Famous "Firsts" (and "Seconds"): Banks and Churches

Banks and churches are (as far as I can tell) the only institutions that frequently prefix their name with “First…” or “Second…”, such as:

First National Bank,
First State Bank,
First {Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian} Church,
Second {Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian} Church,

and so on. It is also noteable that not all banks and churches prefix themselves in that way (Fort Davis State Bank, Fifth Avenue Methodist Church, etc.) Questions: Why are these the only two entities that [commonly] use these names? How did this tradition get started? Presumably, the first congregation to set up camp in a town would call themselves “first”… so why don’t we see “thirds”, et al.? Why do banks frequenly use “first”, but seldom (never, to my recollection) “second”? And can something truly be a “first” if there is no second? Is the First National Bank of Alpine anticipating the establishment of a “second” and just want to make sure that future generations know that they were there first? Anybody have the SD?

My WAG is that “First National” or other phraseologies imply that that particular financial institution has been around for a while. So it must be stable, well-run, etc.

A “Second National” by implication just seems worse.

Well, I don’t have any answers, so here’s a monkey wrench to toss in the works.

There was a local bank here a few years ago called “First National Bank of Toledo.” They have since been sold and now are called, get this, “Fifth Third Bank.”

Go figure.

Dopeler effect:
The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

The first congregation of any given denomination to organize in any particular town obviously gets dibs on “First X Church.” Another congregation may organize and choose “Second X Church,” but by the time the third congregation has gotten organized, they’ve probably decided to go for something more poetic, such as “Mountaintop X Church” or something similar. That’s why you don’t usually see “3rd X Church.”

In Springfield, IL, there is a “2nd Timothy Baptist Church,” but no “1st Timothy Baptist Church.”

I vaguely remember seeing a Second ____ Bank of ____ somewhere once but don’t have the details so perhaps I’m imagining things. As BobT said, such a name for a bank would have an onus which would not be on the same name for a church. All Christian Science churches are numbered so they do go on up past Second to 45th Church of Los Angeles or whatever of wherever. Urban grade schools are numbered, though the names follow a different form. Some urban post offices are named but those also follow a different form.

The “Old Second National Bank” has a number of branches in the Chicago area. They seem to have started as the “Second National Bank of Aurora” and changed to the current version because they added branches and because the First National Bank of Aurora no longer exists under that name.

I too am curious about the origin of the name of the “Fifth Third Bank” which has many branches in Ohio.

National Banks date from the 19th Century. There were a set of standards which allowed a bank to call itself a “National Bank.” Thus, the Bank of Podunk would fill out the paperwork and be able to call itself National Bank of Podunk. If another bank in the same town agreed to abide by the National Bank rules, it became the Second National Bank of Podunk, and they’d add “First” to the previous name. You actually could have Third, Forth and Fifth National Banks in a city. After this system was abandoned, those with “First National” were more likely to keep their names, while those with higher numbers renamed the banks as someting else.

Read “Sundials” in the new issue of Aboriginal Science Fiction.

used to be that a rich dude could start up a private bank and call it Joes bank or a group would start up the Merchant’s or some such. As it prospered it could apply for national or state status. Then it was a mark of status to be able to change its name to The First ational Bank of Smallville. It wasn’t so much to say “We are the first bank here.” as much as to say " we made it before you other guys" ( bein a National Bank dont necessarilymean you are a good bank or a trustworthy bank it means you get to do some kinda government stuff, but it looks important)Now days IF a new bank gets started they get all that stuff done at the beginning, I Think there is still one privately owned non state or national bank here in town. But most banks are now the Gawdawful Huge Conglomerate Biggerthan the Gummit Bank. In Texas it wasn’t so long ago that banks were not allowed to have branches. All the banking had to be done on one premisis, even the drive thru had to be on the same property. When they were finally allowed branches my home town wound up with the Fith Street First National Bank for a while. My home town had the 1st nat bank, the Amarillo Nat bank ( which was the 2nd ) and the Third nat bank, 3rd changed its name. I saw a Third National bank in a Small WestTexas town, the only bank left in a once larger town. I think I’ve seen a Third Methodist church somewhere.
Checking the Dallas phone book I find a Third and Fifth Church of Christ. Sci. but no 1st,2nd,or 4th. ( actually the 3rd is the Third Church of Christian Scientists and Clerks ofice… odd looking never heard of them Christian Clerks) Didn’t find 2nd or 3rd any thing else. lots of 1st Churches and every suburb has a 1st Nat. Bank. Also LOTS of 1st AMERICAN this and that, which looks impresive but means nothing. ME, I keep my pennies in the First National Baptist Church of Scientific Methodical Banking.

“Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.”-Marx

I guessw we can safely assume that the origin of names for banks and churches is an example of convergent evolution. Also, it can be seen how being “First…” is prestigious. So why are these the only two institutions that commonly use this sort of prefixing? Why are there no “First Supermarket of…” or “First Bowling Alley of…”, etc.? Why have ONLY banks and churches adopted these standards?

There’s got to be a deeper answer!


Puritans didn’t want to name churches for people (sounds too much like them nasty old Papist saints) and bankers didn’t want to name banks for themselves. And other names sounded too frivolous.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Papabear - from the 5/3 web site:

Fifth Third Bank traces its origins to the Bank of the Ohio Valley, which opened its doors in
Cincinnati in 1858. In 1871, the Bank was purchased by the Third National Bank. With the
turn of the century came the union of the

Third National Bank and the Fifth National Bank,
eventually to become known as the Fifth Third Bank. In 1975, Fifth Third Bancorp was
incorporated. Fifth Third Bancorp is comprised of 12 affiliate banks located in Ohio,
Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, and Arizona. The Bancorp, headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, has
$29.7 billion in assets.

And in Cincinatti, there is a building which proudly displays the sign “Fifth Third Bank, Fourth Street Office.”

Rastahomie said:

Hey, how’d you know that? You from 'round here?

Also headquartered in Springfield, but quickly spreading internationally, is the First Church of David. Don’t delay, join today!

Hand in hand ( or glove ) with this goes the question of the Smallville Engine Co.#1#2…etc. Any thoughts?


" If you want to kiss the sky, you’d better learn how to kneel "

Too bad they didn’t turn it around the other way, Unk…imagine the jokes you could make about the “Third Fifth Bank.” :slight_smile:

Christian Science branch churches in a given town are numbered in the order in which the brances were established. Sometimes falling membership at a given branch forces it to close its doors, and the numbers are not re-used. New York city goes up to Fourteenth Church of Christ, Scientist, but four or five of the intermediate numbers are missing.

As an interesting aside, only The Mother Church in Boston is allowed to use the definite article and call itself “The First Church of Christ, Scientist”.

Excellent question. Everytime I drive past a church/bank (same thing, really) I’ve wondered this very thought.

I remember once somewhere in Michigan ( that narrows it down alot) seeing a church called
“The Twenty third Presbysterian church” or whatever religion. All I could think was, “What happened to the first 22?”