Let’s fantasise a bit: If the Government of Jamaica ever decided to add another parish or two to the roster, how do you think they’d go about selecting their names?
- Maybe they’ll put together a parish-naming committee, hold a national parish-naming competition and then select the best names from the lot. A similar strategy was used in selecting Jamaica’s national anthem and flag.
- Or maybe they’ll name the parishes in honour of distinguished citizens, taking into consideration how the achievements of these individuals brought great repute to Jamaica land we love. This is definitely going beyond giving the keys to the cities.
How the 14 Jamaican Parishes were Formed
Jamaica now has 14 parishes; but at one point we had as much as 22! The former British authorities seemed to have been parish-crazy back in the day. In 1664, nine years after the English formally took control of Jamaica, there were seven parishes: Clarendon, Port Royal, St Andrew, St David, St John, St Catherine and St Thomas. This increased to:
- 12 in 1670 with the addition of five parishes: St Ann, St Elizabeth, St George, St James and St Mary;
- 13 in 1673 with the addition of Vere;
- 15 in 1675 with the addition of St Dorothy and St Thomas-in-the-Vale;
- 16 in 1693 with the addition of Kingston;
- 17 in 1703 with the addition of Westmoreland;
- 19 in 1723 with the addition of Hanover and Portland;
- 20 in 1770 with the addition of Trelawny;
- 21 in 1814 with the addition of Manchester; and
- 22 in 1844 with the final addition: Metcalfe.
On April 23, 1867, the Counties and Parishes Act was passed, reducing these 22 parishes to the 14 we know today.
How the 14 Jamaican Parishes Got Their Names
Jamaica’s parishes were named after English monarchs and statesmen and their wives, governors of Jamaica and their wives, and patron saints.
1. Name a Parish in Honour of a Monarch and/or Statesman
- Clarendon: one of the earliest formed parishes after the formal English occupation of Jamaica began in 1655, Clarendon was named after English statesman, Edward Hyde, the first Earl of Clarendon.
- St James: formed in 1670, St James was named after James II, Duke of York, brother of Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland.
- Kingston: it isn’t known exactly who Kingston was named after when it was formed in 1693, although Cundall (1909) notes that ‘Kingston’ is the common form of ‘King’s Town.’
- Hanover: formed in 1723, Hanover was named after the reigning family in England at the time, headed by the Hanoverian monarch, King George I, who reigned from 1714-1727.
2. Name a Parish in Honour of a Governor
- Portland: formed in 1723, Portland was named after the first Duke of Portland, Henry Bentinck, the Governor of Jamaica when the parish was formed.
- Trelawny: formed in 1770, Trelawny was named after Sir William Trelawny, the Governor of Jamaica when the parish was formed.
- Manchester: formed in 1814, Manchester was named after Colonel William Montagu, the fifth Duke of Manchester, the Governor of Jamaica when the parish was formed
3. Name a Parish in Honour of a Monarch’s or Governor’s Wife
- St Catherine: one of the earliest formed parishes, Cundall (1909) notes that St Catherine may have been named after Catherine of Portugal, the wife of Charles II, who was king of England when the parish was formed in 1660.
- St Ann: formed in 1670, St Ann was named after Anne Hyde, the first wife of James II, Duke of York. The original spelling was thus St Anne.
- St Elizabeth: formed in 1670, St Elizabeth was probably named in honour of Elizabeth, Lady Modyford, wife of Sir Thomas Modyford, governor of Jamaica when the parish was formed.
4. Name a Parish in Honour of Patron Saints
Cundall (1909) notes that the desire to establish church districts in the newly acquired colony may have been the reason for naming the following parishes after patron saints:
- St Andrew: one of the earliest formed parishes, St Andrew was named after the patron saint of Scotland, Andrew the Apostle.
- St Thomas: one of the earliest formed parishes, St Thomas was named after St Thomas the Apostle.
The exceptions to the above were:
- St Mary: formed in 1670, St Mary may have been named after Governor Thomas Modyford’s daughter, Mary Modyford.
- Westmoreland: formed in 1703, Westmoreland was so named for simply being the western-most parish of the island (hmmm, very creative, former colonial authorities!).
So there you have it, folks:Tthe history of how our parishes got their names. There was no grand formula to the process; it was simply stamping Britishness onto this new land called Jamaica the best way they knew how.
Until next time…
Cundall, Frank (1909). Jamaica Place-Names. Kingston: The Institute of Jamaica.
Map of Jamaica, 1886. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jamwgw/jammaps.htm