How All 50 State Capitals Got Their Names

It doesn’t matter so much that the 50 cities on this list are state capitals, because any list of town name origins contains some interesting stories. However, using state capitals gives every American a connection to at least one of them. I never knew the story, but I had assumed, I guess, that the capital of Kentucky has some connection to Frankfurt, Germany. Wrong.

Historians aren’t certain where Frankfort got its name, but most people believe the name memorializes an early settler named Stephen Frank, who was killed by Native Americans near a river crossing. The crossing came to be known as Frank’s Ford, later shortened to Frankfort. Frankfort is located in similarly named Franklin County, named for Benjamin Franklin.

But they get more interesting. Check out Minnesota’s capital.

St. Paul didn’t receive its elegant sounding moniker until 1849. Before that, it was called Pig’s Eye, after a local tavern owner named Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant. Parrant was an unlikely inspiration for a town name: He had a bad reputation and was said to be a coarse, uncouth man whose bad eye lent his face a piggish expression. But according to legend, a customer at Parrant’s tavern gave “Pig’s Eye” as the return address on a letter he was sending, and from then on, the town was known as Pig’s Eye.

St. Paul might have been known as Pig’s Eye forever, if not for the arrival of a Catholic priest named Father Lucien Galtier, who established the chapel of St. Paul in the region in 1840. Nine years later, the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Minnesota, presumably weighing the pros and cons of naming the town after a licentious tavern owner or a Catholic saint, officially named the settlement St. Paul.

See if your state capital has such a colorful past, at mental_floss. 

(Image credit: Roke~commonswiki)


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