Was Vestal, New York Named After a Roman Goddess?
The word "Vestal" has roots that go back to Roman times and have an interesting meaning. Vestal is also a lovely town in Upstate New York and we couldn't help but wonder how the town got its name and whether or not it was named after a Roman goddess.
The word Vestal has dual meanings, often used in relation to the Roman goddess called "Vesta" but also known to be used in relation to the characteristics of a vestal virgin who was to be nothing other than chaste pure.
In classical mythology, the ancient Roman goddess of the hearth, home, and family was called Vesta and she was worshiped in a temple that contained an altar on which a sacred fire was kept burning by the vestal virgins who are identified with the Greek Hestia, the ancient goddess of the hearth.
The vestal virgins were, in ancient Rome, the priestesses of Vesta. These virgins were selected from a bank of candidates before puberty and enrolled in Vesta's priestly college of six priestesses. These women were required to serve for at least 30 years and were required to maintain their chastity for the duration of their servitude. If a vestal virgin were found to have lost her virginity, even in the event of rape, she would be buried alive in an unmarked grave.
So, was the Upstate, New York town of Vestal named for the Roman goddess and her vestal virgins? Maybe, but probably not.
According to the town of Vestal, most people believe that the name was bestowed by Robert Harpur, a Greek and Latin professor. Harpur was the namesake of Harpur College, later Binghamton University.
Unfortunately, whether or not it was Harpur who named the town or not and whether or not the name came from his love of Greek and Latin studies is unsure because there is no official documentation confirming so.
The town of Vestal says, "Although we now have one family living in the township with the surname Vestal, to date our name remains a mystery."