How the Philadelphia Suburbs Got Their Names

f11photo/iStock via Getty Images
f11photo/iStock via Getty Images

Many of Philadelphia’s suburbs have been around since before the American Revolution, and some are even as old as Pennsylvania itself (indeed, the land on which some of these places sit was purchased directly from colony founder William Penn). Like Philly, they’re rich in history, and many take their names from the settlers that claimed the land or the places those pioneers originally called home.

This list is extensive, but not complete. It doesn’t include municipalities that are designated as cities, most census-designated places that are not municipalities, Philly’s New Jersey suburbs, or a handful of other locales.

Abington

According to the township’s bicentennial history booklet [PDF], the name is “of English origin, being applied from so-called parishes formed more than 900 years ago in Northampton and Cambridgeshire, England.”

Ambler

What used to be the village of Wissahickon was renamed in honor of Mary Johnson Ambler, a local woman who led efforts to rescue and care for the survivors of a nearby train collision—known alternately around the Philadelphia area as The Great Train Wreck, The Camp Hill Disaster, and The Picnic Train Tragedy—in 1856.

Ardmore

The community of Athensville (“a nod to the fascination with the Greek revival style movement of the time”), was renamed Ardmore in 1873 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, whose Main Line ran through the area. The suggestion for the name came from a local reverend and may refer to one of several places named Ardmore in Ireland.

Aston

Named by the town constable after his hometown in Oxfordshire, England.

Bensalem

While the township was founded just 10 years after the colony of Pennsylvania, the origins of its name are still up for debate. According to the township’s website, the “Salem” part appeared in land records as far back as its founding, while the “Ben” was tacked on later. The name is thought to mean “hill of peace,” “peaceful mount,” or “son of peace,” a possible nod to the pacifist Quaker William Penn.

Berwyn

Like Athensville, the former Reeseville had its name changed by the Pennsylvania Railroad. According to the local historical society, the new name came from “the Berwyn Hills overlooking the beautiful valley watered by the river Dee, Merionethshire, Wales, because the village overlooked from a commanding height the beautiful valley of Chester, and its position was popularly thought to be the highest point topographically along the Pennsylvania Railroad between Philadelphia and Columbia."

Broomall

Named in honor of John Martin Broomall, a local lawyer who served in the Union Army during the Civil War before being elected to three terms in Congress.

Bryn Mawr

Both the community and the college that it’s home to are named after the farm [PDF] owned by Rowland Ellis. Ellis led a group of Quakers to Pennsylvania to escape religious persecution in Wales and later served in the colonial government. The name derives from the Welsh term for “big hill.”

Chadds Ford

This Delaware County township was formerly known as Birmingham, but after years of being confused with the Birmingham in neighboring Chester County, residents petitioned the board of supervisors to change the name in 1996. The new name came from a colonial-era crossing point on the Brandywine River called Chads’ Ford, where John Chads operated a ferry service.

Chalfont

Named after Chalfont St. Giles, the English village where William Penn met his first wife.

Cheltenham

Named by two of the town’s original settlers after their hometown in Gloucestershire, England.

Conshohocken

Derived from either the native Lenape word Gueno-Sheiki-Hacki-ing (“beautiful or peaceful valley”) or kanshihakink (“elegant land”).

Darby/Upper Darby

A corruption of Derbyshire, England, the county that many of the area’s settlers came from.

Downingtown

Originally called Milltown because of the number of mills there. During the American Revolution, it became known as Downing’s Town, after the Downing family, which owned an inn and an industrial mill complex. The name was officially changed to Downingtown after the War of 1812.

Doylestown

Named for William Doyle, an early settler and owner of a tavern located at a then-major crossroads in the area.

Exton

Depending on who you ask, the community was either named by a local farmer after the English village he was born in, or by an engineer who helped lay out the railway through the area and gave it his mother’s family name.

Hatboro

Hatboro was known as the Billet (or Crooked Billet) in its earliest days as a small village, and both names seem to originate with an early resident. John Dawson, a hat maker from England, arrived in the village in the early 1700s and opened an inn while also maintaining his hat business. The first name came about either because the inn was named The Crooked Billet Inn, or was just called that by the locals because its sign was a billet, or chunk of wood, that hung crooked. The second name came from Dawson’s other line of work.

Haverford and Havertown

Both named for the town of Haverfordwest in Wales.

Horsham

Named after the town in West Sussex, England.

Jenkintown

Named for either William Jenkins or his son Stephen, early Quaker settlers and landowners in the area.

Kennett Square

The town gets its official name from what was then a village in Wiltshire, England, and its nickname, the “Mushroom Capital of the World,” comes from the fact that the area produces more than half of the country’s mushroom crop.

King of Prussia

The town is named after a Revolution-era tavern, the King of Prussia Inn. The name of the inn points to Frederick II (also known as Frederick the Great), who was—you guessed it—the king of Prussia at the time. The reason the inn was called that, however, is a little murky. It may have been named after Frederick for his assistance to the British during the French and Indian War, or a nod to his support of George Washington during the Revolution. An alternate theory suggests that the name was meant to attract the business of Prussian soldiers who were fighting in the war.

Langhorne

Named for Jeremiah Langhorne, an early Quaker settler who served in the colonial government and was later Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Lansdale

Named for Philip Lansdale Fox, a surveyor for the North Pennsylvania Railroad who established the rail station that the borough grew around.

Lower Merion

Derived from Merioneth, the Welsh county that many early settlers came from.

Media

Named by a resident and descendant of an early settler for the borough’s central location in Delaware County.

Narberth

Named after a town in Wales.

New Hope

Named after the New Hope Mills, built by local businessman Benjamin Parry with “new and fresh hopes for the future” after one of his other mills burned down. Before that, the town was called Coryell's Ferry.

Norristown

Named for Isaac Norris, who purchased the town’s original land from William Penn (though he never settled there, and instead lived in Philadelphia and served as mayor).

Perkasie

A corruption of the Lenape word Poekskossing [PDF] (“where the hickory nuts were cracked”).

Phoenixville

Named after the local Phoenix Iron Works, a major producer of nails in the 1800s. The business’s owner, Lewis Wernwag, chose the name because the heat coming from the iron that made the nails reminded him of the mythical phoenix.

Pottstown

Named after founder John Potts.

Radnor

Named for Radnorshire, Wales, where many of the township’s first settlers came from.

Royersford

Named for the Roya family, who owned the land near a local crossing point on the Schuylkill River.

Schwenksville

Named after founder George Schwenk.

Souderton

Named for the Souders, a family of early settlers.

Telford

Named for the North Pennsylvania Railroad’s nearby Telford station, which was named for Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford.

Thornbury

Named after the English home of Anna Gainer Pearce, whose husband George was granted land in the township by William Penn.

Trappe

Named for a tavern in the early days of settlement called The Trap.

Warminster

Named after the town in Wiltshire, in England.

Warwick

Named after the town in Warwickshire, England.

West Chester

Originally called Turk’s Head after a local tavern, it was changed when Chester County was split in two and the borough became the county seat. The “west” differentiated it from the city of Chester, which had been the old county seat and became the county seat of the newly formed Delaware County. (Chester residents, unhappy with the changes, tried to destroy the new county courthouse in West Chester with a cannon, but were stopped by a group of locals.) The “Chester” in the borough, city, and county’s names comes from the city of Chester in Cheshire, England, where many of the area’s settlers came from.

Yardley

Named after William Yeardley, a Quaker minister who settled the area with his family.

Why Do People Toss Beads During Mardi Gras?

Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images
Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images

Each year, more than 1 million people descend on New Orleans for Mardi Gras, an organized parade of debauchery and alcohol-induced torpor that may be the closest thing modern civilization has to the excesses of ancient Rome. Saturating the scene on Bourbon Street are plastic beads, handed or tossed to partygoers as a kind of currency. Some bare their breasts or offer booze in exchange for the tokens; others catch them in the air and wear the layers around their necks. Roughly 25 million pounds of beads are in circulation annually, making them as much a part of the Fat Tuesday celebration as sugary cocktails and King Cake.

Traditions and rituals can be hard to pin down, but Mardi Gras historians believe the idea of distributing trinkets began in the 1870s or 1880s, several hundred years after French settlers introduced the celebration to Louisiana in the 1600s. Party organizers—known locally as krewes—handed out baubles and other shiny objects to revelers to help commemorate the occasion. Some of them threw chocolate-covered almonds. They were joined by more mischievous attendees, who threw dirt or flour on people in an effort to stir up a little bit of trouble.

Why beads? Tiny tokens that represent wealth, health, and other prosperity have been a part of human history for centuries. In Egypt, tokens were handed out in the hopes they would guarantee a happy afterlife; the abacus, or bead-based system of accounting, used trinkets to perform calculations; pagan pre-winter rituals had people throwing grains into fields hoping to appease gods that would nourish their crops.

Humans, argues archaeologist Laurie Wilkie, display "bead lust," or a penchant for shiny objects. It's one possible reason why Mardi Gras attracts so many people with their arms in the air, elated to receive a gift of cheap plastic.

Photo of a well-dressed bulldog celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The early beads were made of glass before more efficient production methods overseas led to an influx of plastic beads in the 1960s. Unlike some of the more organic predecessors, these beads have come under criticism for being a source of health problems and pollution. Made from petroleum, they often harbor lead that seeps into the soil and rubs off on hands. (One estimate puts the lead deposit after a Mardi Gras celebration at 4000 pounds.) In 2017, New Orleans paid $7 million in clean-up costs to remove discarded beads from drain basins. In 2018, they installed gutter guards to prevent the necklaces from getting into the system in the first place. Meanwhile, scientists have been working to create an even more eco-friendly version of the beads—like a biodegradable version made from microalgae.

Environmental hazards aside, the beads of Mardi Gras have become as much a holiday staple as Christmas stockings or Thanksgiving turkeys. But the passion and desperate need for them is only temporary; in 2018, 46 tons of the beads were removed from just five blocks of the main parade route on Charles Street. And no bacchanal should leave that much bad juju behind.

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The Reason Prince George Always Wears Shorts

Prince George with his mother, Kate Middleton, and sister, Princess Charlotte, during a 2016 trip to Canada.
Prince George with his mother, Kate Middleton, and sister, Princess Charlotte, during a 2016 trip to Canada.
Chris Jackson - Pool/Getty Images

When it comes to being the royal family’s leading fashion icon, 6-year-old Prince George is arguably second only to his mother, Kate Middleton. His posh combinations of shorts and knee socks always make a splash on social media and complement his cherub-cheeked grin in a way that long pants and short socks never could.

As it turns out, Prince George’s go-to ensemble is more about tradition than sartorial innovation: Historically, dressing your young sons in shorts helped indicate you were a high-class family in England.

“Trousers are for older boys and men, whereas shorts on young boys is one of those silent class markers that we have in England,” etiquette expert William Hanson told Harper’s Bazaar. “Although times are (slowly) changing, a pair of trousers on a young boy is considered quite middle class—quite suburban. And no self-respecting aristo or royal would want to be considered suburban. Even the Duchess of Cambridge.”

These days, it’s more about maintaining tradition than highlighting class division, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are known for dressing their kids in affordable clothing. Today.com reports that a certain pair of red corduroy shorts that Prince George wore in 2016, for example, was the equivalent of only about $20.

The practice likely arose from “breeching,” a custom that began in the 16th century where boys wore gowns for a few years before switching to shorts (also known as breeches) and then pants when they were around 8 years old. So we’ll see George looking dapper in full-length trousers soon enough—he’ll turn 8 in July 2021, and he’s even worn pants in public a few times already, most notably to the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

It’s far from the only fashion rule that the royal family follows—find out about 15 other ones here.

[h/t Harper’s Bazaar]

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