EDITOR'S NOTE: "Names in South Carolina" is a regular feature in Sandlapper Magazine. Here is a sample column from the Spring 1996 issue of the magazine. If you are interested in the origins of South Carolina place names, check our back issue listings for descriptions of other "Names in South Carolina" columns.
It's common knowledge among native Aikenites where their city got its name: William Aiken Sr. was the mover and shaker in Charleston who made the South Carolina Railroad (Charleston to Hamburg) happen, 1830&endash;33. (The city was not named for his son, a South Carolina governor.)
Perhaps less well-known is the intrigue behind the naming of the county. Had certain state legislators had their way, South Carolina today might have a Woodbury or a Randolph county.
When Aiken County was formed in 1871, primarily from territory in the original Barnwell and Edgefield counties, the legislation called for it to be named Woodbury County. In the state senate, the name was altered to Randolph County in honor of one of the members of that chamber. The story goes that the name ultimately was amended to Aiken County, so-named after the town itself, by a senator who declined to support his colleague's bid for immortality.
P.F. Henderson, Aiken County chronicler for Names in South Carolina, reported three different stories behind the naming of nearby Beech Island. One is that the area, known for its beech trees, was not named Beech "Island" at all (in fact, it's not an actual island), but Beech "Highland"; Cockney settlers omitted the "H" in their pronunciation. Another theory is that it was indeed called an "island" because it is almost surrounded by several creeks and the Savannah River. The third is that the Savannah created a natural beech-wood island when it changed its channel.
We know that New Ellenton was so-named as the new town formed on the out-skirts of the Savannah River nuclear plant prop-erty after the original town of Ellenton was consumed by the government project. But where did the first town get its name?
Ellen was the small daughter of Robert Dun-bar, an area landowner who, in the last century, granted a right of way for the Port Royal and Augusta Railroad through his property. Railroad workers boarded at the Dunbar home and camped nearby. When the town developed and needed a name, little Miss Ellen was the honoree.
They may not have been as famous as Lewis and Clark, but to Aiken Countians, George Wagener and Edward Perry were popular enough to have towns named after them.
Both were Charlestonians. Wagener, president of a mercantile company, was instrumental in bringing a new rail line to the locale, which had been called both Pinder Town and Gunter's Cross Roads. The other end of the short line was named for Perry, president of the Printing Press of Charleston.
Names in South Carolina now is out of print and is available to the public only in libraries. However, for readers interested in South Carolina onomatology, one of Neuffer's other books, Correct Mispronunciations of Some South Carolina Names (USC Press, 1983), still is available at many bookstores. Also available is the re-issued Name Game: From Oyster Point to Keowee.