Happy to be here: Farmville, that’s where I live

Published 6:57 am Thursday, August 6, 2015

When my husband and I tell people from other places that we live in Farmville, their reactions are typically based on one of two basic assumptions. None guesses that Farmville is the true name of an actual place.

One group thinks we’re joking. The year we moved to Farmville was the same year Zynga released its popular social network game, FarmVille. So, some people think I say I live in Farmville to indicate that I spend most of my waking hours at the computer sowing digital crops and milking avatars of cows. People who hold this misperception often feel disappointed when I confess that I’ve never played the game.

Another group tends to interpret the name metaphorically. Their confusion is understandable. The practice of naming towns with the suffix -ville (which is from the French word for village) was apparently popular in the United States’ post-revolution era. A hundred years later, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary, sports writers adopted a similar method for coining allegorical terms. They told their readers about baseball players from “sluggersville” and victors from “winnersville.” By the 1970s, business reporters had also embraced the practice, and they wrote about figurative places called “marketville” and “mediaville.”

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Recently, I discovered that the name of our community here in Virginia isn’t unique. There’s also a Farmville in North Carolina. Farmville, VA and Farmville, N.C., seem to share a lot in common. For example, from the website of North Carolina’s town (http://www.farmville-nc.com/), I learned that its Farmville has a settlement history that dates back to the latter half of the 1700s. The town features a blend of historic homes and newer communities, boasts of its support for the arts and takes pride in a distinctive Main Street.

I began to wonder about other towns where our nation’s agricultural history and heritage were made manifest in town names based on Farm-this and Farm-that. To satisfy my curiosity, I paged through a road atlas and opened Google Maps on my computer.

Although I found only the two communities in Virginia and North Carolina with the precise name Farmville, some others were remarkably close. Louisiana has a Farmerville, and seven states have towns called Farmersville (Alabama, California, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Texas). New York has a Farmersville Station.

In addition, farms, farmers, and farming featured prominently in place names without the -ville ending. I found two towns simply designated Farmer (North Carolina and Ohio), Farmer’s Branch (Texas), Farmer City (Illinois), and Farmer’s Valley (Pennsylvania). I also noticed Farmland (Indiana) and Farming (Minnesota).

Suffixes other than -ville were common. The ending -burg, for example, is a Scottish variation of the word borough (which refers to a town). I found one Farmersburg in Indiana and another in Iowa. A slightly more popular suffix was -dale (referring to a valley or area surrounded by hills). I found six U.S. towns named Farmingdale: Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, South Dakota, and Vermont. The most popular suffix, however, was the one based on the word town, -ton. I found thirty (that’s right, 30) states with places named Farmington. In other words, more than half of the states in the United States have a town (or other type of municipality) named Farmington.

I identified only12  states that did not have a town name that started with “farm.” One of them was Alaska. I suppose the Alaskan growing season is too short to crow about fields and farms. Nevada was another. I did find a couple of that state’s towns named with the words “acres” and “field”: Gold Acres and Goldfield. Presumably, Nevada’s early settlers planned to cultivate something other than vegetables.

But, here in Farmville, VA, I find constant reminders our area’s—and indeed, our nation’s—agricultural heritage. Cows in the fields. Recently mown hay. Corn. Acres and acres of trees grown as crops. I also see a town abuzz with activity, boasting a university, a college, historic sites, modern neighborhoods, a vibrant arts community, and a beautiful, store-lined Main Street. Farmville. I’m proud to tell people that’s where I live.

Karen Bellenir, a Farmville resident since 2009, blogs for Pier Perspectives at PierPress.com and maintains an archive of past columns at www.KarenBellenir.com. She also serves as editorial director for Wordwright LLC, a company that provides services to authors, publishers, and other producers of print and electronic publications (www.Wordwrightllc.com).