By Bob Schulman
Flying to Playa del Carmen for some fun in the sun? Or maybe to Charlotte Amalie down in the Caribbean? Or to Lake Louise up in Canada? Or to Victoria Falls over in Africa? Or to Beverly Hills to spend a week with your rich uncle?
The origins of some of these names are easy to figure out, like the Victorias around the world and spots tagged for female saints. Others aren't so easy, and some are really tough to pin down, such as the Beverly in Beverly Hills. More about this later.
Let's start with a couple of Charlottes. The one in North Carolina – “the Queen City,” as it's called – was named after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of British King George III. The other Charlotte, also royally inspired, shows up on the map of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here, Danish monarch Christian V gave the island's capital the name of his better half, Charlotte Amalie (pronounced ah-MAHL-yuh) of Hesse-Kassel.
The legacy of Agrippina
Across the pond, another feminine superstar can be traced to the origin of modern-day Germany's fourth largest city. Her name was Agrippina, and she was born there in 15 A.D. when the town was a Roman outpost on the Rhine River known as Oppidum Ubiorum. But for a small-town girl she had a lot of clout – like being the daughter of the Roman Emperor Germanicus and later on the wife of the Emperor Claudius.
Historians say she talked her hubby into renaming the town Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (meaning something along the lines of “the colony of Claudius and Agrippina”), which over time was whittled down to its name today, Cologne.
On the other side of the world, visitors to the glittering casinos of Macau on the South China coast might want to pray for luck at the former Portugese colony's A-Ma Temple. Macau's name comes from the temple and its shrine of the Chinese sea goddess Matsu – a lady said to be able to predict good or bad luck.
Vacationers oohing and aahing at the spectacular sights of Lake Louise up in Canada can find out in a second how the lake got its name. Just about anyone around those parts will tell you Louise was Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.
South of the border, the booming beach town of Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya was named for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, as the Virgin Mary is called in the Carmelite Order. Also, the Carmelites' Our Lady is the patron saint of the Cancun mega-resort up the coast.
Dozens of Mexican cities are named after Our Lady of Guadalupe from a peasant's sighting of the Virgin Mary in 1531 outside Mexico City on the hill of Tepeyac. The name Guadalupe traces back to the 13th century discovery of a buried statute of the Virgin Mary on the banks of the Guadalupe River in Spain. Legends say it was hidden there when the Moors invaded the southwestern part of Spain in 714.
Two for the road
Let's end this with a couple of toughies. First, who was the State of Virginia named after? The answer is, the name is a holdover from the former British colony of Virginia, which was named after Queen Victoria I. So where does Virginia fit in? From the monarch's nickname. She never married, and was known as “the Virgin Queen.”
And on the other coast, who was the Beverly in Beverly Hills?
Imagine fields of lima beans as far as you can see. That's what Beverly Hills looked like when it was bought by some big oilmen from the East in the early 1900s. They didn't find any black stuff, so they decided to subdivide the land to build classy homes. They named it after a place full of classy homes back East called Beverly Farms, an offshoot of the nearby town of Beverly, Mass.
But who was Beverly? It seems the early settlers of Beverly (Mass.) had religious links to a city called Beverley (with an extra “e”) in Yorkshire, England, home of St. John of Beverley. The latter town's name dates back to the 10th century, when it was called Bevreli (meaning something like “place of beaver colonies”).
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