Idaho History

What’s in a name? In Gem State places, a whole lot of history and mystery

Lewiston is named for Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame.
Lewiston is named for Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame. Provided by Arthur Hart

No small part of the charm of exploring Idaho place names and their stories is the sheer music of saying those names — whether staccato and amusing or long and sonorous. Who can resist a state that has a Picabo, pronounced “peek-a-boo,” a Wickahoney and an Inkom? There are also Eden, Bliss, Grace and Hope. The Idaho map is covered with magic if you have an ear for names and an eye for history.

Many of these names reflect the nationality of those who settled here and the places they came from. Names they gave to the native people already here are mostly French – Pend Oreille, Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene – and are unrelated to what those people called themselves.

These Idaho names are suggestive of national origins: Amsterdam, Basque Springs, Bern, Cambridge, Chesterfield, China Butte, China Creek, China Fork, China Garden Creek, China Gulch, China Hat, China Springs, Copenhagen Point, Cornwall, Dublin, Dutch Flat, Dutch Town, Dutchman Creek, Dutchmans Hump, Egypt, Elba, Florence, Florence Lake, two places named French, Frenchman, French Creek, French Gulch, French John Hill, Geneva, German, German Gulch, German Settlement, Hamburg Siding, Irish Canyon, Irish Creek, Italian Canyon, Italian Peak, Italian Creek, Jap Creek, Jerusalem Valley, Jericho, Kanaka Flat, Moscow, Moscow Bar, Moscow Gulch, Moscow Mountain, New Plymouth, New Sweden, Norwegian Ridge, Owyhee County, Owyhee River, Oxford Creek, Paris, Parma, Roman Nose, Samaria, Scotchman Peak, Shanghai Creek, Siam Creek, Siberia Creek, Sleeping Dutchman, Spanish Fork, Spanish Town, Swede Creek, Troy and Winchester.

Should you wish to know the origin of these names, I suggest you look first in Lalia Boone’s well-researched “Idaho Place Names, a Geographical Dictionary.”

There is still much to be done on the subject of Idaho names. In the past 40 years I have collected more than 100 names of places not included in Professor Boone’s book. Some of these probably will sound familiar: Alkali Flat, Belvedere, Bennett Mountain, Big Eddy, Byron Canyon, Camp Wilbert, Clifden, Collopy, Concrete, Crane, Crawford, Ducommons, Dufort, Duff, Duncan, Dustin, Eagle Heights, Eakin. East Hope, Eastport, Eaton, Echo Bay, Edgewood, Edie, Edison, Edmunds, Evolution, Falks Store, Farmington Landing, Fir Bluffs, Garnet, Grand Fork, Hades, Hancock, Hickey, Hoover, Hunter, Kinney Lake, Lake Lowell, McDonaldsville, McGregor, Medbury, Merino, Mowry, Mozart, Nameko, Norwood, Paddy Flat, Plaza, Rattlesnake Station, Rebecca, Reverse, Rubicon, Shultis Spur, Sierra Nevada, Sid, Signal Point, Smelter, Starbuck, Trinfo, Ticeska, Tuttville, Waltersville, and Waverly.

Most recently I have added these once-inhabited places to the list, taken from a collection of old Idaho business directories: Banner, Blacks Station, Bolton, Bortel, Boulder, Buena Vista Bar, Central Ferry, Cherry Creek, Fort Lemhi, Marsh Basin, Millers Camp, Red Warrior, Saint Charles, Slate Creek, Terminus, Warrens Diggings, and Weiser Bridge. Most unusual is a name listed several times for businesses in a place called “Dwi City.” William Oliver was its postmaster, Cox & Carter was listed as contractors and builders and dealers in general merchandise, as were C. Lafen and Webster & Chadwick. Frank La Pier had a meat market, and four men are listed under the heading “Liquors.” Where was Dwi City, and how did it get its name? We are still looking.

The United States Official Postal Directory for the year 1900 lists 57 Idaho post offices whose names are not duplicated anywhere else in the lists I have shared in these columns, including Annie, Avon, Hart, Highland and Hump. What fun for a lover of names.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email