What’s in a Name

 In Outer Banks Names

The Outer Banks is rich with colorful names that evoke images of everything from pirates and shipwrecks to local wildlife. Some names are found in the lore of storytellers while others are securely rooted in history. Whatever their source, the nomenclature of Outer Banks landmarks and townships intrigues locals and guests alike. Here is a historical rundown of interesting stories behind the names that are most likely to pique our interest.


Corolla and Currituck

Corolla was named after the petals of a flower but it did not start out that way. This European community began on Native American hunting grounds and was originally called Jones Hill after an early settler. Hunting, fishing, and salvaging shipwrecks were the keys to survival for those first to arrive from Europe. The area officially became known as Corolla in 1895 when a post office in town first opened and named it. The botanical definition of Corolla is “the inner envelope of floral leaves of a flower, usually of delicate texture and of some color other than green.”

Corolla is in the county of Currituck, which is derived from the Native American term Carotank. Carotank means the “land of the wild geese,” and because the region is on the Atlantic migratory flyway, it has a large, wild geese population.

On their southbound travels, ducks and geese stop in Currituck to feed on the plentiful aquatic plants. Corolla, and all of Currituck, were popular grounds for duck and geese hunting in the late 1800s, drawing hunters from all over the country.


MonkeyIsland_birdsMonkey Island

A remote island located in the Currituck Sound, Monkey Island lies within the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. While there are no monkeys on the island, it was named after the Native American Pamunkey nation that occupied the area during the summer because of its abundant hunting opportunities. The Monkey Island Hunting Club is still standing on this uninhabited island but it was abandoned in the late 1970s. A large portion of the island is forested and is home to many aquatic birds.



Not surprisingly, the town of Duck was named for the large number of ducks and other waterfowl in the area. Duck hunting was extremely popular in Duck and Corolla in the early 20th century. Now, a popular resort town, Duck is Dare County’s northernmost community and was incorporated in May of 2002.


Hunting_duckKitty Hawk

There are several theories about how Kitty Hawk earned its name. One story is that the town’s name is a local Native American derivative that referenced goose hunting or “Killy Honk.” Another theory is that the name is reminiscent of early settlers’ complaints about the large mosquitoes they referred to as “skeeter hawks.”

Originally the town’s name appeared on English settlers’ maps as “Chickehawk,” but by the late 1700s, residents were spelling it differently depending on the source: “Kityhuk,” “Kittyhark,” and then finally “Kitty Hawk” is the spelling that stuck.


Devil-RumsmKill Devil Hills

Kill Devil Hills is one of those names on the Outer Banks that draws great attention and there are several theories on how it came to be known. The first time Kill Devil Hills began appearing on maps was as early as 1809. Many say that pirates who settled here spent their nights making moonshine and rum that was so horrific, it could literally “kill the devil.”

It is told that in the early 1700s, William Byrd said the rum from this region was so powerful, it could do just that. Another story is that a ship loaded with “Kill Devil Rum” wrecked in the area and a local resident named Devil Ike said he would guard the rum. Ike claimed the devil stole the rum leaving him no choice but to “kill the devil” in revenge. Yet another theory is that scavengers would skim shipwrecks that contained large supplies of Kill Devil Rum and then bury the rum in the giant sand dunes.

The hill in Kill Devil Hills is the sand dune where the Wright Brothers’ historic 1903 flight originated. Stabilized in 1930 with grass, it is the site of the famous Wright Brothers Memorial.


Nags Head

It is believed that Nags Head got its name during the days of pirates when locals tied a lantern around an old horse’s neck and then led the nag up and down the shoreline to lure merchant ships to the shallow shoals. The merchant ships would mistake the nag’s lanterns for the welcoming beacons from lighthouses. Once the Nags-Head-Horseship ran aground, land pirates would make the crew “walk the plank” and then loot and burn the ship.

Another theory is that sailors reported that from their ships at sea, the landscape resembled a horse’s head. Yet another story is that a man who bought a large piece of land in the area during the 1830s called his land Nags Head because of a region in his homeland in England called the same name. Today, a simple internet search on Nags Head will reveal there are many pubs in the United Kingdom with that name.

Eleven miles long, Nags Head was first established in the 1830s and was one
of the very first tourist destinations in the United States. It remains one of the most popular resort towns on the Outer Banks.


Whale-bonesWhalebone Junction

Originally just simply called “the junction,” Whalebone Junction now refers to the intersection of U.S. 158, N.C. 12, and the entrance to Cape Hatteras National Seashore in South Nags Head. According to The Virginian-Pilot, back in the early 1930s, it is believed that a 72-foot dead whale washed up on Pea Island and Alexander Midgett loaded the skeletal remains into his truck and moved it to the intersection at the junction. The bones served as an advertisement for his filling station until the 1940s when his gas station burned down. It is not known if any of the whale bones remain at the intersection or if they were moved elsewhere.


Wanchese and ManteoManteo-Wanchese-Lost-Colony

These two towns on Roanoke Island are named after the two Native American chiefs who befriended the colonists. After being taken to England in 1584 and then returning to Roanoke Island the following year, Chief Manteo remained close with the colonists while Chief Wanchese became disenchanted with the settlers. He parted ways with Manteo who became Britain’s sole ally in the New World.

The Town of Manteo was named in 1873. Queen Elizabeth I named Chief Manteo the “Lord of Roanoke” because of his help to the colonists. Meanwhile, Chief Wanchese was the last known ruler of Roanoke Island’s Native Americans.


hatterasHatteras Island

Hatteras is known to be the sixth-oldest surviving English “place-name” in the United States. In 1585, an inlet north of the cape was named “Hatrask” by Sir Richard Grenville, who was the admiral leading the Roanoke Colony expedition sent by Sir Walter Raleigh. The Hatteras Indians, an Algonquin tribe, lived in the Cape Hatteras area. Scholars believe the name Hatteras is from an Algonquin word that meant “very little vegetation.”



Ocracoke was named after the infamous Blackbeard, also formally known as Edward Teach. Allegedly, when Blackbeard dropped his anchor in the island’s inlet to unload his booty, he exclaimed, “Oh, Crow Cock” when seeing the miles of sandy beaches. It’s been called that ever since.


Bodie IslandBlackbeard

There are many stories that surround the name of Bodie Island. One belief is that it is the surname of an early family who lived here. Others believe it was the name of a ship that wrecked near the island. The most popular theory, however, is that it was named after the many bodies that washed ashore from frequent shipwrecks.


Colington Island

While the spelling has changed through the centuries, Colington Island was originally named after Sir John Colleton who owned the island in the mid-1600s. Now, the island is home to a large gated community and numerous boat slips. Many residents of the island still enjoy and make a living from water activities, including fishing and crabbing.


Jockeys-RidgeJockey’s Ridge

This state park earned its name from the fact that at the top of the sand dune, you had a perfect view of a horse track that used to be to the southwest of the dunes. It has been told that early settlers captured wild ponies and raced them along the flat areas of the sand dunes. Thus, the area and the surrounding sand dunes has a nomenclature that points to the jockeys who once
raced here.


Pea Island

First named after the wild peas that grew on the island, the island is a national wildlife refuge and a stopover for migrating birds along the Atlantic Flyway.


Oregon Inlet

Formed by an 1849 hurricane that cut through the barrier islands, Oregon Inlet is named after a side-wheeler paddle boat called the Oregon. The Oregon was also oregon-inlet-aerialthe first boat to travel through the new inlet. Today, the waterway is a lifeline to the local fishing industry and serves as a popular route for charter boat excursions.


Roanoke Island

Roanoke originally meant “northern people,” so it is possible that the Native Americans who first inhabited the island came from the north to live here. The meaning of the word Roanoke evolved to mean a form of money, originally beads that were made from conch shells. Roanoke Island was named in the 16th century. ■

Author, Michelle Wagner, has been living and writing on the Outer Banks for 15 years.

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