50 of the Strangest Place Names in America… and How They Came to Be

50 of the Strangest Place Names in America… and How They Came to Be

I love looking at maps and checking out the names of places.  Some of them are unique, while others are funny and a few are just downright weird.  Here are some of my favorites, including how they got their names.

Scratch Ankle, Alabama got its name from train workers who always saw the locals scratching their ankles from mosquito bites.

Mary’s Igloo, Alaska took its name from an Inupiat woman named Mary, who welcomed miners, trappers and others into her home for coffee. During that period, Mary’s Igloo was a transfer point for supplies for the gold fields upriver.

Why, Arizona derives its name from the fact that two major highways, State Routes 85 and 86, originally intersected in a Y shape. As a result of Arizona law that required city names to have at least three letters, the town’s founders named the town “Why” as opposed to simply calling it “Y.”

strange town names why arizona

Smackover, Arkansas comes from the name that French settlers gave the town in 1686: “sumac couvert,” which translates to “covered in sumac bushes.”

Weed, California has nothing to do with marijuana or poor landscaping.  Rather, the town gets its name from the founder of the local lumber mill and pioneer Abner Weed, who discovered that the area’s strong winds were helpful in drying lumber. The town motto is “Weed like to welcome you.” (ha ha ha!)

Troublesome, Colorado takes its name from nearby Troublesome Creek.  The creeek got its name because soldiers had difficulty crossing it.

Yeehaw Junction, Florida got its name in the 1950s. Some say the community’s name comes from how locals would yell “Yeehaw!”  Others believe the name is close to the Seminole language word meaning “wolf”. According to town historians and several original newspaper articles, the town’s original name was either “Jackass Junction” or “Jackass Crossing.” That strange town name stemmed from local ranchers ring burros to visit the Desert Inn (the local brothel).

Experiment, Georgia took its name from the University of Georgia’s Agricultural Experiment Station, which is located there.

Dickshooter, Idaho received its name from Dick Shooter, a man who “established a homestead there.”

Goofy Ridge, Illinois was a camp near the river bank where moonshiners and other carousers met weekly to do their drinking. One night, a local game warden declared his relative sobriety by vowing that he could shoot a walnut off the head of a volunteer. The game warden placed the target on the volunteer’s head, aimed his .22 rifle, and shot the nut right off. A witness described the incident as “one damned goofy thing to do,” and the camp was consequently known as Goofy Ridge.

French Lick, Indiana (also hometown of NBA legend Larry Bird) was originally a French trading post built near a spring and salt lick.

strange town names french lick indiana

Fertile, Iowa got its name due to the quality of the soil in the valley there.

Protection, Kansas received its name from a political issue in the 1884 presidential selection.  There was a lot of popular support for a protective tariff, and the town drew its name from that.

Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky got its name because when looking at a map of Ballard County, it resembles a monkey’s head. The town Monkey’s Eyebrow is, of course, where the monkey’s eyebrow would be.

Boring, Maryland‘s name was not chosen for the pace of life, but for postmaster David Boring.

Hell, Michigan offers multiple theories for the origin of its name. My favorite: the original settler, George Reeves, was asked what to name the town when Michigan achieved statehood. His response was a surly, “I don’t care, you can name it Hell for all I care.”

strange town names hell michigan

Sleepy Eye, Minnesota took its name from Sleepy Eye Lake, which was named after Chief Sleepy Eye of the Sioux. Chief Sleepy Eye was known as a compassionate person with droopy eyelids.

Tightwad, Missouri got its name when a store owner cheated a customer, who was a postman, by charging him an extra 50 cents for a better watermelon. (Some sources claim the transaction involved a rooster rather than a watermelon.)

Two Dot, Montana got its name from the cattle brand of George R. Wilson, who donated the land for the town. “Two Dot Wilson” had a cattle brand of two dots, placed side by side on the hip of his cattle.

Searchlight, Nevada (hometown of US Senator Harry Reid) received its when George Frederick Colton was looking for gold in the area in 1897. He supposedly said that it would take a searchlight to find gold ore there.

Loveladies, New Jersey began as a small, 10-acre island in the bay adjacent to a US Life-Saving Station was owned by a man named Thomas Lovelady. The area was called Lovelady’s, which eventually evolved to Loveladies.

strange town names loveladies new jersey

Rush, New York was either named after the rushes growing along the creek, or after Dr. Benjamin Rush, Founding Father of the United States.

Whynot, North Carolina came from residents debating a title for their community. A man asked, “Why not name the town Whynot and let’s go home?” Nearby towns at the time with equally interesting names include Erect, Hemp, and Lonely.

Zap, North Dakota got its name because of a coal mine at the edge of town. The railroad company official in charge of naming new villages knew a coal-mining town in Scotland called Zapp, and thought that would be a good name here. However, he chose to Americanize the name and spelled it with only one “p”.

Pee Pee Township, Ohio took its name from Pee Pee Creek.  The creek got its name when an early settler inscribed his initials (P. P.) on a tree along its banks.

Okay, Oklahoma took its name from the OK Truck Manufacturing Company. Okay? OK.

Idiotville, Oregon got its name because of its remote location.  People said that only an idiot would work there.

Intercourse, Pennsylvania in Amish country, received its name in 1814. In those days, the word ‘intercourse’ meant the social interaction and support shared in the community of faith.

Ninetysix, South Carolina has several different theories for the origin of its name. My favorite is that it is an interpretation of a Welsh expression, “nant-sych,” meaning “dry gulch.”

strange town names ninety-seix south carolina

 

Two Strike, South Dakota received its name in honor of Lakota Chief Two Strike, whose native name was “Nomkahpa,” meaning “Knocks Two Off.” The chief’s claim to fame was that, in a battle with the Utes, he knocked two warriors off their horses with a single blow of his war club.

Sweet Lips, Tennessee received its name from settlers who declared water from a creek to be “sweet to the lips.”  Alternative versions of the story say it was wandering hobos or thirsty Civil War soldiers.

Uncertain, Texas derives its name from surveyors who were attempting to delineate the border between Texas and Louisiana.  They were uncertain as to which side of the line they were on, hence the name.

Humptulips, Washington comes from a local Native American language, meaning ‘hard to pole’, referring to the difficulty local Native Americans had poling their canoes along the Humptulips River.

War, West Virginia took its name from the nearby War Creek.  The creek got its name from the frequent battles between Native Americans near the stream.

strange town names war west virginia

Spread Eagle, Wisconsin got its name from the Spread Eagle chain of lakes. When seen from above, the lakes resemble an eagle with its wings spread.

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