How 10 American Towns Got Their Strange Names
1. Hell, Michigan
If you've always wanted to see Hell freeze over, visit this place in winter, when the Highland Lake dam often gets icy enough to stop the water flow. In summer, when temperatures are moderate, the town has a "Satan's Holidays" festival and a road race called "Run to Hell." In October is the "Halloween in Hell" Celebration. The town got its name in 1841, when George Reeves, an early settler in this low, swampy place in southeast Michigan, was asked what the thought the town should be named. "I don't care," Reeves said. "You can name it 'Hell' if you want to."
2. Slapout, Alabama
Oscar Peeples, the town grocer in the early 1900s, was forever waiting on customers who asked for things he didn't have. "I'm slap out of it," Peeples would say. This central Alabama community, north of Montgomery, is now little more than a crossroads, with a church, bank, barber shop, and the tumbledown remains of Peeples' old store.
3. Noodle, Texas
In the late 1800s, Texans often used the word noodle to mean "nothing," which is exactly what they found when they arrived at this locale near Abilene. Now there are two churches, a store and an old gin.
For nearly a century, the population has held steady at about 40 people.
4. Joe, Montana
When quarterback Joe Montana signed on with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, a Missouri radio station urged the folk of Ismay, in southeast Montana near the North Dakota border, to change the town's name to "Joe." The sports-minded citizenry, all 22 of them, voted in favor of the change, and a new industry was born. In fact, money raised from selling, "Joe, Montana" souvenirs enabled the town to build a new fire station.
5. Lizard Lick, North Carolina
Since 1972, the residents of this town, 16 miles east of Raleigh, have held lizard races every fall to herald the farming community's unusual name. It dates back to the days when the area was home to a federally operated liquor still, and lizards were brought in to cut down on the insects. Traveling salesman noticed the creatures and dubbed the community Lizard Lick.
6. Chicken, Alaska
The village, in the Alaskan wild near the Canadian border, is named for a bird, but not the one you think. In the late 1800s, gold miners found a reliable meal in the abundance of ptarmigan, a grouse-like critter whose white feathers make it look, from a distance, like a chicken. When the townsfolk decided to incorporate in 1902, none of them knew how to spell ptarmigan. So they went with the look-alike Chicken to avoid the jokes of misspelled name would incur. Unfortunately, poultry jokes now abound. The town has a full-time population of about 30 people and mail delivery every Tuesday and Friday. There's a saloon, but no telephones or central plumbing. Incidentally, the ptarmigan is now the Alaska state bird.
7. Spot, Tennessee
A dot in the road about an hour west of Nashville, Spot was named by a sawmill operator who was always writing folks about business. One day, pen in hand, the sawmill operator sat at his desk, worrying over a letter from postal authorities wanting to know what to call the town. A spot of ink dropped onto the sawmill operator's white stationery, and the town had its name. By town, we mean a couple of houses and a ramshackle store.
8. Peculiar, Missouri
In the spring of 1868, Postmaster E.T. Thomson decided to name his town "Excelsior," but postal officials told him it was already taken. Thomson reapplied with new names, and received the same response time after time. Exasperated, he finally told postal officials to assign the town a unique name, one that was "sort of peculiar." Peculiar, near the Kansas border just south of Kansas City, is home to about 1,800 people.
9. Zap, North Dakota
A Northern Pacific Railroad official, in charge of naming settlements on the line, named Zap after Zapp, Scotland, because both places had coal mines. The city, about 15 miles south of Lake Sakakawea, encompasses one square mile and is home to about 300.
10. Embarrass, Minnesota
If faces are red here, it's only because the town - 205 miles north of St. Paul - is typically the coldest spot in the continental United States. The midwinter temperature often drops to -60 °F, and snow has been known to fall in June. The name comes from early settlers, who used the French word for obstacle - embarrass - to describe the hardships they faced in the frigid territory. Today, the population is largely Finnish. They celebrate their thriving community with a Finnish-American Festival every summer.
And Don't Forget ...
Think the preceding towns have nutty names? Here are some more:
- Idiotville, Oregon
- Knockemstiff, Ohio
- Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky
- Satan's Kingdom, Vermont
- Toad Suck, Arkansas