In the U.S., we’re used to seeing recycled British names. It often feels a little anticlimactic to learn that a British colonist simply lifted the name of their hometown—Kensington, Cambridge, Salisbury, Westminster, Essex, Arlington, the list goes on—and slapped it onto whatever colony, town, or road they wanted to claim. However, the state of Maryland may be able to claim a rare distinction: lending its name to a location in Great Britain, not vice versa.
Kensington, Maryland boasts the second-oldest continuously operational railroad station in the country, serving D.C. commuters since 1891. In 1894, as the area started to grow as a commuter suburb, "Knowles Station" was set to be officially incorporated as a town in Maryland... until a man named Brainard Warner pushed back.
How did Silver Spring, Maryland land one of the prettiest, most mystical-sounding names in the Washington, D.C. area? Was there really a magical silver spring that once flowed through the area? Is it as pretty and idyllic as it sounds? Actually, that's exactly where the name comes from: a "silver spring."
Though most Americans (and Google) associate the name with Cornelius “Chevy” Chase, the actor of National Lampoon fame, those of us in the D.C. area know that Chevy Chase, Maryland had it first. Rumor has it, though, that the man and the town actually get their names from the same place: an English ballad that’s at least 500 years old.
How did the historic D.C. neighborhood of Anacostia get its name? The short answer is, of course, its proximity to the Anacostia River; but the river has its own history that’s worth unpacking. Like the Potomac, Anacostia’s name can be traced back to the area’s Indigenous population – in this case, the Nacotchtank of the Algonquian stock.
He never traveled to the United States or took an interest in our politics. He wasn’t known for any philanthropic efforts. Though intellectually curious, he didn’t make any groundbreaking or well-known scientific discoveries—and didn’t patronize people who did. Yet, surprisingly, he left his estate to the United States, asking that we use it to promote scientific research and education. Of all people, how did an English scientist's name come to be such a staple of Washington culture?
There are fifty-one streets in D.C. named for every state and Puerto Rico. But, admittedly, not all state avenues are created equal. Some are long, vital roadways through our city. Others are historic and prominent—the location of our country’s most important events. And some are…well, a bit hard to find. Admit it: you probably couldn’t point to all of them on a city map. So why are some state avenues more prominent than others? Is there any method to the naming madness?
Bethesda has become one of Washington’s busiest, most populated suburban communities. It’s hard to believe that, only 150 years ago, it was a little roadside stop haphazardly named after its general store!