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What’s in an Indiana place name? Confusion!

June 2, 2023

Indiana’s geography can be complicated sometimes. Did you know there are at least 38 locations (unincorporated places, towns, cities) in Indiana that share the name of an Indiana county in which they are not located. This excludes township names, and names of places that are altered by the addition of a suffix (-ville, -field, -burg, etc.). Of the 38, 8 are county seats of a county other than that with which they share a name. As you can see from the map, some are quite distant from their counterparts (Jasper, Knox, etc.) while others are relatively near each other (Washington, Franklin, etc.).

Map adapted to show county seats that share their name with a county different than their own.
Map, Counties and County Seats (altered by author)

Often the counties share the same name origin. Usually the county was founded first, but sometimes it’s the city as in the example of Madison and Jasper in the list below of the 8 county seat oddities in Indiana geography.

Decatur, Adams County (founded 1836) / Decatur County (founded 1821) — both named for Naval Hero Stephen Decatur
Franklin, Johnson County (founded 1823) / Franklin County (founded 1811) — both named for Benjamin Franklin
Jasper, DuBois County (founded 1818) / Jasper County (founded 1835) — city named after a biblical description of Jerusalem; county after Sgt. William Jasper
Knox, Starke County (founded 1850/51) / Knox County (founded 1790) — both named for Maj. Gen. Henry Knox
Madison, Jefferson County (founded 1805) / Madison County (founded 1823) — both named for President James Madison
Marion, Grant County (founded 1826) / Marion County (founded 1822) — both named for Francis Marion
Spencer, Owen County (founded 1820) / Spencer County (founded 1818) — both named for Cpt. Spier Spencer
Washington, Daviess County (founded 1815) / Washington County (founded 1814) — both named for George Washington

From Needmore to Prosperity, 1995

Occasionally we get asked a question about the history of someone’s ancestor that goes a little something like this: “Do you have any information on John Smith of Madison, Indiana?” I’ll usually do a quick search to determine whether they mean Madison, Indiana or Madison County, Indiana. Sometimes I have to ask if they know which one it is.

One of my favorite Indiana sources helped me compile the above information. The book is available in our Reference Room and is titled From Needmore to Prosperity. It provides great information about Indiana place names. Other records that can be helpful in determining which is the correct one, the city or the county, are those that include the city/town, county, and state all on one document. This will often be found on government records like censuses, birth and death certificates, and other like sources. As we research, it’s important to know these inconsistencies exist so we can assist our researchers by looking at the right location. As always, inquiries to the library can be sent to

Amy Vedra

Amy Vedra is the director of reference services. She is currently reading her way through the Great American Reads list.

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