come up with a name for their newly authorized post office, couldn't agree on one. One got up and resignedly remarked, "So we go." The name stuck, and the post office bore the name Sowego from 1893 to 1906.

Swamp, more familiar today as Belvoir, is a village midway between The Plains and Marshall. The area was a low place on the Thoroughfare Gap-to-Manassas Gap Road (today's Route 55), and such a wet-weather hazard on a major Virginia road was termed a "swampoodle," a corruption of "swamp puddle."

Swampoodle is also the name of a village a mile east of Hamilton, on old Route 7 in Loudoun County, and the name of a region by Mountain Run on the old plank road south of Brandy Station in Culpeper County.

Southern Railway President Fairfax Harrison moved to Swamp in 1907 and didn't like the name. So he changed the name of the stop on the Manassas Gap Railroad (a branch of the Southern) to Belvoir, the name of his Fairfax County birthplace and of his new mansion overlooking the railroad. Harrison also had the post office name changed to Belvoir. It remained open until 1958.

Zulla, of which no traces remain, was a village midway between Belvoir and the Loudoun line. George Zulla died of pneumonia while building the store and post office in 1890, and that year, area residents discarded the 1880s name for the village -- Cotland, an old English word for a cottage and five acres -- and renamed their hamlet Zulla. Residents completed Zulla's post office, which lasted until 1904. Then came the Middleburg rural free delivery wagon and the end of an era.

Eugene Scheel is a Waterford historian and mapmaker.

The house belonging to Clinton Caleb Rector, a storekeeper during the Civil War, is in Atoka, which was called Rector's Crossroads before 1893.