How 50 Texas Cities Got Their Names

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1. HOUSTON

The state’s largest city takes its name from Sam Houston, who led the army that defeated Mexican troops during the Texas Revolution in 1836. That year, the Allen brothers decided to establish a town on the site of a beautiful bayou and name it after him.  

2. SAN ANTONIO

In 1691, a group of Spanish settlers—including Domingo Terán de los Ríos, the first governor of Spanish Texas—entered the territory to establish missions and regain control of the area from the French, Apache, and Comanche. On June 13, 1691, the party camped next to a stream. It happened to be the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, and so they renamed the river San Antonio, which later lent its name to the city.

3. DALLAS

Likely the surname of a historic figure, the precise origin of Dallas’s name is unknown. It could come from George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States under James K. Polk, or his brother, Commodore Alexander J. Dallas of the United States Navy, or Joseph Dallas, who settled near the new town in 1843.

4. AUSTIN

Austin’s namesake is Stephen F. Austin, the “founder of Anglo-American Texas.” The city was established as the capital in 1839, when the Republic of Texas was just three years old.

5. FORT WORTH

General William Jenkins Worth was a military hero in the Mexican War who was serving as the Commander of the Department of Texas when he died of cholera in May 1849, about a month before Major Ripley Arnold established the fort.

6. EL PASO

Paso comes from “El Paso del Norte,” or “Pass of the North.” Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate gave the location that name in 1598 because it sits in the pass between two mountain ranges, the Sierra de Juárez and the Franklin Mountains.

7. ARLINGTON

Founded in 1876, Arlington was renamed in 1877 after Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House in Arlington, Virginia. 

8. CORPUS CHRISTI

Spanish explorer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda is responsible for naming this southern Texas city. The name, which means “body of Christ,” comes from the Catholic feast day on which he explored and claimed the area in 1519.

9. LAREDO

A Spanish military officer named José de Escandón was commissioned to settle the area and named it Laredo, after a town in the Santander province of Spain. 

10. LUBBOCK

Thomas Saltus Lubbock was a soldier in the Texas Revolution and served as a Texas Ranger in support of the Confederacy during the Civil War. He was also the brother of the ninth governor of Texas, Francis R. Lubbock, who served from 1857 to 1859. 

11. GARLAND

Former Arkansas governor and U.S. senator Augustus H. Garland was the sitting attorney general when the city was established in 1887. He served under President Grover Cleveland.

12. IRVING

The city of Irving is most likely named for a Yankee—Washington Irving. Irving was the favorite author of Onetta Barcus Brown, the wife of the town’s co-founder, Otis Brown.

13. AMARILLO

The Spanish word for “yellow” suits this city well thanks to the yellow wildflowers and yellow soil along the banks of the creek of the same name. Charles F. Rudolph, editor of the Tascosa Pioneer, shamed the Forth Worth and Denver Railway employees for their incorrect pronunciation for the Spanish word. In 1888, he correctly predicted the future when he said, "Never again will it be Ah-mah-ree-yoh."

14. GRAND PRAIRIE

This name reflects the land on which the city was built—glorious, expansive grasslands. It was originally called Dechman after its founder, but the town’s name was later changed to match that of the local railroad station.

15. BROWNSVILLE

Major Jacob Brown was a soldier in the Mexican-American War. He served as commander of Fort Texas, where died during a Mexican attack, and posthumously gave this city its name. 

16. PASADENA

It’s no coincidence that Pasadena, Texas shares a name with a town in California. Founder John H. Burnett wanted to depict his area as lush with vegetation and fertile for agriculture, just like the SoCal region.

17. McKINNEY

Collin McKinney was among the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. He also served as a land surveyor, legislator, and religious leader.

18. MESQUITE

A nearby creek of the same name was dubbed before the city was founded in 1873, presumably after the mesquite trees native to the area. 

19. KILLEEN

Settled in 1872, Killeen was established by the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway, which named the settlement for Frank P. Killeen, assistant general manager of the railroad. Before taking on Killeen’s name, the area was called Palo Alto.

20. FRISCO

Originally named Emerson, the city was renamed in 1904 for the St. Louis, San Francisco & Texas Railway, referred to as the “Frisco system,” which ran through the area.

21. McALLEN

John McAllen was an early settler in the area who joined with his son, James McAllen, to donate land for the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway to cross in order to establish a town along the rail line. 

22. WACO

Waco is named for the Waco tribe, whose village once rested on the land that now bears its name.

23. CARROLLTON

The name most likely comes from Carrollton, Illinois, the previous hometown of many of the city’s early residents. It is also possible that the name comes from Daniel Joseph Carroll, a settler from the 1841 William S. Peters colony.

24. MIDLAND

Midland began in 1881 as Midway Station, a section house located halfway between two stations on the Texas and Pacific Railway. Because Texas already had towns called Midway, the name was changed in 1884—as many do—to facilitate establishing a post office.

25. DENTON

John B. Denton was a lawyer, Methodist minister, and captain in the Republic of Texas army. The city was founded in 1857.

26. ABILENE

When the town was founded in 1881, C.W. Merchant took the name from Abilene, Kans. in the hope that its Texas counterpart could become as important as its sister in the cattle ranching business.

27. BEAUMONT

Henry Millard and his partners purchased fifty acres to establish a town in 1835. The Beaumont moniker likely came from Millard’s wife’s maiden name.

28. ODESSA

Russian railroad workers likely named this city for its resemblance to the landscape of Odessa, Ukraine. 

29. ROUND ROCK

Two fishing buddies and early residents found inspiration in the large limestone rock in Brushy Creek where the pair liked to drop their lines.

30. THE WOODLANDS

While not technically an incorporated city (it’s a census designated place), The Woodlands boasts a robust population (around 108,000) that earns it a spot on this list. George P. Mitchell founded the planned community in 1974, and the name was likely picked as a way to market the development as a pastoral, nature-filled alternative to nearby Houston.

31. WICHITA FALLS

Wichita County and the Wichita River both existed before the city and were named for the local Wichita tribe, though that word wasn’t the tribe’s name for themselves, but rather a Choctaw word meaning “big arbor,” a reference to their thatched huts. The “falls” was a five-foot-high waterfall that washed away in the late 1800s. 

32. RICHARDSON

A couple of Richardsons could have given their name to this city. The name most likely comes from E. H. Richardson, a contractor who built the Houston and Texas Central Railroad from Dallas to Denton, but it could also be a reference to A. S. Richardson, a secretary for the railroad. The town of Richardson was intentionally founded on the railroad tracks, which makes both sensible candidates.

33. LEWISVILLE

Lewisville was once known as Holford Prairie after its previous owners, but in the 1850s, B.W. Lewis bought the land and renamed it after himself.

34. TYLER

The city was named for President John Tyler as a show of gratitude for his supporting Texas’s admission to the union.

35. PEARLAND

The city was aptly named for the abundance of pear trees in the area, with the moniker also helping attract settlers by advertising the fertile land. The area was originally called Mark Belt, so a change of any kind of was probably a good idea.

36. COLLEGE STATION

You need only know that College Station is home to Texas A&M to understand this name. The city began as a railroad stop for the university. 

37. SAN ANGELO

The town’s founder, Bart J. DeWitt, decided on the name Santa Angela to honor either his deceased wife, Caroline Angela, or his sister-in-law, Angelina, who was a nun. By the time the town applied for a post office in 1883, the name had transformed into San Angela, which is grammatically nonsensical in Spanish. The postal service rejected that construction but approved the grammatically consistent San Angelo. 

38. ALLEN

Ebenezer Allen, a native of Maine who moved to Texas in the 1830s, served as attorney general and secretary of state of the Republic of Texas and was later a promoter for the Houston and Texas Central Railway. In 1880, Denton outlaw Sam Bass committed what is said to be Texas’s first train robbery in Allen.

39. LEAGUE CITY

When John C. League acquired the land that is now League City in 1893, it was called Butler’s Ranch. League bought the land from a man named Muldoon who gave up the property rights upon entering the priesthood.

40. SUGAR LAND

Sugar Land was once home to a large sugarcane plantation, a raw-sugar mill, and a sugar refinery, as well as the Sugar Land Railroad. In other words, the name was as sure as sugar.  

41. LONGVIEW

The impressive views of the area surrounding the town inspired this name. The view from the house of Ossamus Hitch Methvin, from whom the land was purchased in order to extend the Southern Pacific Railroad track, was particularly breathtaking. 

42. MISSION

Mission was founded on 17,000 acres of land purchased from priests of the French Catholic order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who maintained the nearby La Lomita Mission. Founders John J. Conway and James W. Holt took a cue from the former owners when naming the city in 1907.

43. EDINBURG

Only an “h” separates this city and the Scottish one for which it was named. The name is an homage to John Young, a 19th century landowner of the Rio Grande Valley who was born in Edinburgh. 

44. BRYAN

William Joel Bryan donated the land for the townsite, enabling the expansion of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad. He was also a nephew of Stephen F. Austin.

45. BAYTOWN

The city grew up around a refinery that was built in 1919 in order to process oil from the Goose Creek Oil Field, which sits on Tabbs Bay.

46. PHARR

Henry N. Pharr was a Louisiana sugarcane grower who purchased the land that would become the town in 1909 along with John C. Kelly, who generously named the town for his partner.

47. TEMPLE

Established by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway as a construction camp, Temple was named for their chief engineer, Bernard Moore Temple.

48. MISSOURI CITY

Named in 1893 by W.R. McElroy, a land developer who hoped it would attract people from the St. Louis area to settle in Texas.

49. FLOWER MOUND

The name comes from the 50-foot, 12-acre hill located at what is now the southeast side of the city, which was covered in a local wildflower called Indian paintbrush. 

50. NORTH RICHLAND HILLS

Clarence Jones developed his 268-acre dairy farm in 1952 and named it North Richland Hills in imitation of Richland Hills, a nearby development into which North Richland hoped to be annexed.

Are You Smart Enough to Pass Thomas Edison's Impossible Employment Test?

 Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

If you thought Elon Musk's favorite question to ask job applicants was tough, you should see the employment test devised by Thomas Edison. When he wasn't busy inventing the light bulb or phonograph, or feuding with Nikola Tesla, Edison was apparently devising a trivia test of nearly impossible proportions.

As Smithsonian reports, the 146-question quiz was designed to weed out the candidates who would be ill-suited to work at his plant, which was a desirable place to get a job in 1921. College degrees didn't impress him much—"Men who have gone to college I find to be amazingly ignorant," he once remarked—so he needed to find a more effective method of determining prospective employees' knowledge.

The test may have been too effective, though. Of the 718 applicants who took the test, only 57 achieved a passing score of 70 percent, and only 32 scored Edison's desired result of 90 percent or higher. This was certainly frustrating to applicants who considered themselves to be pretty well-educated. An unsuccessful applicant named Charles Hansen, who shared all of the questions he remembered with The New York Times in 1921, called the test a "silly examination." Another applicant said it was "not a Tom Edison but a Tom Foolery test" [PDF].

After the test questions became public knowledge, reporters went out and started polling people to see how well they'd do on Edison's test. Albert Einstein reportedly failed (he didn't know the speed of sound offhand), as did Edison's youngest son, who was a student at MIT at the time.

If you want to challenge yourself, check out a few of the questions below, then scroll down to see the answers that appeared in The New York Times. (Note: The answers given were the correct answers in 1921, but some may have changed since then. Some questions and answers have been edited lightly for clarity.)

1. What city in the United States is noted for making laundry machines?

2. In what country other than Australia are kangaroos found?

3. What region do we get prunes from?

4. Name a large inland body of water that has no outlet.

5. What state is the largest? The next?

6. What is the name of a famous violin maker?

7. What ingredients are in the best white paint?

8. What causes the tides?

9. To what is the change of seasons due?

10. Who discovered the South Pole?

11. How fast does light travel per foot per second?

12. Of what kind of wood are axe handles made?

13. What cereal is used all over the world?

14. Name three powerful poisons.

15. Why is a Fahrenheit thermometer called Fahrenheit?

Feeling stumped? Scroll down to see the answers.

1. Chicago

2. New Guinea

3. Prunes are grown in the Santa Clara Valley and elsewhere.

4. The Great Salt Lake, for example

5. Texas, then California (Note: Today it's Alaska, then Texas)

6. Stradivarius

7. Linseed oil, with a small percentage of turpentine and liquid dryer, together with a mixture of white lead and zinc oxide

8. The gravitational pull of the moon exerted powerfully on the ocean because of its fluidity, and weakly on the Earth because of its comparative rigidity.

9. To the inclination of the Earth to the plane of the ecliptic. In the Earth's revolution around the Sun, this causes the Sun's rays to be received at varying inclinations, with consequent variations of temperature.

10. Roald Amundsen, and then Robert Falcon Scott

11. Approximately 186,700 miles a second in a vacuum and slightly less through atmosphere.

12. Ash is generally used in the East and hickory in the West.

13. No cereal is used in all parts of the world. Wheat is used most extensively, with rice and corn next.

14. Cyanide of potassium, strychnine, and arsenic are all acceptable answers.

15. It is named after Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, the German physicist who invented it.

For the full list of questions and answers, check out Paleofuture's article about the test on Gizmodo.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Why is North Always Up on Maps?

iStock/Princessdlaf
iStock/Princessdlaf

Geophysicists recently updated the World Magnetic Model—navigational data used for everything from cell phones to satellites—and found that magnetic north, a spot once located in Arctic Canada, is moving quickly toward Siberia. But even this discovery doesn't quite explain why maps always feature north at the top.

There’s nothing inherently upward about north. Some early Egyptian maps put south on top, while in medieval Europe, Christian cartographers tended to give that distinction to east, since you had to turn that way to face Jerusalem. Others placed east on top because of the rising Sun (that’s why we orient ourselves). And early American settlers sometimes used maps with west on top, because that was the direction they were often heading.

If anyone deserves the blame for today’s northward bias, it’s Claudius Ptolemy. In the 2nd century, he wrote the influential Geographia, which featured a “global” map with north on top. No one’s positive why he positioned it that way, but it may be that the Library of Alexandria—where he did his research—simply didn’t have much information on the Southern Hemisphere. During the Renaissance, Ptolemy’s work was revived. By then, the phenomenon of magnetic north had been discovered, making his layout even more appealing to mapmakers.

The magnetic north pole, however, was not located until 1831. On an otherwise disastrous expedition to Arctic, British explorer James Clark Ross discovered the pole—the spot where a compass needle on a horizontal axis points straight down—on the west coast of Canada's Boothia peninsula. "I must leave it to others to imagine the elation of mind with which we found ourselves now at length arrived at this great object of our ambition," Ross recalled. "Nothing now remained for us but to return home and be happy for the rest of our days."

This story was originally published in 2014.

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