The other day, a visiting relative asked me why some of our towns were named after countries. Greece, NY? Chili? It perplexed and amused him.
Sheepishly, I hadn’t a clue, even though I’ve lived here for decades and have often wondered the same thing myself.
Inspired, I hit the internet and discovered a trove of interesting information about the origin of names for the aforementioned towns, along with many more.
Towns named after countries
Both Greece and Chili were named after countries that, at the same time, were also struggling for independence. But why Chili with a hard “i” and not an “e”? The South American country of Chile was originally spelled Chili in the early 1900s, around the time when our Chili was established.
Towns named after other towns, here and abroad
Brighton, one of the oldest towns in Monroe County, was named by William Billinghurst, a member of Col. Caleb Hopkins’ militia, for his hometown, Brighton, England.
Farmington was named after Farmington, Connecticut, and Mendon most likely got its name from one of its early settlers Caleb Taft, who came here from Mendon, Massachusetts.
Pittsford was named by Hopkins, a War of 1812 hero and prominent businessman and farmer, in honor of his birthplace in Pittsford, Vermont.
Towns named after people of note
The town of Gates was named after Gen. Horatio Gates, a retired British soldier who served as an American general during the Revolutionary War.
Henrietta was named after Henrietta Laura Pulteney, countess of Bath in Great Britain, whose wealthy father, like many Brits, invested in land across the pond after the Revolutionary War.
Daniel Penfield, an American merchant and Revolutionary War veteran who founded the town of Penfield, clearly didn’t think twice about what to name his piece of American pie.
Once called Boughton Town, Victor was named in honor of Claudius Victor Boughton, a hero in the War of 1812.
Wayne County’s name pays tribute to Gen. Anthony Wayne, an American Revolutionary War hero and American statesman.
Orator and statesman Daniel Webster inspired Webster’s town name after he spoke at a gathering of Whig farmers from North Penfield. The group, already itching for separate town status, was so moved by his speech that they chose to name the town in his honor.
Towns named for its location or geography
East Rochester, originally called Despatch because of its proximity to the railroad, was renamed East Rochester in 1906 to better showcase its proximity to the city of Rochester.
Legend has it that Fairport got its name from a traveler on the Erie Canal who was overhead at a tavern referring to the village as a “fair port.”
And Irondequoit, once inhabited by the Seneca Indians, kept its Indian name, which means either “bay” or “where the waters meet and die.”
Anne Palumbo writes this column for Messenger Post newspapers. Her email is