Where do the names for a state’s cities and counties originate?
It’s the question explored by Laurent Pernot in his book There and Here: Small Illinois Towns with Big Names.
“There and Here is an invitation to discover turf and tales largely unsuspected by many. Each town is a discovery,” Pernot said. “It reveals that Illinois started off far more Scottish or German than we may have known. It was a place where pioneers bravely built new lives and towns, but also where governors enslaved people and where people of color could be killed with impunity. These pioneers gave their new towns big names out of hope, hubris and maybe even denial. Often, the names are intentional, honoring the settlers’ places of origin, or mythical or biblical locals or coincidental.”
There and Here explores the history of more than 100 Illinois towns with foreign names, from Alhambra to Zion, and looks at what they’ve become. Included from the Southern Scene region are Massac County’s Metropolis, Johnson County’s Vienna, Pulaski County’s Karnak and Alexander County’s Cairo and Thebes.
According to Pernot’s research:
• Metropolis was laid out in 1839 by J.H.G. Wilcox and William McBane with the vision of making it the mother of all commercial centers. McBane picked the Greek name for what he dreamed would become a city without equal.
• Vienna has several theories for its name origin, which came in 1818 shortly before Illinois’ statehood. One of those theories is that it was named after Vienna Reynolds, the daughter of a prominent family of the time.
• Karnak, Cairo and Thebes all have something in common — their names originate from ancient Egypt during the time of the pharaohs. But it’s thanks to Illinois’ French ancestors this area became known as Little Egypt and these three towns got their names. The connection comes with French emperor Napoleon’s 1790s expedition of Egypt. Thanks to that, this area’s French settlers noticed southern Illinois with its convergence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers looks like the Nile Delta and gave it the designation of Little Egypt. As these three towns were established, that influence and designation became more obvious.
• Karnak was originally laid out in 1873 and was originally named Oaktown. It became Karnak in 1913 — 100 years after Cairo and 50 years after Thebes came to be — when W.N. Morgan chose the name for the great temple in Thebes, Egypt, keeping with the area’s status as Little Egypt.
— Cairo, like the ancient Egyptian city, sits atop the tip of the delta on the way to Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis, named after the ancient capital of Lower Egypt, was founded in 1819 and incorporated in 1826. Cairo was named and incorporated in 1818 and eventfully became the seat of Alexander County.
• Thebes was laid out in 1843, just before it was named the third seat of Alexander County. It was perhaps so named in honor of the ancient capital of Upper Egypt.
Pernot is originally from Valentigney, France. In 1988, he came to the United States as an exchange student to Elk Grove Village. He and his family now live in Highland Park. There and Here is his third book, following Before the Ivy: The Cubs’ Golden Years in Pre-Wrigley Chicago and Fernand: A French Family in War. He spent a decade writing There and Here, visiting the book’s locales, conducting his research and taking photographs.
The ebook for There and Here is on Google Books and Amazon. The print version can be purchased at www.laurent pernotbooks.com, which also links to the ebook.•