Monday, April 29, 2013


A river runs through it.  Nah, that’s Idaho, right?  The cowboy state?  No, I think that’s Wyoming.  Big sky something?  Big sky country?  Yup, that’s it.

10. Otter

Imagine naming a whole town after your favorite Animal House character.  What a brilliant idea!  I love it.

Seriously, I’m assuming this place was named after the animal.  You know, lontra canadensis.

Otter the town is in the southeast part of the state – in the middle of pretty much nowhere.  I count one house.  I’m not totally sure why they even bothered.

So, what I want to know is, where’s Flounder?  How about Bluto?  Dean Wormer? 

I think vegetables can be very sensuous, don't you?

9. Pony

Hmm, not sure I remember this character.  Was he an Omega?

Well, it turns out this place was named after somebody nicknamed Pony.  He was an early settler and gold miner however (and not an Omega).  Nobody actually remembers his real name for sure.

Pony is an old gold mining town.  It once had a population of 5000, but has barely 100 today.  There are, however, plenty of picturesque abandoned buildings.  In fact, you can find Pony prominently covered on

Great article here about the local bar.

8. Happy’s Inn

Was this the place where Otis Day and the Knights played?

Well, they may very well have once.  The place the town was named after seems to have been here forever, and also to contain pretty much everything you’d ever want all under one roof – grocery store, laundromat, restaurant, bar, casino, motel, sporting goods store, gas station, post office, and who knows what else.

The inn – and town – is in the very northwest part of the state.  There’s a very picturesque chain of lakes nearby, with great fishing.

They call it a "resort"

7. Pompey’s Pillar

Or perhaps it was Pompey’s Pillar … 

Great story on this one …  From the website of the Pompey’s Pillar National Monument:

Pompeys Pillar is one of the most famous sandstone buttes in America.  It bears the only remaining physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which appears on the trail today as it did 200 years ago.  On the face of the 150-foot butte, Captain William Clark carved his name on July 25, 1806, during his return to the United States through the beautiful Yellowstone Valley.

Captain Clark named the Pillar "Pompeys Tower" in honor of Sacagawea's son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, whom he had nicknamed "Pomp."  Nicholas Biddle, first editor of Lewis and Clark's journals, changed the name to "Pompeys Pillar."

By the way, though I’m not sure all expedition members got the allusion, Captain Clark was getting all classical on everyone.  The original Pompey’s Pillar is a Roman triumphal column in Alexandria, Egypt.

Pompey’s Pillar the town in Montana has about a dozen houses and is in the south central part of the state, right along the Yellowstone River and Interstate 94.

William Clark’s John Hancock

6. Big Arm

Okay, enough with the Animal House references already.  The thing was filmed in Oregon after all.

From here on out, we’ll emphasize weird.  And Big Arm is weird. 

Big Arm (or, if you prefer, k̓upawi¢q̓nuknana, in the native Ktunaxa language) is simply an arm of the much larger (and most wonderfully named) Flathead Lake.  How disappointingly prosaic!  The village that was named after it is basically a little resort town right smack in the middle of the Big Arm State Park.

You are here

5. Lodge Grass

Weird.  As is the explanation:

The town was named for Lodge Grass Creek, which empties nearby into the Little Bighorn.  The Indians called the stream "Greasy Grass" because the grass was so nourishing that it made their animals fat.  The words for "grease" and "lodge" are so similar in the Crow language that an interpreter mistakenly translated the phrase as Lodge Grass.  (from Roberta Cheney's Names on the Face of Montana)

I don’t know, I think I much prefer the alliteration and imagery of Greasy Grass. 

The town has 400-some people and is in the center of state – near Pompey’s Pillar, in fact.  Some “notable residents” (none of which I am making up) include:
  • Thomas Yellowtail
  • Kevin Red Star
  • Joe Medicine Crow
  • Hairy Moccasin
  • White Man Runs Him

Cool old train depot

4. Crow Agency       

Really weird.  Though rather easily explained.  The crow part comes from the Crow Indian tribe.  An agency was simply a local government office to support the tribe.

Crow Agency has a population of 1,600 and is the capital of the Crow Nation.  The annual Crow Fair, which can include up to 1,500 teepees, is held here.  Little Bighorn Monument (AKA Custer’s Last Stand) is also very nearby.  We’re in the south central part of the state by the way – not that far from Pompey’s Pillar and Lodge Grass.

By the by, Montana also features a Crow Rock and a Fort Belknap Agency.

Say that second one three times fast
(Ah heck, say it once slow)

3. Two Dot

Weird, but cute.  And with a great name origin story to boot (here, from Wikipedia):

The town got its name from the cattle brand of George R. Wilson (1830-1907), who donated the land for the town. "Two Dot Wilson" had a cattle brand that was simply two dots, placed side by side on the hip of his cattle.

This town of 76 is right in the middle of Montana, right along the wonderfully named Musselshell River.  I count 20 buildings tops.

Hank Williams, Jr. put the town on the map with a 1983 song, Twodot Montana.  Here’s the chorus:

I've climbed up the rockies and swam down the Snake
I spent winters trapping in the Missouri breaks
This ain't the first time I've been in a jam
I'm from Twodot Montana and I don't give a damn

Another town centered
around the local bar
(I think I’m beginning to like this state)

2. Hungry Horse

More weird.  As is this explanation I found on the Internets somewhere:

The town of Hungry Horse was indeed named after two draft horses used for logging the area when they wandered off during the severe winter of 1900.  The horses, Tex and Jerry, were found a month later, all scraggly and hungry but very much alive.  As visitors today drive through Hungry Horse on their way to and from Glacier National Park, there are statuesque reminders of the hungry horses.

I was thinking this had to be after some Native American dude. 

This major metropolis of almost 1000 is famous for:
  • Its proximity to Glacier National Park
  • The nearby Hungry Horse Dam
  • Huckleberries
  • The Hungry Horse News (Montana’s only Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper)
  • The International Larix Arboretum (“dedicated to the scientific study of the larch”)

Get it?

1. Rocky Boy

Downright bizarre. 

Okay, this one is from some Native American dude – namely, one Chief Asiniiwin, who went by the nickname of “Otter.”  Excuse me, “Rocky Boy.” 

A better translation would actually be “Stone Child.”  Now, why anyone would want to name someone “Stone Child” (or “Rocky Boy, or “Petrified Progeny,” or "Otter," or whatever) is totally beyond me. 

Rocky Boy is the center of the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.  It has a library, the local high school and middle schools, and various tribal agencies. 

Mr. Rocky Boy

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Plains, Ridge, Heath, Marsh, Centerville, Montana City
  • Short & sweet – Stone, Straw, Belt, Zero, Lolo, Ulm, Babb
  • Just a little out of place – Nevada City, Boulder, Cleveland, Buffalo, Utica, Manhattan, Harlem, Potomac, Virginia City, Lima, Andes, Devon, Dunkirk, Glasgow, Inverness, Waterloo, Amsterdam, Zurich, Florence, Malta, Belgrade, Kremlin, Troy, Jordan, Sumatra, Paradise 
  • Orthographically challenged – Sonnette, Beltower, Floweree, Froid, Yaak
  • Numerically oriented – First Creek, Twin Bridges, Three Forks, Four Corners, Nine Mile, Sixteen
  • Atypical adjectives – Superior, Peerless, Mammoth, Hardy, Stark, Savage
  • Unconventional verbs – Reserve, Divide, Locate, Pray
  • Abnormal nouns – Wisdom, Power, Lustre, Moccasin, Antelope, Anaconda, Roundup, Rivulet, Cascade, Basin, Circle, Ledger, Emigrant, Outlook, Intake, Knobs
  • Fun to say – Charlo, Perma, Plevna, Piltzville, Zortman, Apgar
  • Just plain weird – Jeff Island, Miller Colony, Milford Colony, Frenchtown, Flaxville, Powderville, Plentywood, Polebridge, Half Moon, Silver Star, Gold Stone, Gallatin Gateway, Cat Creek, Telegraph Creek, Yellowtail, Fishtail, Whitefish, White Haven, Wise River, West Glacier, Beehive, Bigfork, Big Timber, Big Sandy, Sand Coulee, Swan Lake, Medicine Lake, Medicine Springs, Box Elder, Blackfoot, Red Lion, Lame Deer, Sleeping Buffalo
  • What a butte! – Four Buttes, Heart Butte, Square Butte
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Olive, Enid, Mildred, Geraldine, Winifred, Dagmar, Roy, Leroy, Ollie, Clancy, Old Chico, Garryowen
  • Ghost towns Maiden, Fox, Comet, Cable, Bowler, Bearmouth, Lion City, Zortman, Giltedge

Monday, April 22, 2013


Show you what, exactly? 

Of all the state mottos out there, Missouri’s has to be the worst.  Wait a minute, we almost forgot Alabama, didn’t we?  So, show me a yellow hammer, would ya? 

Ah, never mind.  Just show me some crazy Missouri town names, okay?

10. Blue Eye

This place is supposedly named after the first postmaster, blue-eyed Elbert N. Butler.  I’m buying the first part (it was actually a pretty common practice), but not the second.  Why not just call the place Butler, or Elbert?  Huh?
This town of 167 is actually part of Branson, the hillbilly Vegas.  It’s also right on the Arkansas border.  In fact, there’s also a Blue Eye, Arkansas (pop. 36).  Local high school athletes play for the Blue Eye Bulldogs.

A Blue Eye(d) Bulldog

9. Current View

This place is right on the Arkansas border too, but over to the east. 

It’s also on the Current River.  Which explains the name of the town.  Which is a pretty damn lame name for a river, if you ask me.

As much as I like the name Current View, I think I much prefer the previous one, Buck Skull.  So what’s there today?  Well, we’ve got some houses, some trailers, some dirt roads, a convenience store, and Jake’s Bar.

8. Humansville

Not a bad idea.  You want to attract humans to your new town, and not gophers or armadillos or some other kind of creature.  So why name it something like Gopherville, or East Armadillo, or Donkeytown?  Makes no sense.  You want to name it after what you want to populate the place with, right?  Humans.  That’s what you want.  So, Humansville it is.

Well, it seems to have worked.  Humansville currently has just over 1,000 of them.  These humans have a newspaper, a high school, a fire department, several churches, a cemetery, a fall festival, and many more examples of advanced human civilization.  

Okay, I think I’ve ridden that one about as far as it’s going to go ...  Would you believe the town was named after one James G. Human?  Yup, he was the first settler.  The surname actually comes from the word “yeoman,” which means a free farmer.

Humans.  Tigers.  Humansville Tigers. 
I’m so confused

7. Devils Elbow

It’s hard to believe, but the origin of this town name would have to be described as “descriptive.”  Yup, it’s on a bend of the Big Piney River that is very sharp and could, in fact, be called rather devilish.  That was especially the case if you were an early lumberman, trying to get your logs downstream.

Devils Elbow also so happens to be on old Route 66.  In fact, Devils Elbow is the site of the famous Munger Moss Sandwich Shop, a real institution on the old Mother Road.  It’s still there, but is now a biker bar called the Elbow Inn. 

I know all this probably doesn’t mean much to you, but as an old highway aficionado, I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

The Elbow Inn
(and, yes, those are bras on the ceiling)

6. Braggadocio

You know, it’s a good thing to be proud of your town.  But were the town fathers who named this place aware that braggadocio means “boastful or arrogant behavior”?

So, where did it come from?  From a University of Missouri website:

Three theories about the origin of the name are held in the vicinity.  One is that the first settler was a man named Bragg who combined his name with that of his wife, Docio, and so named the settlement.  The second theory is similar: a man of this settlement was continually bragging about his wife Docio – about her beauty, wit, and merit, so that people mockingly named the place for the man who was always "bragging on Docio."  The third theory is that the early settlers were such boastful people that this name grew up as descriptive of the settlers.  The first two of these theories are of the familiar type known as "aetiological" or "ex post facto" explanations and may be safely disregarded [Editor:  How many women do you know named Docio?], though they are widely repeated.  The third is more plausible.  Mocking names of this type are fairly common in Missouri; Cf. Gasconade, said to have received its name for precisely the same reason.

Braggadocio is in the boot heel of Missouri, that strange little hook in the far southeast of the state.  The town’s basically a crossroads, at the intersection of Missouri J and Missouri Z, in the middle of a bunch of fields.  Looks really, really flat.

Hmm.  Not sure what they're
getting all braggadocio about,
if you ask me

5. Knob Noster

Would you believe it’s Latin?  No, not the “knob” part.  The “noster” part.  That means “our,” so Knob Noster basically means “our knob.” Make sense?

Oh, the knob part?  It’s really just a local geographic feature.  They could be Indian burial mounds, they could be hills, they could be … heck, I don’t know. 

The town itself?  It’s actually got about 2,800 people.  Its main claim to fame is nearby Whiteman Air Force Base, where all those B-2 Stealth Bombers fly out of.  Knob Noster is about halfway between Kansas City and Jefferson City.

B-2 over Knob Noster

4. Conception Junction

I don’t know.  Just sounds kinda dirty.

Well, wouldn’t you know – it’s not dirty at all.  It’s a railroad junction near the town of Conception, which was named after nearby Conception Abbey, which is full of very holy - and not dirty at all - Benedictine monks.

This town of 200 people is in the far northwest of the state.  It was in the news recently for a rare meteorite that fell in a local farmer’s field.  That meteorite actually got its own name, the Conception Junction Pallasite, and website.

Very happy geochemist Randy Korotev,
with Pallasite

3. Knob Lick

This unfortunate combination can be explained.  As I mentioned above, a knob is a small, rounded, freestanding hill.  A lick is a naturally occurring salt spring.  Put the two together, and you get a …  um … a, er … really unfortunate name for your little town.

For such a wonderfully named place, there’s surprisingly little on it.  There is a Scout ranch nearby.  It’s about 50 miles due south from St. Louis.

There is also a Knob Lick, Kentucky, by the way.

2. Tightwad

Now, here’s a town after my own heart.

Needless to say, there’s a great tall tale behind this one.  It involves a farmer (or postal employee), a store owner (or farmer), and an overpriced watermelon (or rooster, or whatever).  You can guess the rest.

My feeling is that Tightwad is probably a lot like Braggadocio.   You know, the people of this little burg probably got a reputation for squeezing a dollar, were quite proud of the fact, and officially adopted what had been only a nickname up to then.

This town of 70 is just southeast of Kansas City.  It’s the proud home of Tightwad Bank, an honest-to-goodness, FDIC-insured financial institution.  With such a great name, it should come as no surprise that the bank appeared in The Washington Post and Forbes.

I understand they have a cents of humor

1. Peculiar

I don’t know what it is about this place.  It seems a little unusual, a little different.  I can’t say exactly.  Something odd, something unusual, something, something ...  I really just can’t put my finger on it.   

Well, would you believe that, when this town was named, “peculiar” wasn’t such a peculiar thing to call a town?  Yup, back in 1868, when this place was named, “peculiar” did not have as negative a connotation as it does today.  It meant something along the lines “out of the ordinary” or “uncommon.”

Of course, there is no shortage of tall tales about this one too.  I’ll spare you those.

I really liked the spin the town’s website put on the whole issue:

A community that is peculiar in name only.  A name which has overshadowed our rich history.  Yet, this peculiar name has somehow set apart persons associated with it, creating a chemistry, within them, which makes them very important to each other.

This metropolis of 4600 is very close to KC (less than ten miles away).  It has one famous son, Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Coffman.  Finally, Peculiar’s motto has also got to be one of the all-time classics: “Where the ‘odds’ are with you.”

Plus it spawned this book
(highly recommended)

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Pond, Missouri City, Halfway, Centerville, Centertown, Centerview, Centralia, Center
  • A bad case of the cities – Junction City, Cobalt City, King City, Kingdom City, Mound City, Stark City, Avenue City
  • Short and sweet – Aid, Ocie, Meta, Bona, Bem, Black, Bliss, Bland, Safe, Solo, Stark, Champ, Cash, Coal, Foil, Tiff (and Tiff City), Couch
  • Just a little out of place – too darn many
  • Pardon my French – La Tour, La Due, Femme Osage, Des Arc, Auxvasse
  • Just a little off-color – Butts, Hooker, Climax Springs, Cooter
  • Numerically oriented – Twin, Twelve Mile, Number Eight, Many Springs
  • Native American mouthfuls – Nodaway, Lake Lotawana, Sarcoxie (“As Tall As He Is,” a chief), Koshkonig, Nishnabotna
  • Missourians can't spell – Lampe, Faucett, Leemon, Coffey, Senath, Clubb, Triplett, Sublette, Plad, Purdy
  • Abnormal nouns – Daisy, Diamond (G.W.Carver birthplace), Viola, Tempo, Turtle, Tunas, Sturgeon, Hornet, Battlefield, Bunker, Fidelity, Charity, Prosperity, Novelty, Success, Defiance*, Competition, Colony, Agency, Arab, Judge, Gipsy, Farmer, Forker, Gumbo, Lemons, Lupus, Pepsin, Polo, Frisbee, Sleeper, Rover, Roach
  • Atypical adjectives – Umber, Grassy, Fertile, Liberal, Handy, Clever, Useful, Flat, Hollow, Mystic
  • Too much green – Green Ridge, Green City, Forest Green, Greentop, Green Castle
  • Unconventional verbs – Advance, Revere, Rescue, Strain, Stet, Shook, Licking
  • Fun to say – Trimble, Hemple, Crocker, Spickard, Scopus, Protem, Foose, Almartha, Vandalia, Excello, Hocomo, Cabool, Zalma, Zanoni, Puxico, Dongola
  • Just plain weird – Fair Play, Doolittle, Cowgill, Red Bird, Black Walnut, Bean Lake, Malta Bend, French Village, Olympian Village, Windyville, Brinktown, College Mound, Town and Country*, Country Life Acres*, Clover Bottom, Chain of Rocks, Iron Gates, West Eminence, Hurricane Deck, Airport Drive, Long Lane, West Line, Old Mines, Bellefontaine Neighbors, Marys Home, Velda Village, Velda Village Hills, Peerless Park, Big Piney, Low Wassie, Pure Air, Black Jack, Lone Jack, Jerk Tail
  • Just mash ‘em all together, would ya? – Longrun, Brownbranch, Biblegrove, Eveningshade, Mindenmines, Fairdealing, Frankclay, Claycomo
  • I’d like you to meet – Jane, Clyde, Archie, Festus*, Elmo, Thomas Hill, Rich Hill, Rich Fountain, Wilbur Park, Dennis Acres, Carl Junction, Gregory Landing, Rocky Comfort, Frankenstein
  • Ghost towns – Main City, Little Compton, Times Beach, Cull, Far West, Splitlog, Half Rock, Pink Hill, Barren, Jollification

* - author has visited

Monday, April 15, 2013


Mississippi may be last in the nation in everything else, but it sure does have its share of oddly named little burgs.

10. Sweatman

Would it spoil it for you if I told you it was pronounced “sweet man”?  (And that’s what the surname means too, BTW.)

However it’s pronounced, it looks like this place is a crossroads, with about a half a dozen houses.  It’s in north-central Mississippi.  And that’s about all I could find on this one, folks. 

Oh, by the way, Mississippi also features a Quitman.  That one’s a surname too, and means “freeman.”

9. Pascagoula

Mississippi has no shortage of crazy Native American names.  I’m talking Hushpuckena, Bolatusha, Buckatunna, Eastabuchie, and lots more.  I went with Pascagoula mainly because of its size and prominence.

Pascagoula has a population of 26,000 people.  It also includes the headquarters of Mississippi’s largest company, Ingalls Shipbuilding, as well as one of Chevron’s largest refineries.  Finally, it’s also the birthplace of Jimmy Buffet (it is on the coast).

The name?  It comes from the tribe of Indians who lived there.  The name means “bread eaters.”

Pascagoula welcomes Hurricane Katrina!  (Ouch!)

8. Senatobia

I love portmanteau words.  You know, bromance, cremains, ginormous, metrosexual, tofurkey …
So, I take it we’ve got a combination here of senate and, um, er …  Huh!  You know, I don’t think I have a clue.

Well, I was totally wrong.  Turns out Senatobia is from the Chickasaw word senatahoba, which means “white sycamore.” 

The town’s in the very northwest corner of the state, within commuting distance of Memphis.  It’s big time – county seat, population of 7,000, and a shooting location for The People Vs. Larry Flynt.

“The star's five points represent
Industry, Citizenship, Agriculture, Recreation, and Education.
The acronym is ICARE.”

7. Noxapater

If I remember my Latin correctly, this translates directly as “harmful father.”  Can that be?

Well, Noxapater is indeed from another language.  But it’s Choctaw, not Latin.  It could mean “little bullets” (naki chipinta), “wide banks” (anaksi putha), or “trigger.”

This town of 420 is just northeast of the center of the state.  Most of the search results have something to do with the local high school’s football team.

You wouldn’t understand

6. Itta Bena / Nitta Yuma

Baby talk or Choctaw?

Well, it’s definitely the latter for the first one.  “Itta bena” is Choctaw for “forest camp,” or “home in the woods.”  It  was the name of a former plantation.  Today, the town’s got 2,200 people and is the home of Mississippi Valley State Univ. (where Jerry Rice played).  It’s also the birthplace of Marion Barry, former mayor of Washington D.C. and celebrity crack head.

As for Nitta Yuma?  Well, all I could find out was that it was named after another plantation and that the original Indian name had something to do with bears.  Today, it’s your typical little crossroads, with about a dozen houses.

Home, home in the woods ...

5. Whynot

There are a couple of Whynots out there, including one in my home state of NC.  The typical punchline with these burgs is that, at a meeting to come up with a name for the new town, some frustrated and tired town father calls out, “Well, why not name it Whynot,” the meeting adjourns, and everyone goes to bed.

Well, I hate to break it to you all, but Whynot is actually a not uncommon surname.  I talk a little about it in the first post of this blog.

Whynot, MS is in the east-central part of the state.  It’s basically a couple of roads, a couple of houses and one big ol’ dirt track raceway.

Oh, almost forgot …  David Ruffin, of the Temptations, was born here.

We wuz so proud of our Daddy!

4. Panther Burn      

So, here’s what I found on the Internet:

Panther Burn was a large 19th century plantation outside of Greenville where legend had it a malcontented panther stalked and terrorized the local population until it was corralled into a cane break and set aflame. According to witnesses, the screams coming from the panther were an unholy amalgam of animal lust and divine transubstantiation, which continue to curse the plantation.

That’s also total BS, by the way.  “Burn” is simply an old-timey word for a stream or brook. 

This tiny little crossroads is in the east central part of Mississippi.  There’s also a band out there of the same name.  You’ll probably get more hits for them than you will for the town.

Panther Burn nightlife

3. Primsatic

Okay, we’ve got several choices here.  I quote from Merriam-Webster online:
  • relating to, resembling, or constituting:
    • a polyhedron with two polygonal faces lying in parallel planes and with the other faces parallelograms
    • a transparent body that is bounded in part by two nonparallel plane faces and is used to refract or disperse a beam of light
  • formed by a prism
  • resembling the colors formed by refraction of light through a prism
  • having such symmetry that a general form with faces cutting all axes at unspecified intercepts is a prism
  • highly colored, brilliant
I’m thinking the last one, but I couldn’t find much of anything on this place.  It does seem to be on MapQuest, but it’s basically a crossroads in the woods with a single home.  It’s on the east side of the state.

Downtown Prismatic in the snow

2. Chunky

I can just see the headlines: “Primsatic Man Weds Chunky Woman.”

Chunky is actually from the Choctaw word for martin (the bird).  Or, it might be from a Choctaw ball game called “chunka.”  Or …

Wherever it came from, it’s now got about 350 people.  It’s in the eastern part of the state, not too far from Meridian. 

Wanna see a really stupid video of some idiot shock jock in NYC calling up places in Chunky just for fun?  Then click here.

Decisions, decisions ...

1. D’Lo

Named after an early 19-Century rapper?

Afraid not.  But would you believe it’s French?  Yup.  The original explorers of the area – who just so happened to be French – labeled it “de l'eau sans potable” (“bad drinking water”) on their maps.  Now, run that through your Mississippi Redneck Translatin’ Machine a couple of times, and that’s what you come out with – D’Lo.

But would you believe the poor place started out as Millhaven?  There’s a huge plantation of that name in the state, so my guess is the Postmaster General probably felt like the name had already been taken and asked the locals for something else.

Today, D’Lo is a small town of 400, just southeast of Jackson.  As recently as WWII, when the lumber mills were going full-bore, it had a population over 5,000. 

That's Mr. Non-potable Water to you, suckah!

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Centerville, Mississippi City, Mississippi State, Valley, Lake, Pond, Forest, House, New Town, New Site
  • Short & sweet – Moss, Lux, Hub, Way, West, Twin, Arm, Ora, Oma, Eta, Zama, Zeo, Soso
  • Just a little out of place – Little Rock, Topeka, Kokomo, Peoria, Michigan City, Philadelphia, Washington, Raleigh, Little Texas, Houston, Reno, Brazil, Quito, Edinburg, Dublin, Hamburg, Denmark, Paris, Rome, Carthage, Warsaw, Moscow, Sebastopol, Damascus, Diamondhead, Dahomey
  • Orthographically challenged – Peoples, Pyland, De Lay, Wanilla, Scooba
  • Numerically oriented – Ten Mile
  • Native American mouthfuls – Biloxi, Bogue Chitto (“big creek”), Ofahoma (“red dog”), Looxahoma, Toomsuba, Tillatoba, Tocopolo (“bad prairie”), Tougaloo, Pelahatchie, Arkabutla, Sabougla, Shubuta, Shuqualuk
  • Atypical adjectives – Rich, Savage, Askew, Basic, Picayune, Ecru
  • Unconventional verbs – Reform, Improve, Marks, Shivers
  • Abnormal nouns – Walnut, Petal, Alligator, Birdie, Sanatorium, Derma, Love, Merit, Hero, Zero, Hurricane, Heads, Sledge, Stringer, Barking, Midnight, Money, Value, Tyro, Thrashers, Errata
  • Fun to say – Sessums, Fentress, Pickwick, Tutwiler, Gluckstadt, Hinkel, Crotts, Ozona, Old Houlka, Meshulaville, Little Yazoo, Renova, Bovina, Iuka, Tippo, Bobo
  • Just plain weird – Dentville, McCool, Oil City, Cotton Plant, Tie Plant, Electric Mills, French Camp, Rolling Fork, Forkville, Eggville, Woolmarket, Red Lick, Pass Christian, Freeze Corner, Possumneck, Buck Snort, Ras Paulding, Hot Coffee, Hard Cash, Rough Edge
  • Too many towns – Bear Town, Guntown, Stringtown, Jumpertown
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Ted, Clem, Ethel, Ebeneezer, Olive Branch, Holly Bluff, Jeff Davis, Oliverfried (real guy)

Monday, April 8, 2013


I’ve actually been to Minneapolis a couple of times, but I also listen to A Prairie Home Companion religiously every week, so I just have to assume that Minnesota is just as Garrison Keillor describes it.  You know, everyone’s Lutheran, over 50, of Nordic descent, and lives in a small town.  In addition, of course, to the women being strong, the men good-looking, and all the children above average.

10. Twig

Formerly called “Branch,” this tiny town was forced to downsize to “Twig” as its population dwindled over the years. 

Seriously, I haven’t a clue where this one comes from.  I do know that it’s basically a crossroads just north of Duluth.  It’s the former site of the local Renaissance Faire, and currently features a gas station / convenience store.

Thankfully, they haven’t had one of these since 2009

9. Motley

According to the town’s centennial marker, we’ve got two options on this one:

Opinions differ as to how the town got its name.  Some hold that it was named after John Lothtrop Motley, an American diplomat and historian.  But the more popular version is that a Northern Pacific Railroad official looking at the rough-hewn frontiersmen gathered at the railhead exclaimed, "What a motley crew!"  The word caught on and Motley had its name.

I don’t know.  That second story is awfully colorful.  My money’s on that incredibly boring first option.

This town of 670 is in the center of the state, near Brainerd (see below).  It’s officially called the City of Motley.  Google returns some great search results for this place, including:
  • Motley Land for Sale
  • Motley Real Estate
  • Motley Clinic
  • Motley Singles
  • Motley Hotels

There’s also a Motley Cemetery and a Motley City Hall.

8. Ah-Gwah-Ching

How very strange to find a settlement of native Chinese in the middle of the north Minnesota woods.

It sounds Chinese, but it’s actually Ojibwe.  It means “out of doors.”  Yeah, something you could probably say about most of north central Minnesota.  But let me explain …

Ah-Gwah-Ching also happens to be the former location of the Minnesota State Sanatorium for Consumptives (and everyone knows the only cure for that is fresh air).  This intimidatingly named place operated from 1906 to 1962, when they swapped out the TB patients for old folks.  The old folks got to hang out here until 2008, when they were in turn kicked out and all the old buildings torn down.

What’s there now?  Not a whole lot.  I see some lakefront cottages – on the attractively named Leech Lake.  So, between the leeches, the old folks, and the TB, I have to admit, I just might be vacationing somewhere else this summer.

And, if it’s okay with you,
I think I’ll just stay inside

7. Clontarf

Would you believe it’s Irish?  It’s the name of a town, now a suburb of Dublin, and also the site of a famous 11th Century battle.  In Gaelic, it means “meadow of the bull.” 

The name for our little village on the prairie was chosen by the local bishop, and the town was settled by Irish immigrants.  Tons of local history right here.

Today, Clontarf has about 160 people, and is in the west-central part of Minnesota.  It features some great street names, like Kildare, Cashel, Armagh, and Clonmel.  Oh, and also one Cretin Ave.  Not sure how that got in there.

Sure, twist my arm

6. Zerkel / Zemple

Now, where would this blog be without our German-American citizens?

Yup, both of these places are probably named after some German dude.  With Zemple, I can feel pretty certain about that claim.  Exploring America’s Highways: Minnesota Trip Trivia says that one R.T. Zemple owned most of the land and was the town’s first president.  “Zemple” is from the Slavic “zempa,” which means farmer.

As for Zerkel, it’s just a guess at this point.  I do know the surname means “night watchman” though. 

Both of these are up in the cold, under-populated north.  It looks like Zerkel’s basically a crossroads, with a couple of farms, a couple of houses, and the Rice Free Lutheran Church (for the allergic religious).  Zemple’s got some 90-odd people.  All you’d ever possibly want to know about its history you can find right here.

Now, is that a good thing
or a bad thing?

5. Pillager

This one’s named after a band of Chippewa Indians called the Pillagers.  That’s a direct translation of the Objiwe Makandwewininiwag.  Variants of that include:
  • Muk-im-dua-win-in-e-wug
  • Muk-me-dua-win-in-e-wug
  • Muk-un-dua-win-in-e-wing
  • Mukundua
  • Muk-un-dua-win-in-e-wug
  • Mukundwa
  • Mukkundwas
  • Ma'kandw√§wininiwa
Makes Pillager sound pretty darn good, don’t it?

This town of 470 is in the north-central part of the state, just down the Mississippi from Motley (see above).  It’s officially part of the Brainerd Micropolitan Statistical Area (see below).  It’s also home to the Cass County Fair, which may have the worst website I’ve ever seen.

4. Embarrass

It’s named after the Embarrass River, of course.  Why do you ask?

Would it help if I told you the name of the river traces back to the French word for “obstruction.”  Yup, that baby was one long twisty, narrow, shallow, tree-laden nightmare for the French trappers who first came through the area. 

Today’s township of 600 people is in the upper northeast part of the state – almost into Canada.  It’s known as The Cold Spot, and is officially the coldest place in Minnesota (even beating International Falls).  Its all-time low temperature was an unofficial -64F set in 1996.

Why does my Google Images search
for “embarrass minnesota”
keep turning up this person?

3. Kiester

The Kiester town website takes the high road when it comes to the inevitable:

Although the city's name has been a topic of conversation for both residents and friends, all Kiester residents are proud of its origin and even prouder of this progressive, beautiful community built on the rolling Kiester Hills

“Rolling Kiester Hills” – can’t you just picture them? 

The website also shares that the town was named after one Judge J.A. Kiester.  That surname, in turn, comes from the German word for “sexton.”

Our Kiester is in the south-central part of the state.  It sits right on the border with Iowa.  It’s pretty big.  In fact, there are 500-some Kiesterites.

Kiester Park and watertower

2. Castle Danger

Wow!  What kind of superhero person gets to hang out here?

Okay, you got your pick of three stories with this one:
  • The cliffs on the shore resemble a castle
  • A boat named the Castle grounded here once
  • It’s from the Walter Scott novel Castle Dangerous

Castle Danger is on Lake Superior, just up from Duluth, between Two Harbors and Beaver Bay (both below).  It claims a brewery, as well as the rather boastful Grand Superior Lodge. 

The nearby Split Rock Lighthouse
(what superhero wouldn’t want to hang here?)

1. Sleepy Eye

No, this town was not named after the medical condition known as amblyopia. 

It was actually named after some Indian dude, also known as Ishtakhaba, who – according to Wikipedia – was a “compassionate person with droopy eyelids (or maybe just one).”  Oh, he also signed a bunch of treaties and gave away a lot of land.  “Friend of Whites,” it says on his monument. 

If you thought Kiester was big, you’ll really be impressed with Sleepy Eye.  It’s got 3,600 people, and is a veritable hive of industry and commerce.  It’s known for Sticky Notes, corn, peas, calendars, stained glass, pork, and funeral products. 

It’s also known for its Buttered Corn Days Celebration, as well as being the hometown of Linus Maurer, the namesake for Charles Schultz’s own Peanuts character.


Sleepy Eye native Linus Maurer was the inspiration for the "Peanuts" character named by his friend Charles Schulz.  The statue, however, is of the cartoon character, not the real person. [Editor's note: I have no idea who the babe is.  Definitely not Lucy.]

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Collegeville, Cove, Island, Mound, Minnesota Lake, Minnesota City, Center City, Midway
  • Short and sweet – Fox, Carp, Rice, Dent, Ray, Max, Zim, Amor, New Ulm
  • Just a little out of place – a lot, so let me just point out Brooklyn Park (after Brooklyn, MI), Brooklyn Center (after Brooklyn, NY), Meadowlands, Virginia (world's largest floating loon), Austin (SPAM museum), Little Canada, Belgrade (world's largest crow), Darfur
  • Just a little off-color – Climax, Beaver
  • Numerically oriented – Two Harbors, Tenstrike (a bowling term), Section Thirty
  • Native American mouthfuls – Shakopee, Wastedo, Waconia, Wawina (“I mention him frequently”), Wanamingo, Winnebago, Minnetonka (“big water”)
  • Pardon my French – La Prairie (after one Scotty La Prairie), Le Center, La Cresent, Lac Qui Parle (“lake that sings”)
  • Orthographically challenged – Sogn, Bygland, Lude, Nebish
  • Abnormal nouns – Border, Leader, Radium, Silica, Frost, Angora, Cable, Bowstring, Viola, Siren, Cormorant, Echo, Outing, Choice, Cosmos, Gully, Nimrod, Downer
  • Atypical adjectives – Long, Vermillion, Darling, Swift, Hasty, Stark, Savage, Fertile, Funkley
  • Unconventional verbs – Traverse, Revere, Staples
  • Fun to say – Shooks, Chokio, Warba, Esko, Grygla, Gatzke, Guckeen, Gonvick, Quamba, Clotho, Duelm, Flom, Beaver Bay, Brainerd, Borup, Bowlus, Biwabik, Popple Creek, Pembosa, Puposkey, Parkers Prairie, Fergus Falls, Gutches Grove, Zumbro Falls, Zumbrota
  • Just plain weird – Federal Dam, Long Siding, Big Stone City, Ideal Corners, Freeborn, Foxhome, Pipestone, Ottertail, Oxlip, Warman, Whipholt, Knife River, Littlefork, Bigfork, Butternut, Blooming Prairie, Blackduck, Pelican Rapids, Thief River Falls, Rolling Stone, Sacred Heart, White Earth, Blue Earth (Jolly Green Giant Museum), Black Hammer, Red Wing, Crow Wing, Good Thunder, Boy River, Young America, East Chain, Ball Club (i.e., lacrosse stick)
  • Land of 10,000 lakes – Big Lake, Fifty Lakes, Lino Lakes, Shovel Lake, Detroit Lakes, Prior Lake, Roy Lake, Doris Lake, Lake Elmo, Medicine Lake, Ham Lake, Lax Lake
  • I’d like you to meet – Gary, Gaylord, Marty, Margie, Mabel, Myrtle, Wanda, Effie, Elmer, Adolph, Albert Lea, Lester Prairie, Vernon Center, Hazel Run, Clara City, Odin, St. Bonifacius, St. Nicholas
  • Ghost towns – San Francisco, Frank Hill, Pomme de Terre (French for “potato”), Winner (oh, the irony)