Unusual place names are names for cities, towns, and other regions which are considered non-ordinary in some manner. This can include place names which are also offensive words, inadvertently humorous or highly charged words, as well as place names of unorthodox spelling and pronunciation, including especially short or long names. These names often have an unintended effect or double-meaning when read by someone who speaks another language.
Unusually descriptive place namesEdit
Inaccessible Island, a remotely located extinct volcanic island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, is so named for the difficulty in landing on the island and penetrating its interior because of the rough terrain.
Death Valley, California, one of the hottest locations on Earth, got its English name after 13 pioneers died trying to cross the harsh desert valley during the California Gold Rush of 1849. The highest recorded land temperature in the United States, 134 °F (56.7 °C), was recorded inside Death Valley at Furnace Creek, California, in 1913.
Gardendale, Alabama, was originally named "Jugtown" for the jug and churn factory around which the town originally grew. Hettie Thomason Cargo, a local school teacher, proposed the name change in 1906 after being embarrassed to admit she was from "Jugtown" at a regional teachers' meeting. The town voted to rename itself Gardendale.
Quibbletown, New Jersey, also known as New Market, is an unincorporated settlement within the township of Piscataway. The name of the settlement originated with a dispute as to whether the Sabbath was on Saturday or Sunday.
Rough and Ready, California, is on the National List of Historic Places. It was given its name by the founder of the town, A. A. Townsend, who served under General Zachary Taylor in the Blackhawk War. Taylor was nicknamed "Rough and Ready" and was later elected president of the United States. Other places which include "and" in the name include Cut and Shoot, Texas and Eggs and Bacon Bay.
Roanoke, Virginia, was first established as the town of Big Lick in 1852 and was named for a large outcropping of salt that drew wildlife to the site near the Roanoke River. (The deer used to lick the salt, hence the name Big Lick.)
Several towns have been named "Corn Exchange" after a corn exchange contained within: five in England (in Chichester, Manchester, Bedford, Tonbridge, and Newbury); and one in Lesotho.
Place names that are homonyms for other words in the same languageEdit
Batman, Turkey, a city in the Southeastern Anatolia Region. The origin of the name "Batman" is unclear: it might be a shortening of the name of the 1,228-metre (4,029 ft) tall Bati Raman mountain located nearby or refer to the unit of weight used in the Ottoman Empire.
Boring, Oregon, is named after William H. Boring, who settled in the area in the 1870s. The town name is a homonym for the word boring, and the town often makes puns based on its name. Boring's town motto is "The most exciting place to live" and it has taken on the similarly named Dull, Scotland, as its sister city. Boring, Maryland, was named in 1905 for its first postmaster, David Boring.
The town of Montcuq, in France, has its name pronounced [mɔ̃kyk] or [mɔ̃ky], which closely resembles "my ass" in French, and for that reason was the subject of a famous humorous sketch on French television in 1976.
Profane, humorous, and highly charged wordsEdit
A number of settlements have names that are offensive or humorous in other languages, such as Rottenegg or Fucking (renamed to Fugging in 2021) in Austria. Although as a place name Fucking is benign in German, in English the word is usually vulgar. Similarly, when they hear of the French town of Condom, English speakers will likely associate it with condoms. Hel, Poland is a Polish seaside resort on the Hel Peninsula while Hell, Norway, comes from the old Norse word hellir, which means "overhang" or "cliff cave". In modern Norwegian the word helvete means "hell", while the Norwegian word hell can mean "luck". One can also cite the mountain named Wank in Bavaria, Germany, which in German derives from Middle High German wanken, which means "to stagger". A street in Meadow Flat, New South Wales, Australia was named 'Curly Dick Road' after the road's founder. In Leslie County, Kentucky, there is a place named Hell for Certain, and in Perry County, Kentucky, there are places named Happy and Dwarf.
Conversely, a number of place names can be considered humorous or offensive by their inhabitants, such as the Italian town of Bastardo ("Bastard") and Troia ("Slut", literally the female of the pig; the same name is used in Italian for the ancient city of Troy), or the German towns Affendorf ("Monkey Village"), Faulebutter ("Rancid Butter"), Fickmühlen ("Fuck Mills"), Himmelreich ("Kingdom of Heaven"), which appropriately lies at the edge of the Höllental ("Hell's Valley"), Katzenhirn ("Cat Brain", nearest to Mindelheim), Lederhose (Lederhosen, leather trousers), Neger ("Negro"), Plöd (blöd means "stupid", renamed in 2009), Regenmantel ("Raincoat"), and Warzen ("Warts"). The Austrian municipality Unterstinkenbrunn and the cadastral community Oberstinkenbrunn ("Lower Stinking Well" and "Upper Stinking Well" respectively) can also be considered offensive by residents. In the Czech Republic, there are villages called Šukačka ("Fucking") and Onen Svět ("The Other World"), which are located 2 kilometres from each other.
The US has the unincorporated community of Hell, Michigan, the historic community of Penile, Louisville in Kentucky, the county of Glasscock in Texas, Cumming, Georgia, and Pee Pee Township in Ohio. Additionally, a region in the US state of Pennsylvania commonly known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country is also home to various unusually-named communities, including Lititz (sometimes mispronounced "Le Tits"), Paradise, Intercourse, Virginville, Balls Mills, Blue Ball, and Fertility. Dildo is a town in Newfoundland, Canada, and off the coast there is a Dildo Island. In England, there are towns called Cockermouth, Penistone, Wetwang, and Pett Bottom.
Other areas sometimes considered humorous are Buttzville, New Jersey, Butts County, Georgia, and Middelfart, Denmark. In Croatia, there are places such as "Babina Guzica" (Grandmother's Ass), "Špičkovina", and "Gnojnice". There are surprisingly many places called Salsipuedes ("get out if you can") in several Spanish-speaking countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay) and two regional areas in California based upon Mexican land grants (Rancho Cañada de Salsipuedes and Rancho Salsipuedes). Similarly, the Taklamakan Desert is said locally to mean "Place of No Return", more commonly interpreted as "once you get in, you'll never get out". There is also a town in Chile named Peor es Nada ("better than nothing", or, more literally, "worse is nothing"). Kisumu, a city in Kenya, shares a pronunciation with a well-known Arabic insult (كس امه).
An example of this would be the once common English street name Gropecunt Lane, whose etymology is a historical use of the street by prostitutes to ply their trade. During the Middle Ages the word cunt may often have been considered merely vulgar, having been in common use in its anatomical sense since at least the 13th century. Its steady disappearance from the English vernacular may have been the result of a gradual cleaning-up of the name; Gropecunt Lane in 13th-century Wells became Grope Lane, and then in the 19th century, Grove Lane. In the city of York, Grapcunt Lane (grāp being the Old English word for "grope") was renamed Grope Lane and is now called Grape Lane.
A similar case was in the town of Sasmuan, Pampanga, in the Philippines, formerly known as "Sexmoan" based on attempts by Spanish friars to transcribe Sasmuan; it was unanimously changed into Sasmuan in 1991 because of negative sexual connotations associated with the place name.
In Spain, a municipality was named Castrillo Matajudíos ("Jew-killer Camp") from 1627 to 2015. Matamoros (Moor killer), however, remains a common place name, surname, and even the name of several businesses in Spanish-speaking countries.
A number of place names in the United States and Canada historically used the word "nigger", a derogatory term for black people. Over the course of the 20th century, many of these place names were changed because of the racist connotations of the word. One example is Dead Nigger Creek in Texas (named to commemorate the Buffalo Soldier tragedy of 1877) which was changed to Dead Negro Draw in 1963, then to Buffalo Soldier Draw in 2020. Another is Niggerhead Mountain near Malibu, California, which was changed to Negrohead Mountain in the 1960s and finally to Ballard Mountain in 2010 for an early African American settler. In Canada, Quebec decided in 2015 to rename 11 places within the province that contained the word "nigger" or the French equivalent, nègre. In 2016 New Zealand renamed three locations which were found to be offensive, Niggerhead, Nigger Hill, and Nigger Stream.
Likewise there is pressure to remove the word "squaw" from place names, a traditional term for a Native American woman now considered derogatory. In 2003, Squaw Peak in Phoenix, Arizona, was renamed to Piestewa Peak, after Specialist Lori Ann Piestewa, killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Sometimes settlement names are changed as a publicity stunt or to promote tourism.
Kindai University in Osaka, Japan, changed its English-language name from Kinki University (pronounced kinky) in 2014, which, in the English language, has a provocative meaning. The Japanese-language name of the university, Kinki daigaku (近畿大学), was left unchanged. The change was globally reported, though since its founding in 1949, the original name was not a problem within Japan. However, with the dramatic globalization of Japanese universities in recent decades, including the presence of hundreds of foreign students, staff, faculty, and visiting scholars on campus, the leadership of the university made the change in 2016, after deciding to do so in 2014.
Waters, Arkansas, changed its name to Pine Ridge, Arkansas, after it became known that the fictional town Pine Ridge in the radio sitcom Lum and Abner was based on Waters. Now a sparsely populated and no longer incorporated community, Pine Ridge is home to a Lum and Abner museum.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, changed its name from Hot Springs in 1950, after the host of the radio program Truth or Consequences promised free publicity to any town willing to change its name to that of the show. Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, changed its name from Mauch Chunk in honor of the famous athlete when his widow agreed to allow his remains to be buried there.
In 1999, the town of Halfway, Oregon, changed its name to Half.com for one year after the e-commerce start-up of the same name offered 20 computers, as well as $110,000 for the school, and other financial subsidies.
Saint Augusta, Minnesota, was for a short time named Ventura after the then-governor Jesse Ventura (whose ring name was in turn named after the city of Ventura, California) to draw attention in avoiding annexation by the nearby city of Saint Cloud. The name was reverted to the original name after the crisis passed.
Lexically unusual place namesEdit
Unorthodox spelling or pronunciation, particularly short or long names, and names derived from unusual sources are often seen as unusual, especially by people outside the culture which named them. The Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll changed its name to the longer Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch ("The church of [St.] Mary (Llanfair) [of the] pool (pwll) of the white hazels (gwyn gyll) near [lit. "over against"] (go ger) the fierce whirlpool (y chwyrn drobwll) [and] the church of [St.] Tysilio (Llantysilio) of the red cave") in the 1860s for publicity reasons. At 58 letters, it has the longest place name in the UK. The body of fresh water in Webster, Massachusetts, that has historically (since at least 1921) borne the apparently Native American 45-letter/fourteen-syllable name Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg is usually shortened, for instance on road maps, to using only the final six syllables from its "long form"; as Lake Chaubunagungamaug, or even more simply to "Webster Lake". The longest single-word place name in the world is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, a hill in New Zealand.
Conversely, there are several settlements whose name consists of only one letter. A number of Norwegian towns are named Å. The name often comes from the Old Norse word Ár, meaning small river. Examples include: Å, Åfjord; Å, Meldal; Å, Lavangen; and Å, Tranøy (also compare rivers named Aa). A village in northern France has been called Y since the 13th century. The Netherlands has IJ (Amsterdam), formerly spelled Y. The Dutch digraph IJ, although typed using two characters, is sometimes considered a ligature, or even a single letter in itself.
There are a number of place names that seem unusual to English speakers because they do not conform to standard English orthography rules. Examples include the Welsh towns of Ysbyty Ystwyth and Bwlchgwyn which appear to English speakers to contain no vowel characters, although y and w represent vowel sounds in Welsh. Aioi, Japan; Eiao, Marquesas Islands; Aiea, Hawaii;[note 1] Oia, Greece; Oia, Spain; Aia and Ea, Spanish Basque Country; Ae, Scotland; Eu, France and Ii, Finland, on the other hand, contain only vowels and no consonants. Triples of any letter in English are considered rare, yet Kyyy, Russia, contains a triple y when romanized into the Latin alphabet, although the original Cyrillic Кыйы does not.
Unusual names may also be created as a result of error by the naming authority. An example is Rednaxela Terrace in Hong Kong, which is believed to be the name Alexander but erroneously written right-to-left (the normal practice for writing Chinese in the past), and the name has stayed and even transcribed back to Chinese phonetically.
Road sign theftEdit
As a result of increased notoriety, road signs are commonly stolen in Fucking, Austria, as souvenirs – the only crime which has been reported in the village. It cost some 300 euros to replace each stolen sign, and the costs were reflected in the taxes that local residents pay. In 2004, owing mainly to the stolen signs, a vote was held on changing the village's name, but the residents voted against doing so. Tarsdorf municipality's mayor Siegfried Höppl stated that it was decided to keep the name as it had existed for 800 years, and further stated that "everyone here knows what it means in English, but for us Fucking is Fucking – and it's going to stay Fucking." In November 2020, the council of Tarsdorf voted to have the village's name officially changed to Fugging (pronounced the same as Fucking in the dialect spoken in the region), effective 1 January 2021.
In 2010, the inhabitants of Shitterton, Dorset, purchased a 1.5-ton block of Purbeck stone to place at the entrance to Shitterton, carved with the hamlet's name to prevent theft. A truck and crane were hired by volunteers to put the stone in place at a total cost of £680.
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