20 Cities With Strange Names and the Stories Behind Them
The origin of city names has always sparked my interest, probably because I grew up near a place that was literally translated as “Mouth of the Rat” (Boca Raton). If you’ve ever been to Boca, you know it’s full of yuppies rather than rats–but now that I think about it, there’s really not much difference, so I guess the name actually is quite appropriate.
Boca is just one of countless places across the United States that have unusual names. Many have not only a unique alias, but an interesting story behind the name, as well as sights and attractions worth visiting (some more than others). So we thought we’d dig into 21 oddly named places worth visiting, just to say, if nothing else, you’ve been there. Because who doesn’t want to boast they’ve traveled to Toad Suck?
Boca Raton, Fla.
The aforementioned, literally translated Rat’s Mouth actually has dual meanings in Spanish. Boca can also mean inlet, while raton is also a term attributed to a cowardly thief, so “Thieves Inlet” was the intended meaning. However, it was meant for an inlet around Biscayne Bay in Miami (not that Miami has ever had a crime problem or anything), but was mistakenly applied to Lake Boca Raton in the early 19th century. And so it stuck. While it probably has its share of both thieves and rats, Boca is a very affluent community, and a hot beach and boating destination.
As one famous Alabama resident once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” You might be tempted to think just the opposite applies here, but the city got its name from the Brilliant Coal Company that brought a great deal of prosperity to the area. And the company got its moniker from the glossy appearance of the high quality coal that was mined here. It’s home to the annual Coal Fest arts and crafts fair, as well as Larry Pollard, the 2006 national checkers champion.
If you’ve ever driven the stretch of I-40 between Memphis and Nashville, then you’ve passed by this town before, though you might not have realized it. Its exit has a gas station on one side of the highway and an adult bookstore and restaurant on the other. And that’s about it. Legend has it that the name is attributed to a moonshiner named Buck who was a local favorite, and “I’m going to Buck’s to get a snort” was an oft repeated phrase. Supposedly, the gas station and restaurant sell t-shirts honoring the city’s history (no word on if the bookstore does too).
Cut n Shoot, Texas
There’s a reason why people say, “Don’t mess with Texas.” Because you never know what might happen. Like the time when a confrontation at church in a small community 40 miles north of Houston nearly turned violent. What the argument was about is uncertain—either over the design of the new steeple, who was supposed to preach that day, or conflicting land claims—but it supposedly led to a little boy proclaiming he was going to “cut around the corner and shoot through the bushes” at his family’s adversaries. And the name stuck. It’s an eccentric small Texas town that you might want to avoid on Sundays. Or at least its church parking lots.
French Lick, Ind.
It’s most famous for being the hometown of Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird, so Irish Lick might be more fitting if it was re-named today. The origins for its true namesake are rooted in a French trading post being built near a spring and salt lick (a natural deposit of salty minerals that attracts animals who lick it for nutrients). Saying you were headed to French Trading Post Near the Spring and Salt Lick was quite a mouthful, so French Lick eventually emerged. It’s also a well-known spa destination. And yes, it’s normal to get the heebie-jeebies each time you say it.
Hell for Certain, Ky.
Guess what you’ll find here? Definitely not a heavenly paradise. Officially, this unincorporated area—once mined extensively for coal—is known as Dryhill (not much more attractive), but the more popular moniker is due to its proximity to Hell for Certain Creek. Its harsh terrain makes it “heck” to live here, and it is only sparsely populated, but outdoor adventurers certainly wouldn’t think it vacation hell. Other nearby towns are curiously named Hell Creek and Whynot.
Jackass Flats, Nev.
How it got its name is essentially unknown. But name alone is not this city’s only notoriety as it was the test site for Project Pluto, a program dedicated to nuclear powered engines. Today it still houses research facilities for the Nevada Research & Development Area within the Nevada Test Site, and is home to BREN Tower, the tallest scientific research tower in the world. Perhaps they should change it to Genius Flats with all the scientists around. Be careful when you decide to visit–time it wrong and you could get a glow instead of a tan.
Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, Mass.
It’s a place you need to take a very deep breath before saying (don’t worry—it’s pronounced just like it’s spelled). Located near the town of Webster (Webster Lake is what the fainthearted call it), it got its name from the Native American Nipmuc language, and literally means “Englishmen at Manchaug at the fishing place at the boundary” after the tribe encountered a white settlement there. It’s not hard to locate on a map (halfway between Hartford and Boston) if you want to take part in the numerous boating, swimming and fishing activities (skating and ice-fishing in the winter) that happen here.
Mexican Hat, Utah
There’s not much to this tiny town of less than 100 people. But if you’re into painted desert skies, outdoor adventure, spectacular scenery, and amazing landscapes, “El Sombrero Mexicano” is a little known vacation hot spot just for you. It’s got the 1,200-foot sandstone cliffs overlooking Cedar Mesa, Monument Mount, Goosenecks State Park, the San Juan River’s layered canyons, Muley Point, Valley of the Gods, and numerous red rock buttes and other formations. This includes one in which a large, flat, 60-foot wide rock sits precariously on a much smaller base at the top of a stone hill. It looks like an overturned Mexican hat, the source of the area’s name, and is a challenging rock climbing adventure.
Mormon Bar, Calif.
It seems like a bit of an oxymoron, Mormons and bars that is. But that’s not quite the case here as the town’s history began when a settlement of Mormons moved to the area as part of the California Gold Rush. They were part of the disbanded Mormon Battalion that journeyed west from Utah, and is the source of the town name. One might assume that the gold that was mined and processed from there would be known as a Mormon golden bar, but that is unsubstantiated. They didn’t stay long, and after a small boom, it’s pretty much a ghost town these days, making it even more of a curious tourist destination aside from the name itself.
Satan’s Kingdom, Conn.
Nope, it’s not Babylon. And it’s not filled with hellfire and brimstone either. Instead, there’s way more water than flames in this recreational area where tubing and white water rafting are a big draw, as is mountain biking. Puritans conjured up this devilish name to scare followers from leaving the flock by floating a local legend that Old Scratch used the rocky gorge as his main stomping grounds. It was also a place that numerous hellions and thieves once called home, causing many locals to say Satan’s Kingdom was so evil that it was even giving the Devil a bad name—eventually the law (or as some believe, the archangel Gabriel) cleaned things up.
There’s not much to do here in this small village located at the very top of Louisiana, with only one school, restaurant, corner store, church and a civic center in town. But it sure is fun to say. Shongaloo! Shongaloo! Shongaloo! (Go ahead, try it…). Native American for “running water” or “cypress tree,” it encompasses one of the largest city limits in the state despite being so lightly populated. Run through it the next time you’re on your way to Mardi Gras.
Square Butte, Mont.
Not to be confused with Sponge Bob Square Pants (he lives at Bikini Bottom, remember?), Square Butte was originally ordained Fort Mountain by famous explorers Lewis and Clark who were impressed by the square-shaped, flat-topped, natural landmark. There’s not much here other than this geographic oddity, but it’s quite the sight to see. Oh, and for all of us who think like middle schoolers, the correct pronunciation is actually “beyoot.” But go ahead and have fun with it.
This small town got its name from an incident in which a store owner cheated a postal worker by charging him an extra fifty cents for a better watermelon. Certainly they are much more hospitable these days, though it appears they all are still pretty tight with their money: none of the families counted in the 2006 census were living below the poverty line. And most of them keep their money in the Tightwad Bank.
Toad Suck, Ark.
You haven’t truly lived until you’ve set foot in Toad Suck, just based on name alone. Local legend claims it came about from river men docking steamboats on the Arkansas River who, while waiting for the dam to level out water depth, often sucked up too much whiskey at the local tavern until they swelled up like toads. Nearby Conway holds the Toad Suck Daze festival each year. Actually sucking on a toad is optional if you care to attend.
Truth or Consequences, N.M.
With a name like this, you know it’s going to have a lot of notoriety. Originally called Hot Springs, the city changed its name in response to a challenge from the former 1950’s radio show of the same name. Today it’s a popular destination for spa goers and attenders of the annual Fiesta festival. There is an eerie irony to the latter part of its name as it was the former hometown of notorious serial killer David Parker Ray. Also ironic is that there is no truth to the city being filmed in the Kiefer Sutherland movie bearing its name or former wrestler Cactus Jack claiming it as his birthplace—though I don’t think there are any real consequences for these falsehoods. )
There’s a Sarah Palin resignation joke in here somewhere but we’ll just leave that alone. This small, scenic town is located in the Aleutian Islands, and its name has nothing to do with the fact that it’s not like the state in which it sits. Instead, it is the English derivative of the indigenous Unangan people’s title for the town, “Ounalashka,” which means “Near the Peninsula.” The town is famous as one of the rainiest places in the United States, and for being home to nearby Makushin Volcano and Dutch Harbor–the basecamp for the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.
Why is this small community of 113 residents located 30 miles from the Mexican border called Why? It’s due to two state highways originally coming together in town at a Y-intersection (it has since been redirected into a “T” intersection). Initially, they were going to just call the city “Y” but state law required city names to have at least three letters. Why would anyone want to visit? Well, there’s the Organ Pipe National Monument and a casino. Why not?
Yazoo City, Miss.
It just seems par for the course that a man named Zig Zigler would call Yazoo City home. You might think its name is a source of positive influence that inspired Zigler to be the speaker he is today, however, the name actually has a Native American origin that means “River of Death.” Interestingly enough, it has seen its fair share over the years, including Yellow Fever epidemics, Union forces reducing it to ashes, a devastating 1904 fire, and a flood. Hardly positive, but that’s not reason to stay away. Comedian Jerry Clower and Miss. Governor Haley Barbour also call the town home. And it was the setting for the movie My Dog Skip.
Yeehaw Junction, Fla.
You’ve seen the hundreds of signs for this while driving on the Florida Turnpike headed toward Miami or Disney World, and you might have even purchased discounts to Orlando tourist attractions from there. But you probably didn’t know it was originally the source of another Central Florida, umm, “attraction”… It was first called “Jackass Junction” because local ranchers rode their burros to the Desert Inn and Restaurant. This Yeehaw Junction landmark is now a historic site, but back then it was a local watering hole and, supposedly, a brothel. Florida legislatures felt a name change was in order for the town because it would be a major stop on the state toll road. Good call.
Located in the southeastern region of the Golden State, Zzyzx (pronounced “zi-zix”) was given its name by founder Curtis Springer, claming it would be the last word listed in the English language. Springer set up shop there with a mineral springs and health spa, an exotic animal zoo, and rest area where he sold water from nearby Soda Springs to desert travelers. He was later arrested for misuse of land. Today, Cal State University manages the area as part of its Desert Studies Center.
Submitted by Klien K