Curious Cbus: Is Gahanna Really Named After Hell?

Oct 15, 2018

While Curious Cbus was working on a story about how Gahanna became the Herb Capital of Ohio, another question about Gahanna won our most recent voting round.

Maureen Duffy asked, “Is Gahanna really named after Hell or is there another origin for the name?” and voters overwhelmingly wanted to learn the answer.

Why would someone think Gahanna is named after Hell?

“I've always laughed about the similarity of the word 'Gahanna' to 'Gehenna,' which is used as a synonym for Hell in the gospels," Duffy says.

And she is right. There is a hellish place from the Bible whose name looks awfully similar to Gahanna.

Gahanna vs. Gehenna

In the Bible, Gehenna is the name of a valley south of Jerusalem. The word comes from the Hebrew “ge-Hinnom,” which referred to "the valley of the sons of Hinnom." In the Old Testament, it is known as a place where children were sacrificed to a false god, Moloch.

In the entry for Gehenna in Easton’s Bible Dictionary, it is noted that the valley “became the common receptacle for all the refuse of the city. Here the dead bodies of animals and of criminals, and all kinds of filth, were cast and consumed by fire kept always burning.”

Photo of Gehenna, or Ge-Hinnom, included in the Jewish Encyclopedia, published in 1906.
Credit The Jewish Encyclopedia

Basically, it was a burning trash dump.

Gehenna is mentioned several times in the New Testament as a place you wouldn’t want your body or soul to go after death. Though Gehenna was a literal place, its name came to be used as a word synonymous with the realm of eternal damnation. In the King James version of the Bible and other English translations, instances of the word "Gehenna" were simply replaced with the word "Hell."

So Where Did Gahanna Come From?

The key to Gahanna comes from the waterway that curves through the center of the city. Before it was known as Big Walnut Creek, it was called the Gahanna River.

"Gahanna" is a Native American word that means “three into one.” In that area, three rivers literally come into one where Alum Creek, Blacklick Creek, and Big Walnut Creek converge. Technically, that convergence actually occurs about eight miles south of Gahanna in Three Creeks Metro Park.

1856 map of Franklin County depicts John Clark's "Gahanna Farm" in the area that today forms part of downtown Gahanna.
Credit Library of Congress Map Collection

More specifically, Gahanna got its name because the city was founded on land owned by John Clark in 1849. He named that property “Gahanna Plantation” or “Gahanna Farm.”

In 1881, after merging with the nearby town of Bridgeport, citizens petitioned Franklin County to be incorporated as a village.

Even though the actual "three into one" does not occur within Gahanna’s borders, the city embraced that meaning nonetheless. The city’s official seal bears the inscription “Three In One” and the city’s recently rebranded logo contains three blue waves and their tagline, “Where currents connect.”

The official seal and logo of Gahanna.
Credit City of Gahanna

So it may soothe your soul knowing that Gahanna is not named after hellfire, but rather for its connection to water.

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