Putting the Dick in Dickerson

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I’ve always loved maps because learning street names will tell you a lot about a place.  From the Cherokee “Hiwassee” Street and River in Georgia/North Carolina/Tennessee; the Algonquin “Montauk” Highway in Long Island; the Shoshone “Shoshone Drive” existing in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming; the “charming,” quaint New England tendency to add old to common things like “Old Barn Road;” to all the damn Peachtree streets in Atlanta, Georgia; you can start to imagine the history of a place instantly.

Ten years ago, if you drove down Dickerson Road in Nashville on a hot summer night you would see the throngs of prostitutes, junkies and pimps and you might wonder if the name begets the action of the place, or if the actions begat the name.  Today, the “victimless crimes” are not so blatant, but still there and it had me researching the origin of the road because the innuendo has always been a real high-brow joke in Nashville…

While its roots are disappointingly not lascivious, they are nonetheless entertaining.  It starts with Tennessee’s pride and joy; Old Hickory himself.  To you folks ain’t from around here, we’re talking about Andrew Jackson.  Andrew Jackson had a real reputation for his temper and rumor had gotten back around to him that prodigy sharpshooter, Charles Dickinson, had basically been running around town calling Rachel Jackson a slut.  Andrew challenged Charles to a duel, but clever as he was, decided his only real shot of living was to let Charles go first in the off chance the wound would not be fatal.  He hedged his bets correctly, and once taking two shots to the chest, he turned around and aimed true at Charles; killing him point blank.

People in Nashville were not pleased about this effrontery, especially because Charles was such a talented and promising young man.  It was proposed that a main thoroughfare in town be named after him, Dickinson Road, but a clerk wrote the name down as “Dickerson,” sealing the fate for the its future glory.

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