What’s in a Name?

Back in the late 1700s, a few hearty pioneers established a trading post in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains and gave it the name of New Prospect Camp Ground.  The “camp ground” moniker was very apt as the settlement, which grew up along side of an indian hunting trail, originally consisted of little more than a handful of tents, a single log cabin serving as a school of sorts, and an open arbor which provided shelter for a trading post at which settlers and Cherokee Indians met to exchange goods.

As time went on, others migrated into the surrounding area, cleared the forests, and discovered that cotton grew remarkably well in the local soil.  By 1858, the population had grown sufficiently for the area to be chartered as a town. Apparently feeling somewhat classical, the town fathers chose to use Greek as the source language from which to derive a name for their new municipality.  They christened their new town: Alpharetta; which they declared could be translated as: “First Town.”

But wait just a minute.  There’s a couple of problems with that derivation.  First of all, the newly charted entity wasn’t actually the first town in the area.  Five or six miles to the southwest, the larger and perhaps more affluent Roswell, had been established and chartered earlier than Alpharetta.  In 1865, when General William Tecumseh Sherman swept through the region on his way down to burn Atlanta and begin his infamous March to the Sea, the Union army pretty much ignored Alpharetta, opting for the more lucrative pickings to be found over in Roswell.  Perhaps there are times when it’s beneficial to be viewed as just an “also ran“.

Secondly, stretch and bend the Greek language as much as you will, there’s simply no way to translate the city’s name from Greek into “First Town.”  The Alpha part of the equation works perfectly well as alpha does in fact mean first in Greek, but the remaining retta component, can’t mean town given that it’s not even a Greek word.  One can only imagine what resource the original founders were using when they came up with the name.

These days, the once remote trading post which grew into a sleepy farming community and eventually a county seat, is just one of the many towns which have been absorbed into the ever expanding megalopolis known as metro-Atlanta, Georgia.  The motto for the area should be something along the lines of “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.”  The hive has now grown to somewhere around 5.4 million souls and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
As I’m out and about running errands in my adopted home town of Alpharetta, I often find myself thinking of just how close the original founders came in choosing a really meaningful name for the town.  Given the very questionable automobile driving skills, habits, and practices exhibited by many of the current residents, I’d suggest that Alphamou might have been a more appropriate alternative name.  With alpha being Greek for first and mou meaning me, the town’s name could have easily been translated as “Me First! “

But I guess that no one could have seen that clearly into the future.

Buckle Up!


Photo credit: swainboat Foter CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: Paul L Dineen / Foter / CC BY



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