Flying to Mexico for some fun in the sun at Playa del Carmen? Or maybe to Charlotte Amalie down on St. Thomas? 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, such as the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Others aren't so easy, and some are really tough to pin down, such as the Beverly in Beverly Hills, Calif. (More about her later.)
View of St. Lucia's iconic twin peaks from Jade Mountain. Photo by Bob Schulman.
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. Another Charlotte, also named for a king's wife, shows up on the map of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here, Danish King 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 (a little Roman outpost on the Rhine River) was 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.
Cannons stand silent vigil on the U.S. Virgin Islands. Photo by Bob Schulman.
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.
On the other side of the world, gamblers in the glittering casinos of Macau on the South China coast might want to drop by the former Portuguese colony's A-Ma Temple to pray for lady luck. Macau's name comes from the temple and its shrine of the Chinese sea goddess Matsu -- who is said to be able to predict good or bad luck.
Racers zip by the casinos of Macau. Photo by Macau Government Tourist Office.
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 the heralded sighting of the Virgin Mary in 1531 outside Mexico City on the hill of Tepeyac. The name Guadalupe traces back to the 14th century discovery of a buried statute of the Virgin Mary on the banks of the Guadalupe River in Spain. Legends say the statue -- carved by St. Luke the Evangelist in the 1st century A.D. -- was hidden near the river when the Moors invaded the southwestern part of Spain in 714.
A California Puzzle
How about Beverly Hills? Who was Beverly? 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. Local legends there say the town's name dates back to the 10th century, when it was called Bevreli (meaning something like "place of beaver colonies").
One last toughie: Who was the U.S. 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 Elizabeth I. So where does Virginia fit in? From the monarch's nickname. She never married, and was known as "the Virgin Queen." Ironically, the State is known as "The Mother of Presidents."
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