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How West Virginia got its name

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – June 20th is West Virginia Day. The day is set aside to celebrate the state’s entry into the union in 1863. But, before statehood, the state wanting to break away from the confederate state, Virginia, had to agree on a name.

In December of 1861, delegates working on a state constitution took on the challenge.

“They had to have a name for the state, so the original proposal in Wheeling was the state of Kanawha,” says Marshall University professor Kevin Barksdale.

Some delegates – especially those in the Kanawha Valley argued for Kanawha – but other parts of the state were not enthused.

“The classic one is it’s difficult to spell and pronounce – but there are other arguments like ‘well, we’ve already got a Kanawha County and River, wouldn’t that be confusing?'”

Kevin Barksdale

Though many delegates insisted the name was unimportant – the debate centered on more than a half-dozen wide-ranging options.

Some of today’s delegates had other ideas on what they would have named the state.

“I would have voted for Vandalia. It’s a distinct name. It would have separated us forever from our sister state that we now refer to as ‘East Virginia’, that would have been my vote,” says Delegate Roger Hanshaw.

Delegate Larry Rowe said, “the delegate from Monongalia said you can’t spell or pronounce Kanawha, so we shouldn’t use that, but I disagree and think Kanawha would have been a great name.”

Delegate John Williams said he would’ve voted for Monogalia. He also added, “…that area was typically referred to as Augusta, and that’s my great ma-maws name, so I’ve got to show some love for my great ma-maw and go with Augusta.”

“I would have gone with New Virginia. I mean we were a new state, there were already some other ‘news,’ I think it would make sense,” said Delegate Caleb Hanna.

Many of today’s delegates say they would have wanted a name to better separate us from Virginia, but in 1861, there was a desire to maintain some connections to the old state. Many delegates had strong family and business ties to the east, and others cited they wanted to maintain their share of Virginia’s revolutionary history.

“Essentially, whether or not you thought the name ‘Virginia’ should be included in the new state really reveals the split within the proposed new state over what is this new state going to look like?” explained Barksdale.

Some of that sentiment exists today.

“They think that we’re close to Richmond or still part of Virginia and there’s a little bit of confusion, so out of the list you have here I’d go with New Virginia,” says Delegate John Hardy.

“If I was a delegate in 1861, I would absolutely have to go with Best Virginia,” says Delegate Sean Hornbuckle.

“I would have picked Best Virginia. I don’t know. That’s just how I feel. I lived in Virginia, I grew up in Virginia, and that’s my determination,” says Delegate Amy Summers.

Ultimately, a compromise was reached on a vote of 30-14. “West Virginia” was the choice.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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