What's In a Name: Cape Fear

Reported by Colin Hackman - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The words "Cape Fear" bring up many different images to those who hear them.

Worldwide, people remember Robert De Niro's Academy Award nomination in the 1991 film bearing the same name, but people in our area think of the schools, museums, or the river.

But what's to be afraid of?  How did the name come to be?

The first mention of the "Cape of Fear" was written nearly 400 years ago by Governor John White, of Roanoke's Lost Colony, as he was nearly marooned on the frying pan shoals.  He was lucky though, because the 20 mile shallow waters have claimed hundreds of boats since.

This area was also the stomping grounds of Edward Teach, who is better known as Black-Beard the Pirate.

So, like White's boat, the name "Cape of Fear" stuck.

The Cape Fear River bore the name Rio Jordan in 1524 and for 140 years after that, when Verrizzano came to the area.

According to researchers, the river's name changed with each new ruler.  The Rio Jordan became the Charles River in honor of King Charles, II.  But since Charleston was expanding, the river was renamed the Clarendon to remove confusion.

When Carolina was split into North and South, the Clarendon River changed names, yet again.

The river showed up on a map for the first time in 1733 as the "River of the Cape Fear."  Over time, the name was shortened to the Cape Fear River.

Though the name may have changed many times throughout the years, the actual "Cape of Fear" is the same today as it was in the 1500's.

If you'd like to know why an area is called what it is, email your requests to Colin at chackman@wect.com.