Sunday, April 5, 2020

Name Change Game

 Just when you thought you were driving down Gerard Street in Mandeville, the city council discovered in 2005 that it was actually "Girod Street" as originally recorded. Since it was the main thoroughfare through old town, a quick legal action and a few dozen street signs later, it was Girod Street once again. Street maps, business letterheads and business cards had to be changed to reflect the return to Girod.

The spelling of Girod Street had apparently been changed by a sign painter thirty years earlier. According to an article in the Times Picayune, the street was named in honor of Nicholas Girod, the fifth mayor of New Orleans, who once hatched a scheme to rescue deposed French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte from exile and bring him to the Mandeville area.

Girod Street was found mentioned in city documents from 1909 and shown on a 1925 map. Other changes in street names in Mandeville included Adear Street, which was changed back to the original "Adair" and Wilkinson Street which had been misspelled on two street signs.

Times (and Placenames) They Are A'Changing

Washington Parish was originally part of St. Tammany Parish, as was the portion of Tangipahoa Parish east of the Tangipahoa River. Then suddenly in 1819 by legislative edict St. Tammany shrunk to 50 percent of its original size, and Washington Parish came into existence. Someone who was living in Franklinton was no longer in St. Tammany Parish, but in Washington Parish instead. Franklinton did become the parish seat of Washington Parish in 1821, so there's a plus.

How often do names of streets, cities and entire parishes change? In the early days, pretty often it seems.  Let's turn again to the writings of Polly Morris, who, in 1976, explored even more intriguing instances of name changes and the havoc it caused with existing maps and public documents. Here is the text of her article.

St. Tammany Has Had More Names Than You Can Count

By Polly Morris

Just imagine that you are living in Pig's Eye in 1840.

You have shivered through a severe winter, wishing you had settled at the other end of the Mississippi River where the sun always shines, An old traveler comes upriver and offers you a tattered map and a battered bit of paper at a bargain price

Sight unseen, you buy a parcel of land, and set out for the Sunny Southland and your own property in St James, District of St. Ferdinand.

You consult the map frequently as you float downstream. When you stop for supplies at Chickasaw you learn it is now Memphis, Tenn. On down the river, Walnut Hills has been changed to Vicksburg, and Nouvelle Orleans is New Orleans. You ask about St James and the District of St Ferdinand and are told there is no such place.

Trick or trade

In all probability you will angrily assume that the old traveler tricked you. But if you are a trusting soul, you will persist in the search for St. James. You will ask about old land grants and later records. Finally you find St. James buried under a heap off history, having undergone two name changes since the old traveler purchased the property back in 1804.

By the time you get a clear title to your property it is 1841. You ask for a loan and the cold-eyed banker refuses. You have lied about your last residence There is no Pig's Eye. It will be years, if ever, before you know it became St. Paul shortly after you left.

Nations and Situations

Name changes in St Tammany Parish are quite confusing to those who research public records. The area was bounced around like a football between France, England, Spain, and the United States. At  times it was believed to be part of the Louisiana Purchase, of Mississippi    of Florida. Or a part of the short-lived Republic of West Florida. Known as the District of St Ferdinand it was later to be named St Tammany after a Delaware Indian Chief, who was not a real saint and had probably never heard of Louisiana.

The oldest town is believed to have begun as Couquiville named by French trappers who had a landing there. The English shortened it to Cokie Bank, and later named Madisonville, honoring the 4th President of the United States.

Abita Springs

Abita Springs has had three different names, with numerous spellings of Abita, lbetab, Eubetab, Abeka, Abeta and AbiTAW are said to have been derived from a Choctaw princess, and early settler or the Choctaw word for fountain. At one time it was Bossier City because a Captain John Bossier began a resort of health spa close to the springs. It was also known as Christy Springs because a Col. William Christy who made its waters famous.

Lacombe, too, has had several names for the settlement that straggled along the Bayou Lacombe.  The first concentrations of population were Camp Lomee and Buchuwa, both Indian Villages. As most of the homes and estates were along the bayou, the area in general was called Bayou Lacombe, which was named after a Frenchman named LaCombe.

The first resemblance to a real town came in the early 1900's when John H Davis laid out a subdivision named Lacombe Park. The town outgrew the subdivision and came to be known merely as Lacombe.  Unfortunately the very distinctive capital C is seldom used. Also unfortunate was the misspelling, either through ignorance or laziness, of the last word of the bayou. The C was omitted, and it looked as though it rhymed more with Tom or Mom than with home.


Covington has had three names. In 1803 a New Orleans creole named Drieux laid out the town of St. James. Later the entire town of 4 buildings was sold for $2,300 to John Wharton Collins who renamed it Wharton because of his famous English ancestors. Eventually it was re-renamed Covington after a Natchez hero of the War of 1812. Some said it was named after an excellent Kentucky whiskey that enjoyed popularity at that time. Collins said the new name had come about through politics.

Slidell and Folsom, named respectively after a patriot and a president's wife, have not suffered a name change. Nor has Mandeville except for a slight variation. When its founder Bernard de Marigny, advertised it, he called it the Quartier de Mandeville.

Public Records No Longer Simple

Times have changed since the 1800's but place names have not suffered in recent times, for "suffer" is an apt word for it. In the horse and buggy days, men had few legal documents or public records to be corrected in the changeover. The government was not smothering the citizens under a mountain of red tape. The post office was not suffocating under stacks of solicited and unsolicited mail.  And the telephone operator knew everyone in town.

There was no social security or welfare or income taxes. And a horse and his rider did not have to be licensed. If a traveler today tried to find a missing town on a road map, or was told by a telephone operator that there was no listing for such a town ot even had to mail change-of-address cards, he would plead to keep Pig's Eye, Cokie Bank, or Polecat Curve just as they are.

Published in the News Banner, April 14, 1976

End of Polly Morris Article

On the Tammany Family blog I have already posted a 1930 highway map of Louisiana put out by the state highway department. The highway numbers of almost all the secondary state highways have been changed over the years, resulting in a series of historic state maps with the wrong highway numbers. 

Travelers have not only faced the stigma of changed placenames but also the problem of changed highway numbers.

At least the locally-given names of secondary highways tend to remain the same, Turnpike Road, Military Road, Bennett Bridge Road, etc. Let's hope they keep putting the locally-given names on the roadways on future printed maps. 


Polly Morris joined the writing team at the Mandeville Banner in February of 1974.