Name that place: brief history on city names, origins
The late Allen Morris was a historian and former clerk of the Florida House of Representatives. He published many, many books, including the classic "Florida Handbook" as well as "Florida Place Names," which describes where the names came from in just about every place in the state. Well, almost.
Anna Maria Island, for example, has this description:
"Tradition (and the Manatee County Historical Society) says that Ponce de Leon visited this island in 1513 and gave it the name of the queen of his sponsor, King Charles II. Indians of the Timuca tribe lived here, and their burial mounds have been the source of artifacts for archaeologists seeking to learn about the Timuca. Pronunciation of the island's name is a matter for dispute: Anna Mar-EYE-a has been the favorite of many old-timers, but islanders nowadays are said to prefer Anna Mar-EE-a."
The village of Cortez?
"Named in 1888 for Hernando Cortes, Spanish explorer."
"The name has probably been around since the days of the explorers. It appears on 18th century maps, but its origin has been lost. A longboat is the largest boat carried by a merchant sailing vessel." Regarding the town of Longboat Key, Morris wrote, "Taking its name from the key, this community is unusual in that it straddles the boundary between Manatee and Sarasota counties. Only six cities in Florida are so split."
"The 31st county, established Jan. 9, 1855. Named for Florida's manatees, or sea cows, now an endangered species. Manatees were once found as far north as the Carolinas and all around the Gulf of Mexico. Now they survive only in isolated pockets of Florida, with man their only natural enemy.
"When Columbus thought he saw mermaids in 1493, he likely had sighted manatees. Science has preserved a vestige of the mermaid legend, for a 19th century taxonomist gave the order the scientific name Sirenia, from the Spanish sirenas or 'mermaids.' The common name manatee came from the Spanish manati.
"Manatees eat submerged aquatic plants. They usually stay submerged about five minutes, but will surface once a minute when swimming because of the need for oxygen. The typical manatee is 10 feet long and weighs 1,000 pounds. Manatees are both friendly and harmless. The reproduction rate of one calf for each adult female every three years explains the reason why the manatee has been unable to cope with man through loss of feeding areas, by hunting, and through injury resulting from the propellers of powerboats."
"The 60th county, established May 14, 1921. The origin of the name of this county is shrouded in dispute and legend. The Spaniards are said by one version to have named it to designate it 'a place for dancing,' referring to the celebrations held by the Indians on or near the shore of the bay here, but there are no words in modern Spanish to give this meaning to the name. A legend, more colorful but more obviously fabricated, ascribes the name to a beautiful daughter of DeSoto, the great Spanish explorer — Sara Sota. An Indian prince is said to have allowed himself to be taken prisoner by the Spaniards so that he could be near her; when he fell sick she nursed him back to health, only to fall sick herself and die. The Indian prince and 100 of his braves buried her beneath the waters of the bay, then chopped their canoes with tomahawks and sank to death themselves. Eighteenth-century maps show the name variously as Sarasote, Sarazota and Sara Zota."
"In 1854, Dr. Joseph Braden, a pioneer sugar planter, built his home close to the point where Hernando De Soto had first landed on the Florida peninsula in 1539. When a post office was established in 1878, the spelling was given as Braidentown by mistake. The 'i' was later dropped, and in 1924 the 'w' was eliminated to make the present spelling."
"A mile-long stretch of palmettos and pines which once guarded the entrance to Tampa Bay, it derives its name from the Earl of Egmont, brother-in-law of the second Viscount Hillsborough, who received a large grant of Florida land during the English occupation (1763-1783). The first Spaniard to die in battle within the boundaries of the present United States was killed in 1513 either here or on one of the keys of Charlotte Harbor. He was a member of Juan Ponce de Leon's exploratory expedition cruising the coasts of Florida. Because of its strategic location, Egmont was fortified by the Spanish and the Americans. From a collection center here in 1858, Billy Bowlegs and 139 other Seminoles were taken aboard ship for transport to the West. During the Spanish-American War, a fortification called by an old name — Fort Dade — was built on Egmont. 'Fort Dade' was named for Maj. Francis Dade and erected in 1898."
"Established prior to 1885. Its name was suggested by the abundant growth of small palms in this vicinity. The word derives from the Spanish word palmito, meaning 'little palm tree.'"
"Here is the Gamble Mansion built in the 1840s, a duplicate of Waukeenah, the homestead near Tallahassee that Maj. Robert Gamble left after the crash of the Union Bank. It has thick walls, shuttered windows and wide verandahs out of 'tabby,' a combination of marl, burnt shell lime, oyster shell and sand. This mansion is said to have sheltered Judah P. Benjamin, secretary of state in the Confederacy, as he escaped to England by way of Florida and the Bahamas. But who was Ellen?"
"An Indian name, but did it come from Oneka, oldest son of Uncas, a Mohican sachem? Or did it come from Onaka, the fortune-teller and Seminole chief? Sources differ."
"The first place name the Europeans brought to this continent," Morris wrote. "On Easter Sunday, 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon and those with him in three ships saw a small, unknown island. They sailed northwest for three days and then west-northwest for two days more. Again they saw land, but the coast was so long that they knew this was not an island like the one glimpsed five days before.
"The lawyers who served the king of Spain thought possession could be cinched by naming places discovered by explorers; thus, Ponce de Leon was faced with the problem of what to call this land on which he yet had not set foot.
"Writing 100 years later, court historian Antonio de Herrera told how Ponce de Leon solved the problem:
"'Believing that land to be an island, they named it Florida, because it appeared very delightful, having many pleasant groves, and it was all level; as also because they discovered it at Easter, which as has been said, the Spaniards called Pasqua de Flores, or Florida.'
"The Spanish pronounced it Flor-EE-da. The English, coming later, kept the name but changed the pronunciation to suit their tongues, so Flor-EE-da became FLOR-i-da."
Escambia and St. Johns share the honor of being the first two counties in Florida, each established July 21, 1821.
And the little town of Paisley in Lake County, impacted by tornadoes last week, is not to be found in Morris' book.