Town's Name Can Give a Hint of Its History

By Pfankuch, Thomas B. | The Florida Times Union, July 7, 1999 | Go to article overview

Town's Name Can Give a Hint of Its History


Pfankuch, Thomas B., The Florida Times Union


COOKS HAMMOCK -- Elbert Pearson understands why people might think the name of his hometown has something to do with lazy days spent relaxing in a hammock hung between two trees.

After all, things are pretty mellow for the 30 residents of Cooks Hammock, a Lafayette County speck on the map where Pearson's porch is the busiest place in town.

"We just spend an awful lot of time twiddling our thumbs," said Pearson, 83, who whiles away his days in an old recliner on his porch watching the occasional car go by on Florida 51. "It's away from the hurly-burly all right."

But names can deceive. It turns out the origin of the name Cooks Hammock has more to do with logging than with lounging.

Hammock is a word used to describe a topographical formation common in Florida in which an elevated patch of extremely rich soil is covered with a stand of hardwood trees. Cook was an early North Florida settler who traded with the Indians and cleared the hammock here to use as farmland.

Florida is a land of many odd names, and each name has an origin that reveals a little something about the city or town it identifies.

Some names have Indian origins like Palatka (from the Seminole word for river crossing). Some are named for individuals, like Jan Phyl Village (a Polk County town named by a developer after his two daughters, Janice and Phyllis). And others are named for the terrain, like Zolfo Springs in Hardee County, so named because zolfo is the Italian word for sulphur that is abundant in the area.

"This state has countless unusual names," said Jean Perry Morris, curator of the Florida Photographic Archives in Tallahassee and photo editor of the book Florida Place Names. "The names describe the places, and you can learn so much history of the state by looking at these names."

Some Florida names seem easy to figure out: Jacksonville, for example, which used to be called Cow Ford, is named after early Florida territorial governor and later president Andrew Jackson.

Some names are based on historical events, such as the seven cities named after forts, including Fort White and Fort Lauderdale. Religious reverence prompted other names, like the dozen cities and towns named after saints (St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, St. Marks).

Others reflect the state's Spanish heritage: Boca Raton, which means rat's mouth, is on a bay that resembles a small rodent mouth.

While still others are rooted in a community's desire to make it attractive as a tourist destination: consider Frostproof, Clearwater, or Winter Haven.

But most unusual place names just spring up over time, maybe because they describe the landscape or plant and animal life in the area, and then they just stick.

Sweet Gum Head, for instance, is a bitty burg located so close to the Alabama border that some residents used to collect welfare checks from both states until the government cracked down. …

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