Towns that will twist your tongue

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By Rog Patterson

I must veer once more just a moment to Micanopy. For some reason, the name honors Mikanope, the chief of chiefs who led his Seminole warriors in what is called the Dade Massacre of 1835.

A Cuban land grant had been settled by white colonists as early as 1817 and a Virginian established his settlement there the same year as the massacre. The challenges of proper pronunciation remind me of New Hampshire natives daring newcomers to say the word Coos, as in Coos County, correctly. Anyway, I’m pretty well assured the majority of that town’s residents prefer Mi-CAN-nopy or even Mic-A-nopy over all others. However, local lore also remembers a certain slow-paying Irish merchant, “Mickey-no-pay.”

Many Marion County location names are for communities that no longer exist. Like Nixie, which was a postal clerk’s identification of an incorrectly addressed or otherwise undeliverable letter. It became the name of this community for a whole six months in 1883.

But Ocala has been Ocala since 1847, then under the shadow of Fort King, the principal fort in the entire state. Ancient Timucuan Indians considered the area their Ocali province and would later use the name to describe all of Central Florida.

Wordsmiths have tried to translate Ocala as meaning “water margin, lay on the fire, fertile soil or big hammock” among quite a few other tries without much agreement.

Ocklawaha is at once a river running through the middle of Marion County, the name of a town, and even a lake formed by the Rodman Reservoir along the erstwhile Cross Florida Barge Canal. An 80-mile tributary of the St. Johns River, the Ocklawaha was to link several man-made sections of the defunct canal.

Corruption of the Creek Indian ak-lowahe, meaning “muddy,” came pretty close as both Oklawaha and Ocklawaha, with the “c” version eventually becoming official.

Hope it’s okay if I wander again to mention Plum Nelly. This lumber mill crossroads was not far from Palatka and described as “plum out of town and ne’ly plum in the country,” by some joker who talked his neighbors into making it legal.

Down in the Keys you’ll find Pull-and-be-Damned Creek near Key Vaca, and what is now Marathon. The tidal flow of this narrow waterway suggests everyone’s efforts to row against a swift current likely prompted this well-deserved name.

Rainbow Spring and Silver Springs represent the majority of our state’s three first-magnitude springs in Marion County. A few miles north of Dunnellon, Rainbow Spring is a beautiful state park you can enjoy for $1.

Silver Springs is a multi-featured tourist attraction you can enjoy for a whole lot more dollars and the town has been here since 1852. A few miles beyond Rainbow Springs State Park and just barely within the Marion County border you’ll find Romeo.

And yes, it and up-the-road-apiece Juliette are supposedly named for a long ago Florida version of the tragic Veronese snuffed out romance. I can’t find Juliette on my AAA map nor the state gazetteer, so can’t say whether Juliette is also in Marion County.

The next three are outlanders, but I know you’ll want to learn about Sopchoppy, as I did. The town goes back to 1853, so we have another conglomeration of two Creek Indian names for either sokhe, for “twisted” and chapke, meaning “long” to describe the long, twisting Sopchoppy River running through town or, as another version has it, from the Seminole-Creek word lokchapi, which means “red oak” adding very little excitement to the translation.

Finally, I must acknowledge my editor’s tip to finding Two Egg. Just off U.S. 90 in Jackson County, it remembers a man with 16 children who did not have the wherewithal to dole out their allowances in cash. Instead, as each became old enough to barter with the local store owner, he gave them a chicken.

The youngsters learned to barter two eggs for store candy, which prompted locals to say they’d been to “Two Egg Crossing” and eventually just plain Two Egg.

He also suggested checking out Yankeetown, another Gulf Coast community. A small fishing camp using the name of Knotts was set up to attract northern immigrants by Judge A.F. Knotts of Gary, Indiana.

Nearby Inglis residents became united in a not-in-my-back yard stance by encouraging all newcomers from up north to settle in Yankeetown, as they called Knotts. In 1925, incorporators decided that was a fine name.

Did you know the word Yankee has a Dutch derivation? The Dutch who colonizes Manhattan ridiculed the English settlers in Connecticut by calling them “Jan Kees,” or “Yahn Keys.” Now you do.

Let’s not forget Steinhatchee, currently the Gulf-side launching spot for scallopers, as well as the name of a river. Here again the Creek Indians provided aka for “down” or “dead;” isti for “man” and hatchee as in “creek” (okay, or crick) to come up with Deadman’s Creek when sort of put together. And there just happens to be a Deadman’s Bay at the mouth of the Steinhatchee River.

So … from Achackweithle Bluff to Zuber, there are dozens more fascinating town and place names throughout Florida. If you have a favorite story about the source of a town’s name, please tell it to someone else. I have learned more than I ever expected to know, and all that I really want to.

Rog Patterson is a Marion Landing resident, Friendship Kiwanis Club member and Citizen writer.