According to the United States Postal Service, the top 10 most common place names (cities, towns, villages, etc.) in the United States are, in order of frequency: Washington, Greenville, Franklin, Bristol, Clinton, Springfield, Fairview, Salem, Madison, and Georgetown. Eight of the ten are found in Kentucky, excluding Bristol and Madison (though we do have a Madisonville).
Not surprisingly, Paducah didn’t make the list.
Heck, for about 150 years, Paducahans weren’t sure how their own city got its name. They bounced back and forth between a couple origin stories, with the namesake either being a seven-foot tall Chickasaw named Chief Paduke or an enterprising Irishman named Pat Dugan who established a woodyard on Owen’s Island. Further muddling the situation, native son, outspoken author, and Native American enthusiast, Irvin S. Cobb, was convinced that Paducah was a Chickasaw word meaning “where the wild grapes grow.” None of these theories were right, and it wasn’t until the 1990’s that a long lost letter was discovered that finally resolved the mystery. Written by William Clark, who platted our city, the 1827 letter explained that Paducah was named for the tribe of Native Americans who originally lived here, a people known as Padoucas.
However, despite the seeming uniqueness of our city’s name and our own longstanding ignorance to its origin, there are a few other places and things out in the wide, wide world also called Paducah…in a manner of speaking.
A Little City in Texas Called Paducah
This one is an exact match in both spelling and pronunciation to our own town. As many of you may already know, there is a little city just south of the panhandle in Texas called Paducah. It’s a smallish place with about 1.5 square miles of land inhabited by 1500 residents. What you may not know is that Paducah, Texas is actually named for Paducah, Kentucky. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Lone Star town got its name from an early settler named R. Potts who had moved there in the mid 1800’s from Paducah, Kentucky. Mr. Potts gave future residents a parcel of free land in exchange for their vote to name the town after his hometown in the Ohio Valley. Another thing you may not have known, the high school mascot in Paducah, Texas is the Dragon, which makes one wonder…in an exhibition, which would prevail, a Blue Tornado or a Dragon?
A Little City in Sri Lanka Called Padukka
Obviously, it’s not spelled the same, and I’m certainly no expert in Sinhalese (the language spoken in much of Sri Lanka), but it sure does look like Paducah and Padukka have similar pronunciations. One thing I am sure of, however, is that Padukka, Sri Lanka most certainly did not get its name from an immigrant named R. Potts. Padukka is a combination of two Sinhalese words, “paha” meaning vanish and “dukka” meaning sadness. A place called “Vanish Sadness” sounds like an awfully nice spot to me. Dating back to the 16th century, the area was first thought to have been a campsite for Portuguese invaders. Now, it boasts of a population of about 8000 and lies about 20 miles east of Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. Surrounded by hills and marshlands, Padukka is rich in the rubber and graphite industries. In the center of town, called “Padukka Junction,” sits a monumental gas lamp which commemorates the treaty that ended World War 1. No word as to what the mascot of the Padukka Public Schools might be.
Ancient Indian Footwear Called Paduka
Again, not the same spelling, and who knows about the pronunciation, and this time it’s not even a place but a shoe…like a flip-flop with a peg. The Paduka is defined in many places on the internet as “the name of India’s oldest, most quintessential footwear. It is little more than a sole with a post and knob, which is engaged between the big and second toe.” So how old is it? Really, really old, in fact some sources state that the use of padukas may date back 5000 years which would make this style of footwear as old as Stonehenge in England and the hieroglyphs in Egypt. The word is derived from the Sanskrit words “pada” meaning foot and “ka” meaning small. Padukas have been made from a wide range of durable materials—wood, ivory, brass, and silver—though rarely from cow leather, as the cow is considered sacred in Hindu. Padukas can be flat and plain, or lavishly decorated, shaped like fish and hourglasses, and raised on stilts. Though once widely worn, the paduka has somewhat fallen out of fashion and these day is only seen on the feet of holy men (and sometimes brides during a traditional wedding ceremony).
One southern U.S. city, one southern Asia city, and a sandal…those are all the things I could find that resemble the name of our humble hometown, unless you also count the poker-like card game called “padooki.” To learn more about these things and other non-sequitur trivia, come on down to the Local & Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library. And if you like this article (or any of our others) be sure to also “like” our Facebook page.