Monday, October 29, 2012

Alaska

The Last Frontier. The Land of the Midnight Sun. The Coldest State. The Frigid State. The Really, Really Cold State. Alright, I made those last couple up.

10. Lower Tonsina

Yes, there is an Upper Tonsina. They don’t call it that, though, do they? No siree. Upper Tonsina gets to call itself plain ol’ “Tonsina.” They think they’re kinda special that way.  Poncey bastards!

All I could find on this one was that “na” means “river” in Ahtna. I have no idea what “tonsi” means. As a matter of fact, I have no idea what “Ahtna” means (though it does appear to have "river" in it).


There is a Tonsina River, and LT lies right beside it. All of this is just a little east of Anchorage.

9. Flat

Named after the nearby Flat Creek, which I found in a gazetteer with the lovely explanation of “descriptive.” The town was originally called “Flat City.” Can’t decide which one I like better, “Flat City” or just plain “Flat.”  

Flat had a population of 6,000 in 1914. These days, not so much:

As of the census of 2000, there were 4 people, 1 household, and 1 family residing in the town.  (Wikipedia)

Further, “no plat was filed for Flat, and the town site rests on mining claims, so the existence of Flat may contravene the law.”  In other words, no Flat plat, no Flat!  Yikes!


Flat is kind of in the middle of nowhere, over in the western part of the state, between the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

Flat, Alaska: where Wiley Post crashed (once)

8. Unalaska

I always figured the un-Alaska had to be Florida. 

A very reliable gazetteer on Alaskan names I found on the ‘net says that “Unalaska” means “this here Alaska.” It says nothing about how you say “that there Alaska.” I also found that an alternative origin is “near the peninsula.” I think I prefer that one.

Unalaska is also an island, in the Aleutians. It’s where Dutch Harbor, the largest fishing port in the US, is located (Unalaksa has over 4,000 people). Dutch Harbor is where they film The Deadliest Catch.


7. Napakiak / Napaskiak

Buda and Pest, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Winston and Salem. And now … Napakiak and Napaskiak. 

According to that very reliable gazetteer I mentioned before, Napakiak is home to the Napaiskak people, and Napaskiak is home to the Napakiakachak people. So, Napakiak and Napaiskak, and Napaskiak and Napakiakachak.  Napakiak, Napaiskak. Napaskiak, Napakiakachak. Got it?

The two are separated by the Kuskokwim River, which – you have to admit – is a pretty good name in itself. Both of the towns have about 300 people.



This is what they do for fun in Napakiak / Napasiak. I quote from the National Press Photographers Association website:

Vanessa Tahbone of Nome, Alaska grimaces while competing against Nicole Colbert of Napakiak, Alaska during the Ear Pull event at the 49th Annual World Eskimo-Indian Olympics 2010 Games Friday afternoon, July 23, 2010 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this event, there are two people sitting down facing each other with twine looped around each other's ear - right ear to right ear, left to left. The two begin a "tug-of-war" to see who the winner is. Best two out of three wins the match. There are times when the loop will slip off one opponent's ear - that person is the loser of that round. Each participant alternates each round using alternate ears. A game of stamina to pain, the victor demonstrates he/she can withstand pain, a trait sometimes needed to survive the harsh realities of the North.

6. Skwentna

I just like to say this one. Skwentna. Skwentna. Skwentna. Go ahead, try it yourself.

Skwentna is named after the Skwentna River, and “Skwentna” means “sloping ridge river” in Tanaina. So “Skwentna River” is actually a tad redundant. Especially when you speak Tanaina.

Skwentna’s main claim to fame is being on the Iditarod Trail. Population: 40. Location: a little northwest of Anchorage.

Mush!

5. Kwethluk

Much like Skwentna, I can guarantee this one will become fixed in your brain for days. Kwethluk. Kwethluk. Kwethluk. See!

It means “river people.” Once again, the town’s named after a river. So, once again, we’re being a little redundant here, people! When one refers to the “Kwethluk River,” one is actually saying the “River People River.” And that not good grammer.


The town is not too far from where the river dumps into the Pacific. I count 700-some Kwethlukians.

4. Eek

Eek!  A village!

USA Today says it comes from an Eskimo word for “two eyes.”  It does not say, however, why a town would be named that.  What we want to know, USA Today, is how the heck it got that name.


Eek's got about 300 people, and is about 30 miles from Kwethluk (as the bush pilot flies, that is).

The Eek skyline, on a sunny summer day
(well, maybe spring)

3. Chickaloon

It has a really funny name. It was named after a local chief, Chiklu. It has a really funny name.  At one time, it was famous for its coal. It has a really funny name.

It's also got about 270 Chickalooners, and is just a little northeast of Anchorage.

The carrots are enormous in Chickaloon, Alaska!

2. Deadhorse

Deadhorse, AK, is known as The Town at the End of the Earth. It’s 300 miles above the Arctic Circle and almost on the Arctic Ocean. It’s basically an oil camp, with 25 to 50 permanent, and 3,000 temporary, inhabitants. 

It’s also the end of the line for the Dalton Highway, which begins 400-some miles away in Fairbanks. It’s the town’s sole connection with the outside world. It, and Deadhorse, have both been featured in Ice Road Truckers. In fact, the town was most likely named after a trucking company, Deadhorse Haulers. Where did that company’s name come from? Well, there are two theories:

  • The company’s first contract was hauling dead horses out of Fairbanks
  • Putting money into the company was about as productive as “feeding a dead horse”
I vote for the latter.

Welcome indeed!

1. Chicken

I have to tell ya, Chicken, Chickaloon, and Deadhorse were pretty much in a dead heat (get it?). That said, there was just something about naming a town after something so unprepossessing, so average, so unremarkable as a chicken that really got my attention. It’s like naming your little burg “Bathroom,” or “Plate,” or “Undershirt.” It takes a lot of guts. Or maybe just a severe lack of imagination. Anyway, it’s Chicken by a neck (sorry)!

Once again, you get your pick of theories:

  • It’s named after the ptarmigan, a common local game bird that early miners survived on [insert story about orthographically challenged miners here]
  • The gold nuggets there were so small they reminded said miners of chicken feed

Seven people live there year around today, busily fleecing money from the tourists. It's near the Yukon border, a couple hundred miles north of the Gulf of Alaska.

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g - Central
  • Short and sweet – Nome, Elim, Atka, Knik (Musher's Hall of Fame), Kake (pronounced like "cake"), Ekuk, Tok
  • Just a little out of place – Houston, Kalifornsky, Wales
  • Just a little off color – Beaver
  • Native American laughers – Naknek, Ugashik, Egegik, Ekwok, Chignik, Shungnak, Sleetmute, Kipnuk, Shageluk
  • Native American tongue-twisters – Chuathbaluk ("The Hills Where the Big Blueberries Grow"), Kwigillingok, Pikmiktalik, Ungalikthluk
  • Abnormal nouns – Sourdough, Platinum, Candle
  • Fun to say – Shishmaref, Savoonga (Walrus Capital of the World)
  • Just plain weird – Lime Village, Livengood, King Salmon, Elfin Cove, Funny River, Coldfoot (I bet!), Red Devil, Meyers Chuck, New Igloo, New Knockhock, Mary’s Igloo
  • I'd like you to meet – Nancy, Craig, Homer (world's largest comb collection)

Special Note:

I couldn’t end without mentioning this site, from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game. It focuses on the original Indian names of towns and geographical features, as well as what those names mean. It’s the source of classics like:
  • Ch'chihi Ken – “Ridge Where We Cry"
  • Qichi Qinghilneqt – "The Old Lady Made It That Far"
  • Bak’leghili Bena – “Something Is Clubbed in It Lake"
  • Dilhi Tunch’del’usht Beydegh – “Point Where We Transport Hooligan”
  • Chun El Duk'eldesht – "Where Arrows with Excrement Are Shot Down”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Alabama

Sweet Home Alabama, Heart of Dixie, the Cotton State – and one veritable treasure trove of really weird place names. So, here we go …  Roll ‘em, Tide (did I get that right?)! 

10. Phil Campbell

Phil Campbell was named after the lead guitarist for the British heavy metal band Motorhead.  Oops, wrong Phil Campbell. According to the town’s website:

In the 1880s, a railroad work crew leader and engineer by the name of Phillip Campbell (originally from England) established a work camp near the location of modern Phil Campbell. Mel Allen, a prominent local businessman, told Mr. Campbell if he would construct a railroad depot and add a side track to the stretch of railroad going through the area, he would name the subsequent town after Campbell.

I’m not totally sure I’m buyin’ it (and wasn’t Mel Allen a famous baseball announcer?). My guess is it was named after Phil, but probably in not such a story-worthy way.  

PC is in the far northwest part of the state, and has over 1,000 people. It was almost wiped out by a tornado in 2011.

By the way, Alabama also features a Susan Moore. Sorry, I have no idea if Phil and Susan ever got together.

Just that kind of guy, I guess

9. Arab

A little Al Qaeda enclave right in the middle of the Deep South, eh? 

The story associated with this one is of the classic mistake-by-the-Post-Office genre. Supposedly, the first postmaster of the brand new town wanted it named after his son, who so happened to be named “Arad.” (C’mon, who’s named “Arad”?) I gotta tell ya, based on the number of stories I’ve heard along these lines over the years, I figure the Post Office back then never hired anyone who actually made it through the second grade.

A fair-sized town, Arab has over 6,000 people. It’s basically a suburb of Huntsville. Some great business names from the C of C there include Arab Church of Christ, Arab Meat Market, Arab Optimist Club, Arab Tractor and Parts, and Arab Water Works.


Also see #6.


8. Gu-Win

Once you realize that this place is halfway between Guin and Windsor, it all becomes so obvious. That said, you shouldn’t be surprised there’s an even better story about it out there. According to the Birmingham News:

In its pre-incorporation days, it was known as Ear Gap. Incorporation came in 1956. That's when Guin seemed keen on annexing Ear Gap. In response … the owner of the local drive-in theater, George Thornton, led a drive to form a new town. The new town got the name Gu-Win from Thornton's drive-in because he did not want to spend any money to change his sign.

Maybe … You know what’s funny though? I think if they simply kept Ear Gap, they would have made it to this blog anyway.

Gu-Win / Ear Gap has a population of 200. It's in the northwest corner of the state, not too far from our old buddy Phil.


7. Opp

Straightforward. To the point. Short, sweet. And just really, incredibly weird. That’s Opp for you.

Opp’s another metropolis, with over 6,000 people. It's in the south central part of Alabama, near the border with Florida.

It’s named after Henry Opp, a lawyer for the L&N railroad, who basically got the town going. That’s a German name, by the way. 

Opp the town is home to the Rattlesnake Rodeo, with 2013 marking the event’s 53rd anniversary. Oh, almost forgot … Would you believe that the city slogan is “The Land of OPPortunity”? Groan …

Yes, that’s a snake.  And, yes, she is peeing her pants.

6. Scant City

Not sure exactly what they’re missing or how in the world this name came about, but if it can result in great headlines like the following, I’m all for it:

Yup, Scant City is right next to Arab (see #9). Wouldn’t you know.


5. Vinegar Bend

According to hometownusa.com:

There are two different stories on how Vinegar Bend, Alabama got its name.  One goes that a train was coming around the bend and the car carrying vinegar dumped over.  Then the other is when a train was coming through and just one jug fell off and supposedly that's how it got its name.

I ain’t buying either of these. Let’s just leave this one as “unknown.” 

BTW, VB started out life as the totally innoccuous Lumbertown. Hey, if it ain't broke ...

Vinegar Bend is in the far southwest part of the state, not too far from Mobile and right next to the Mississippi border. It's got 200 people.

If you’ve heard of Vinegar Bend before, you’re probably a baseball fan.  Native son Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizzel was a pitching star in the ‘50s.  

Famous son and big-time country 
hick Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell

Hey, Mizell made my funny baseball cards blog.


4. Burnt Corn

According to what I could find, you’ve got your pick of four competing explanations for this one:

  1. White settlers burn Indian cornfields.
  2. Indians burn white settlers’ corn cribs.
  3. Indians leave burnt corn at campsite which white settlers later discover.
  4. Local restaurant comes up with new hit recipe by accident, southern Alabama goes wild.
Okay, I made that last one up. Suffice it to say, it all somehow involved maize and fire.  

This one's in the southern part of the state, again - between Opp and Vinegar Bend. Looks like there's about 300 Burnt Cornerers.

The town has a great website, www.burntcorn.com, by the way – one that includes seizure-inducing flashing, missing links, animated parrots, and lots of centered text in bright colors. One of the pages – which I particularly liked out of context – is called “The Legacy of Burnt Corn.” No recipes, I’m afraid.

Cutting the cheese, at the Burnt Corn 
Post Office and General Store

3. Eastaboga

Just to the right of Westaboga, a tad down from Northaboga, but not so far as to go all the way to Southaboga.  

You've got your choice of two name origin stories for this one. It either:
  • Means "where the people reside," or
  • Comes from Muscogee, and is a combination of three words, “person,” “in water,” and “dead” (in other’s words, it’s the Native American version of "Dead Man’s Creek.")

Eastaboga's not too far from the Talladega Speedway, a little west of Birmingham. Haven't a clue how many people it has, but it can't be too many.

Would you believe this place is on the National Register of Historic Places?   
The Jemison House, Eastaboga, AL.  Make your reservations today!


2. Choccolocco

Without checking the Internet, I’m assuming this place was named after the killer dessert at the local Mexican restaurant. But I was wrong! The Internet is telling me this one comes from the Creek Indian language, and actually means “big shoals.” Not Muscle Shoals, mind you, but certainly big in their own way.

And, yes, Choccolocco is home to the Choccolocco Monster. I have to quote this one straight out of Wikipedia:

The community gained brief notoriety in 2001 when The Daily Show aired a piece on the "Choccolocco Monster," a part of local folklore concerning sightings of a mysterious creature in the area in the late 1960s. An October 2001 article in the Anniston Star newspaper revealed that the creature was, in fact, local resident Neal Williamson dressed in a cow skull and a sheet. As a teenager, Williamson would don his costume and gain the attention of passing cars by jumping out of the woods onto the roadside, often startling motorists.

Choccolocco's just a little east of Eastaboga, and probably's got even fewer people.


1. Smut Eye 

According to the Montgomery Advertiser:

"This old store was the center of things – where men would sit around and drink beer and smoke cigarettes and tell lies," Cox said.  And they did the same thing a century earlier just across the road at a blacksmith shop where the name, "Smuteye," was forged from fire and steel and a homemade ale that the local women called the devil's brew, he said.  Cox, who has a farm near this Bullock County town, said the blacksmith's shop became quite a gathering place for men to talk and drink. The area used to be called Welcome.  "The men folk would stand around the fire in the winter time and drink moonshine," Cox said.  As the story goes, staying close to the fire left their faces smudged with smut, covering everything except their eyes.  "When they got home, their wives would take one look at their smutty faces and know where they had been," Cox said. "The women came to call the blacksmith shop 'Smuteye,' and soon folks called the community 'Smuteye,"' he said.

I don’t know.  A Google search of this term brang up (“brung up”? – just writing about Alabama seems to affect my English skills) a fair amount of pornography. Also some stuff about mascara.  Maybe the name’s true origin involves one of these two topics.

Interestingly, Smut Eye started out as Welcome.Talk about leaving well enough alone.

SE's just a little southeast of Montgomery. It's basically just a crossroads in the middle of absolute nowhere.

The store in question.  Oddly, it is not on 
the National Register of Historic Places.

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Flat Rock, County Line, Valley, Center Point, Centreville, Centre, Our Town, New Home, Pleasant Site, New Site, Land
  • Short and sweet – Jeff, Ralph, Jack, Saco, Clio, Ider, Ino, Awin, Ada, Ai
  • Just a little off color – Beaverton, Beaver Town
  • Numerically oriented – Twin, Five Points, Three Notch, Six Mile, Six Way, Thirtynine
  • Native American mouthfuls – Eufaula, Opelika, Notasulga, Hightogy, Wedowee, Weogufka, Wetumpka, Tuscumbia (Helen Keller's birthplace), Tuscaloosa, Letohatchee, Clayhatchee, Loachapoka ("Turtle Sitting Place"), Arbacoochee, Hatchechubbee, Chunnenuggee, Pushmataha ("Messenger of Death"), Fakit Chipunta
  • Orthographically challenged – Jenifer, Suttle, Eutaw, Lake Purdy, Smelley, Margerum
  • Aytpical adjectives – Majestic, Royal, Gallant, Mobile, Eclectic, Pronto, Active, Allgood, Brilliant, Moody, Motley, Shorter (and Shorterville), Sulligent
  • Unconventional verbs – Chase, Harvest (Coke sign eaten by a tree), Excel, Reform, Veto, Echo, Bluff, Opine
  • Abnormal nouns – Wing, Canoe, Almond, Empire, Enterprise (Boll Weevill monument), Vocation, Magazine, Deposit, Fort Deposit, Intercourse, Ballplay (actually, I think I might have the last two out of order), Octagon, Section, Suspension, Strata, Sardine, Nectar, June Bug, The Bottle, Coal Fire, Shorts, Screamer (I sense a story in those last 3)
  • Fun to say – Uchee, Kymulga, Clopton, Trimble, Tumbleton, Sprott, Sipsey, Nauvoo, Praco, Flomaton, Fackler, Tharptown, Hackleburg
  • Just plain weird – Sunny South, Society Hill, Mellow Valley, Nitrate City, Center Star, Rainbow City, Red Level, Oak Bowery, Pine Apple, Half Acre, Little Hope, Needmore, Muscle Shoals, Parasol West, Blues Old Stand, Yelling Settlement, Blow Gourd, Pumpkin Center, Possum Trot, Gnatville, Rodentown, Frog Eye, Pigeye, Boar Tush, Hog Jaw, Bucksnort, Pulltight, Zip City, Remlap (Palmer backwards), Graball, Trickem, Lickskillet, Scarce Grease, Muck City, Scratch Ankle, Sky Ball, Slapout … and, of course, Hot Coffee
  • Too many villes – Skipperville, Trussville, Forkville (but also Forkland), Selfville, Tattlersville, Hustleville
  • I'd like to introduce you to – Edna, Geraldine, Josephine, Daphne, Ralph, Howard, Elrod, Leroy, Floyd, Holly Pond, Hazel Green, Glen Allen, Tanner Williams, Rocky Head