What's in a Name: West Virginia

2 minutes

West Virginia is a magnificent state located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, and as its name reveals, lies west of the state of Virginia. You may not have heard of West Virginia, but this should change, as it has an interesting history and represents a much different side of the country than some of the more populous places like New York.

The New River Gorge Bridge. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The name West Virginia has far reaching historical roots, and to trace its origin, you must look back to the days of the Civil War. Originally part of the great state of Virginia, which at the time was a Confederate state, West Virginia was created on June 20th, 1863 when 48 counties in northwest Virginia voted to join the Union in the North and separated from Virginia, becoming one of only two new states created during the Civil War.  This secured West Virginia's place as a key border state during the Civil War, and it was not unusual for counties in West Virginia to switch their loyalties between the North and the South depending on the progress of the war.

When West Virginia admitted to the Union as a new separate state, it was almost named Kanawha, after one of its counties. The decision  makers at the time felt that it might be confusing to name a state after one of its counties and there was no real significance in doing so. During the creation of the state, the majority of the people of modern day West Virginia wanted a new name for the newly independent territory, but they still wanted to invoke the honor of the great name of Virginia, named after the Virgin Queen of England. There was a vote, and the name "West Virginia" won by a landslide.

Much confusion exists today, though, because of the name "West Virginia". Many people, even Americans who learned the names of the 50 U.S. states in grade school, continue to refer to West Virginia as western Virginia or the western part of Virginia rather than its own state. This confusion probably comes from the fact that there is no "East Virginia" to serve as its opposite as you have in the case of North and South Dakota or North and South Carolina.

Despite siding with the North during the Civil War, West Virginia is now regarded as part of the American South. Traditionally, it has had large logging and coal mining industries and has been home to more than 500 glass factories. Known as the "Mountain State," it also has a unique topography that makes it an ideal place for outdoor activities like caving, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing and hunting.

Lynne Sebeck Lynne Sebeck

Lynne, a seasoned traveler and professional sailor, has been helping students and young adults reach their full career potential for more than 10 years as the Program Director for Career Training USA.

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