Sunday, September 16, 2007

How Dycusburg Got Its Name

Curious Names: Ever hear of Disputana?
For many years one of the smallest incorporated places in Kentucky has been the sixth class Crittenden County city of Dycusburg. The 2000 Census counted only thirty-nine residents. Obviously it was named for a local family, but why and how?

Officially this place, at the junction of KY 70, 295, and 902, 11 and a half air miles south-southwest of Marion (the county seat), was laid out by William F. Dycus on land then owned by G.B. Dycus, its first settler. It was incorporated on February 3, 1847, got its post office as Dycusburg on November 7, 1848, and soon became an important lower Cumberland River shipping port.

According to county historian Braxton McDonald, however, two families actually vied for the honor of naming the new town. These were the Cookseys and the Dycuses. Now there was, at the town site, a large spring, and another spring a short walking distance above. A member of the committee meeting to decide on the name suggested that all who wanted this place to be called Dycusburg proceed to the spring by the river, and all who wanted it called Cookseyville go up to the other spring. It’s said that the leader of the Dycusburg faction weighed over 400 pounds, and on that cold day was wearing a large overcoat with bulging pockets.

When the factions were ready to leave for their respective springs,the big man turned his back to the crowd. Four bottles of whiskey were noticeable in his pockets as he walked over to his spring, and nearly everyone followed him. Now, the people who tell this story can’t, or won’t, quite vouch for its truth. They certainly won’t say that Mr. Dycus had any intention of sharing his whiskey with anyone, or even realized that he had those bottles in his pockets.

One of the most popular folk etymologies in the country, one that’s been heard to account for places in California, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and possibly elsewhere, refers to the collective response to the suggestions of a local place-naming committee. When the folks of a certain Russell County locality got together one night to select their new post office name, a number of offerings were shouted out by individuals. To each the assemblage responded with an “Oh, no!” Finally, when too many of the suggestions had been voted down this way and it was getting late, someone suggested they name the place Ono, for that seemed to be all they could agree on. Makes a good story, doesn’t it? Actually, we don’t know why the place got the name, as other such named places did, from at least two biblical passages (1st Chronicles 8:12 and Nehemiah 6:2) referring to the plains of Ono.

Similarly, folks in a small Todd County hamlet spent all day trying to come up with a suitable name. Anxious to end it all and go home, someone suggested that “we all agree on something.” And they did. They called it Allagree. That name was offered to the Post Office Department, which dropped the final “e,” and the local office lished. When neither of the local factions would give in to the other, cooler heads brought their dispute to a disinterested third party, probably one D.N. Williams. He suggested they name the place Disputanta, and they did. Some Kentucky places are named for the full name of a local resident or for two (or more) persons the namers wish to honor.

This has often confused and sometimes even embarrassed visitors to our state. Back in the days before there were bus stations with ticket windows, passengers would purchase their tickets as they boarded the vehicle. This they’d do by telling the driver where they wanted to go. Young George Allen was taking his first bus ride. Unsure of what to do, he observed what the passengers ahead of him did as they boarded the bus. The first person said “Betsy Layne”; the next mentioned “Julia Bow”; the third said “Mary Alice”; the fourth said “Arthurmable”; the fifth “Bob White”; the sixth “Marydell”; then “Mary Helen”, “Johnetta”, “Jim Wood”, and
“Jonancy.” Our boy, not knowing any better, said “George Allen.” He was let off at
the next stop.

Robert M. Rennick is coordinator of the Kentucky Place Names Survey.

Reprinted with permission from
Kentucky Humanities magazine (April 2005). Kentucky Humanities is published by the Kentucky Humanities Council, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to Telling Kentucky's Story. For more information, visit

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