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What's In A Name?

March 25, 2014
by Kate Myers , Emmetsburg News

When I arrived at my desk back in November, there was a note posted on the computer monitor with a list of all the towns in our area covered by our papers. I did not find that at all unusual. When I first started at the Sac Sun newspaper in Sac City, a similar note was posted at my workstation.

Last week I overheard a conversation that took place in the front of our office. It triggered my curiosity. A gentleman came in and asked if anyone here knew the origin of Emmetsburg's name. He said he had lived in the area for a number of years and didn't know. He also had conducted a quick survey at a local business and had no luck in discovering the answer. So he came to the newspaper thinking we might know. My colleague Jane was very willing to share with him the story of Robert Emmet, the Irish patriot who in 1803 was executed by the English government in Ireland's fight for independence.

That story sent me on a quest. It probably doesn't hurt that American history fascinates me, so I did some quick research on the stories behind the town names. The information I learned, other that the story of Emmetsburg, is provided in the order listed on the post-it note.

Ayrshire was named after a town of the same name in Scotland.

Curlew was named by the president of Des Moines & Fort Dodge railroad for the Curlew birds, which were apparently abundant in the area. I quickly learned there was a pattern to town naming.

Graettinger was named after the family that owned the land at the time the area was platted. This occurred about the time railways were being established in the area.

Mallard was named for the great many Mallard ducks in the area. This name was chosen by Charles E. Whitehead, president of the Des Moines and Fort Dodge Railway. Whitehead was the same president who chose the name for Curlew and was evidently an avid hunter.

Rodman got its name from one Mr. Rodman. Mr. Rodman was a retired sailor, and owned the land at the time the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway was making its way through the area.

The Ruthven brothers owned land that the Milwaukee Railroad was interested in as they advanced west. They agreed to give one-half of the land as long as a town was located there. The town was named after the brothers.

The West Bend township was named for the sharp turn the Des Moines River takes towards the west in that area of the county. About the time the railroad was built, there was a cabin in the area that housed the post office. The township people voted on a tax on the condition the railroad would establish a depot in the area. The railroad wanted to name the town Ives, but a lobbying effort by the citizens convinced the railroad personnel to name the new town, West Bend.

The town of Fenton was named after the New York governor and senator. Why that is remains unclear.

Havelock was named after Henry Havelock.

Whittemore is also on the list, but my quick research did not yield me an explanation. I am hoping at some point I will trip across the origins.

In a very loose connection, during one of the bitter cold days of the last few months, I warmed my fingers by leafing through the records in the Recorders Office, researching the names of the babies born in Palo Alto County during 2013. It was a fun exercise to see if local name choices were similar to others in our nation.

Of the 129 records on file, the most popular boys name in Palo Alto County was Braxton closely followed by Nolan, Henry, Grayson and Easton. Fear not, the multiples were not great and there were far more unique names than ones in common. According to, the most common boy names in 2013 were Liam, Noah, Oliver, Aidan/Aiden/Aden and Asher. I am pleased to report those names were among those chosen by parents in our county.

On the other side of the gender aisle, Lily Ann/Lillian and Shaylee/Shae Leigh were the two sets of names I found in common with the baby girls. Nationally, the top baby girl names were Charlotte, Amelia, Olivia and Ava. As with the little boys, there are new babies in our county with those names as well.

Chris and I were blessed with our first grandchild in 2012. Her name is Peyton Marie. It warmed my heart when I saw a Peyton Marie had been born in Palo Alto County in July. Marie is a family, so I was happy when our son and daughter-in-law chose to carry on the tradition. We are anxiously awaiting the birth of our next grandchild. We are curious what name will be chosen, but won't ask. We learned the last time, the kids held that information pretty close to the chest. Come late summer we will learn all about a new name.



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