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.
Unusually descriptive place names
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, 134 °F (56.7 °C), was recorded inside Death Valley at Furnace Creek, California in 1913.
Fiddletown, California was a Chinese gold mining settlement and was home to about 235 people according to 2010 census. When the creek went dry the miners were said to be "fiddling around" thus giving the name. One local civilian successfully lobbied to change the name to Oleta, given after his daughter in 1878 because he was embarrassed to be known as the "Man from Fiddletown". After his death in 1932, the name was restored. Similarly, Gardendale, Alabama was originally named "Jugtown" due to 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; unlike Oleta, the name stuck.
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 gets its name from 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.
Bell End, Worcestershire, is situated approximately 3 kilometres south-east of Hagley on the A491, north of Bromsgrove and close to Kidderminster, Stourbridge and Halesowen. It lies in the local government district of Bromsgrove.
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 up the salt, hence the name Big Lick).
Place names that are homonyms for other words in the same language
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. Bland Shire, New South Wales, Australia, named for founder William Bland, is also similarly named. Also in New South Wales, there lies a town named Orange, which was founded in 1880. Orange, New South Wales is a sister city to its homonym Orange, California, itself in the County of Orange. Orange, California, in turn, is also a sister city with Orange in Vaucluse, France. Franklin County, Massachusetts, includes a town called Orange. There exists another city called Orange in New Jersey, as well as a West Orange, a South Orange, and an East Orange. Other towns named Orange exist in Connecticut, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia. The county of Essex in southeastern England is home to the village of Ugley, and in the county of Hertfordshire, the hamlet of Nasty, which are only a few miles apart. The former commune of Montcuq, in France, had its name pronounced [mɔ̃kyk] or [mɔ̃ky], which means "my ass" in French, and for that reason was the subject of a famous humorous sketch on French television in 1976.
Profanity, humorous words or highly charged words
A number of settlements have names that are offensive or humorous in other languages, such as Fucking, Austria. Although as a place name Fucking is benign in German, in English the word is profane. Similarly, when they hear of the French town of Condom, English speakers will likely associate it with condoms, a form of barrier contraception. 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".
Conversely, a number of place names can be considered humorous or offensive by their inhabitants, such as 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 (Olpe) ("Negro"), Plöd (blöd means "stupid", renamed in 2009), Regenmantel ("Raincoat"), and Warzen ("Warts"). The US also has the unincorporated community of Hell, Michigan, the historic community of Penile, Louisville in Kentucky, and Pee Pee Township in Ohio. Dildo is a Canadian town, and off the coast there is a Dildo Island. There are also Cockermouth, Penistone, and Pett Bottom, the latter of which is located 5 miles south of Canterbury, Kent. According to the novels of Ian Fleming, James Bond lived there with his aunt after his parents died. Other areas sometimes (arguably immaturely) considered humorous are Butts County, Georgia and Middelfart. 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). There is also a town in Chile named Peor es Nada ("Better than 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, where it was 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 Canada, the town of Swastika, Ontario, founded in 1908, adopted its name about a dozen years before the Nazi Party adopted the Hakenkreuz (hooked cross/swastika) as a symbol.
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.
In Hong Kong, many place names contain reference to feces and urine (屎 and 尿 in Chinese, transcribed to Shi and Niu respectively). Some of those settled places have got the name changed to avoid the offensiveness, for example, Ma Liu Shui and Kau Shi Wai, although in the former case the word Niu is just a homonym of another character 嫽 (Liu, literally meaning playing).
A number of placenames 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. 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.
Other name changes
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 (近畿大学 (Kinki daigaku)) 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 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 television show 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 $110,000, 20 computers for the school, and other financial subsidies.
Saint Augusta, Minnesota was for a short time named Ventura, Minnesota 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.
Unorthodox spelling or pronunciation
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 Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch changed its name in the 1860s from the shorter Llanfairpwllgwyngyll to increase its publicity. 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".
Conversely, there are several settlements whose name consists of only one letter. A number of Scandinavian 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). The Netherlands has IJ (Amsterdam), formerly spelled Y. The Dutch diagraph 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; and Ii, Finland on the other hand, contain only vowels and no consonants.
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. The town of Yreka, CA is so named because of a bakery that was on one end of town and the story is that they wrote Bakery on the window, but it was written inside and after some time, the B wore off so when riding into town, one would see YREKA in the window.
Road sign theft
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 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.
- List of names in English with counterintuitive pronunciations
- List of long place names
- List of short place names
- Gag name
- Toponymy, the study of place names
- List of chemical compounds with unusual names
- Beans and Bacon mine
- Wikipedia:Unusual place names
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