What’s in a name?

Jackson County is defined by its mountains and waterways. A rough count indicates that the area has 400-plus named summits and streams, and it’s fascinating to ponder how a certain peak or creek acquired its name.

Some are obvious. For example, many local streams are named after the people who first settled on their banks. Scott Creek, Greens Creek, Blanton Branch, Johns Creek, Wilson Creek and Watson Branch are good examples. Interestingly, all of these are also the names of roads as well. Other creeks are categorized by geography (East Fork and North Fork), size (Peewee Branch) or by the plants that grow there (Caney Fork, Cane Creek and Locust Creek).

Several mountains and many creeks take their names from animals, including Wolf Mountain, Wolf Creek, Bear Creek, Panther Knob and Doe Branch.

Other place names are not so obvious, and some are downright mystifying.

Take Charley Creek and Charley Bald, for example. You might think they’re called after a man named Charley, and you’d be sort of right. The real story is that this Charley is an anglicized version of the name of the famous Cherokee warrior, Tsali.

Another interesting one is Bonas Defeat, a sheer cliff that forms one side of the Tuckasegee Gorge. As the legend goes, a brave dog named Bonas lost his life during a hunt – he refused to give up the trail, even as he went off the mountain.

And then there’s Lost Knob, which takes its name from another sad story. The 4,000-plus foot peak, located close to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Old Bald, was the site of an early 20th century tragedy: two brothers from Jackson County’s Caney Fork section were walking home from Haywood County’s Allens Creek area when they were caught in a blizzard and froze to death. They are buried on that same mountain, now known as Lost Knob.