What’s in a name?

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: August 21, 2006

What did you call the neighborhood where you grew up?

If it was something like Ten Island, Duke, Chosea Springs or Iron City, chances are you hear that name less and less these days.

As some smaller communities have been annexed into cities or swallowed by sprawl, the individual, often quirky names they were known by may be disappearing. At the same time, schools built in the last few decades have led to widespread use of a school’s name as a designation for the surrounding area.

Rachel Cheatwood, a lifelong resident of Rabbittown, said her neighbors still use the name exclusively to refer to the area, about six miles east of Jacksonville.

“It’s always Rabbittown with us ’cause we’ve always lived here,” Cheatwood said. “I always say I’m from Rabbittown, and then I might say, ‘three miles from White Plains’ or maybe ‘about 20 miles northeast of Anniston’ or something like that.”

Rudy Abbott, commissioner for northeastern Calhoun County, said there is a plethora of these smaller communities, many of them dating from the mid- to late 1800s.

“All of these areas will be named after either a church, the prominent family in this community, it may be a school … and there’s all kinds of communities named after something like a spring or a lake a recreation site,” Abbott said.

While many of these names still are familiar to people living in and around these areas, they are gradually losing currency elsewhere. Abbott recalled a similar situation with a community close to where he grew up in west Anniston, Eulaton.

“If we told people we were from Eulaton when we were in Birmingham nobody knew where that was, so we told them we were from west Anniston,” he said.

Many places, such as Duke and Cedar Springs, had their own junior high schools, which were closed or consolidated with other schools. Anthony Findley, a teacher at Pleasant Valley High School, said he thought that the schools often cemented the communities.

“People in Williams and all these other communities, since the schools were there they took pride in their community,” Findley said.

The principal of Pleasant Valley High School, Charlton Giles, said that four schools – Cedar Springs, Webster’s Chapel, Roy Webb and Williams – were consolidated to make Pleasant Valley, a name that now is well known throughout the county because of the school.

“It really makes sense, because there’s not a township or city type of government out here and in this community everything centers around church and school,” Giles said.

But Findley added that the area did not derive its name from the school. He said a church with the Pleasant Valley name has been in existence for about 90 years.

“When they formed the church, they had an argument about what to call the church, one of them liked Pleasant Grove, one of them Happy Valley, so they compromised on Pleasant Valley,” he said. “That’s how the name Pleasant Valley came about up here.”

Another area whose name is strongly identified with a school is Saks, which has an elementary, middle and high school. Larry Skinner, principal of Saks High, said that determining the origin of the name is “about like saying, which came first, the chicken or the egg.”

“Joseph Saks, he was a kind of landowner,” Skinner said. “He built a school to educate the children of the people who worked for him and then I’m sure others attended and then it took off, the community began to grow and the school grew, too.”

Skinner said Saks moved to Anniston from Birmingham in the late 1800s and that the first school building was put up in the 1920s or ’30s. The current building was erected in 1969 and added to in 1973, he said.

In Rabbittown, many residents know the legend of the name’s origin. According to library records, an American Indian who owned the area disliked the original name of Egypt bestowed by settlers, and changed it to The Rabbit. Through the generations, this name gradually morphed to Rabbittown.

Ronald Hall, another lifelong resident of the area, said he thinks the name is still as much in use as ever.

“It’s just an old community and it’s kind of hard for another place like White Plains to take over a community that’s been here as long as Rabbittown has,” he said.

Many of these areas still have street signs marking them and a church bearing the name, but few are noted on maps. Abbott, the county commissioner, said that with more people moving out of cities and into unincorporated areas of the county, the old names may become obscured.

“I think probably some of the community identification maybe is not as strong as it once was, because new people and newcomers and the younger generation, you know, do not pick up on those things and they may want to know what road you live on, what street you live on, not what community you reside in,” he said.

The schools or other landmarks such as a post office play a big role in a community’s name becoming more or less known, Abbott said.

“I think that happens in every community, they’ll have a tendency to identify with a school or a big church or if there’s only one church or whatever,” he said. “As those schools became outdated and needed to be replaced and consolidation took place then the thing that really identified that community to a great extent lost part of that.”

But Cheatwood, the Rabbittown resident, disagreed, saying she thinks that the new people moving to her community are adopting and identifying with the name. She added that she thinks it is important for areas to hold on to their names because it gives them “character.”

“I think it’s probably becoming more known because so many people are moving in,” she said.

Abbott said new growth in suburban areas could lead to new names arising.

“The only time I see it changing is when they bring in schools,” he said. But he wondered if other institutions could give rise to place names, say a major local employer, for instance.

“You know, it would be interesting to see if the Eastaboga area, which has a post office,” Abbott said, “becomes ‘the Honda community.'”

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