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Place-Names 'Alabama' and 'Montgomery'.

Updated on December 4, 2014

Alabama and Montgomery - Origins of Place-Names

Place names in the USA: The Origins of the Names of Alabama and Montgomery.

Place names can tell us a lot. One might expect to learn something of the history of the places concerned, but these names can also lead us in other directions.

I first became interested in the history of place-names, and their value as a historical source, when I took a course by the well-known place-names expert, Dr Margaret Gelling, at the University of Birmingham (England).

Let us now turn to the United States of America, and look at some Alabama history, through its name and the name of its capital ~ Montgomery ~ which also happens to be the name of one of the Alabama counties.


Alabama is in the south-eastern region of the United States of America. Both the state and its river are named after the Native American people of the same name. 'Albaamo' simply meant an Alabama person. The word is understood to have originated in the Choctaw language, so the name may have been given to them by another local tribe. The word has two elements; 'alba', meaning 'plants' or 'vegetation' and 'amo', meaning 'to cut' or 'to gather', so the people may originally have been described as vegetation cutters or plant gatherers. Perhaps they cut down vegetation, to clear the land for cultivation, or maybe they gathered up useful plants and herbs.

Richard Montgomery

Richard Montgomery
Richard Montgomery

Montgomery Alabama

Montgomery is the capital city of Alabama.

It was established in 1819 and named after a Richard Montgomery. Richard was born in Ireland, in the 1730s. His father, Captain Thomas Montgomery, was a British army officer and politician, and his mother, Mary Frankin, was English.

In 1772, after a career in the British army, Richard settled in America and, in 1775, he became a delegate in the Provincial Congress of New York, shortly before being appointed a brigadier-general in the ‘Continental Army’. He died, leading his men, in the American invasion of Canada, at the Battle of Quebec, in 1775.

Montgomery - City and County

Montgomery, the city, must not be confused with Montgomery County, which was named after Lemuel Purnell Montgomery. This Montgomery was born in Virginia ~ Wythe county ~ in or around 1786, and died at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, in 1814.

So now we know - or do we?

So now we know that Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, took its name from an Irish soldier of the same name - General Richard Montgomery.

But we do not yet know the origin and meaning of this name.

'Montgomery' has two elements; ‘mont ‘and ‘gomery’.

'Mont' may be recognised as a French term. It means ‘mount’, ‘mountain’ or ‘hill’ and is also related to ‘mound’. Many will have heard of Mont Blanc, the highest point in the Alps. It comes from the Latin ‘mons’.

‘Gomery’ is from the male name Gomeric. It is a Germanic name and is still found in Germany today ~ as 'Gumerich'.

From Normandy

The name ‘Montgomery’ is from Normandy. This is now part of France, but, when this place was first named, it belonged to the Normans. The Normans, as their name implies, were Norsemen ~ often called Vikings. Normandy had been granted to Rollo the Viking, by King Charles of ‘France’, in the year 911, in return for some peace ~ the Vikings had been raiding that part of ‘France’ through much of the 9th century.

‘Gome’ and ‘Ric’

‘Gomeric’ has two elements; ‘gome’ and ‘ric’.

‘Gome’ means man.

In old English it was ‘Guma’, related the Old High German ‘gomo’, which is the equivalent of the Latin ‘homo’ ~ meaning ‘man’. (Compare the term Homo Sapiens, and also the French ‘Homme’.)

‘Gome’ to 'Groom'.

We actually still use a form of this word in English, though we wouldn’t recognise it, because, by means of something called folk etymology, it has evolved into something slightly different. The modern term ‘bridegroom’ was once, in Old English, ‘brydguma’ ~ ‘brideman’. As the term ‘guma’ went out of use, and was no longer known, an alternative, more recognisable term was substituted ~ ‘groom’ for ‘guma’. In Germany, they still use the word ‘Brautigam’.

‘Ric’ means power.

This element can be found in other names, including 'Richard' and 'Roderick' It is also found in ‘bishopric’ ~ the area where the bishop has dominion or power ~ and it is related to the terms ‘rex / regal’, ‘right’ and ‘rich’.

The ‘powerful man'

Gomeric ~ the ‘powerful man’ ~ probably settled on his hill after sailing south from Scandinavia, as one of the Norse (’Viking’) settlers. A few pedigrees, published on the Internet, contain details of Gomeric of Montgomery.

Richard Montgomery's Ancestry

Richard Montgomery's ancestry is discussed in the book 'Major General Richard Montgomery: the making of an American Hero', by Michael P. Gabriel. It seems that there are two possible genealogies.

The one relates to Gomeric and his descendants. According to the family histories I have seen, Gomeric, son of Ingvar Ragnarson, travelled to Calvados in the 9th century. His descendant, Roger de Montgomery, son of Roger Montgomery of the castle of Saint Foy de Montgomery, near Lisieux, was an advisor to William of Normandy. The latter, after his success at the Battle of Hastings, became William the Conqueror. Gomeric’s descendant, Roger de Montgomery, was rewarded with gifts of land and titles, including the Earldom of Shrewsbury ~ indeed, he was the Earl of Shrewsbury, in 1074. His estates included most of Shropshire and parts of mid Wales. The Welsh county of Montgomeryshire was named after him. The Montgomery family acquired estates in England, Wales and Scotland. The family grew over the generations and some Montgomerys settled in Ireland. These could have been the ancestors of 'Major General Richard Montgomery'.

However, it would appear that Richard Montgomery actually claimed Gabriel, Seigneur de Lorges and Comte de Montgomery, as his ancestor ~ the man who accidentally killed King Henry II of France, in 1559, in a jousting tournament. The Lorges family acquired the ‘Comté’ of Montgomery, including its Norman estates, in the 16th century.

In Conclusion

We now know how Alabama and Montgomery received their names ~ including the etymological origins of the words. I hope that this made interesting and enjoyable reading.

Tricia Mason


Hard-to-Find Books

Further Reading ~ These may be available in libraries:

'Place names of Bibb County, Alabama: Abercrombie to Zuzu'' by Rhoda Coleman Ellison
Cahaba Trace Commission (1993)
ASIN: B0006F21QA
'Marengo County, Alabama;: A place name study' by David Johnson
'Directory of Alabama place names, 1896' by Patsy R Page
'Alabama Place-Names' by W. Stuart Harris
Publisher: Strode Pub (December 1982)
ISBN-10: 0873972317
ISBN-13: 978-0873972314
'Indian Place Names in Alabama' by William A. Read
Publisher: The University of Alabama Press; Revised edition (December 1984)
ISBN-10: 0817302301
ISBN-13: 978-0817302306


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    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hello Liola Lee :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Yes, indeed ~ I definitely find it fascinating!

    • profile image

      Liola Lee 6 years ago

      I can certainly appreciate your interest in the history of place names. This is a fascinating topic.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hello Mrs JB :)

      I find this sort of thing really fascinating.

      Thanks for commenting :)

    • Mrs. J. B. profile image

      Mrs. J. B. 6 years ago from Southern California

      WOW.... I just loved reading this. I did not know that about Alabama. Thanks

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Thank you BkCreative ~ you are very kind! :)

      I was hooked by the history of place-names from the moment that I was introduced to them. I thought that, for Hub Pages, since so many readers are from the United States, I would start with some American states and cities. I have really enjoyed learning about them. :)

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thank you Trish_M! I have lived here in the US for hundreds of years and we just never get information about anything of origin as far as the First People are concerned. Of course we know they are written out of the text books - but it makes Americans dumb on the world stage. Where do I get American history that is inclusive? When my cousin comes from England several times a year - he brings me tons of newspapers and magazines and articles and this is how I get educated...about America and a history that is at least 20,000 years old not 400! Sigh!

      Thanks so much for a thorough hub - this I can share with my students because you have covered it all.

      Rated up and bookmarked!!!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      I really enjoyed checking it out :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      You really delved into this and thanks to your efforts anyone reading this will now know the origins of the names 'Alabama' and 'Montgomery.' Thank you!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Glad you enjoyed it. :)

      I am very interested in place names and found it quite fascinating to look into this.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      Wow! You surely go deep into etymology. I did not know the origin of these two words, though I did know Alabama was an Indian name. Now I do. Thank you.