Monday, April 1, 2013


Flat.  Cold.  Economically depressed. 

They do have some pretty crazily named towns though.  So, based on that alone, I’ve gone ahead and booked your plane tickets.

10. Burnips

I’m thinking this is a misspelling.  Did they mean durnips?  Thurnips?  Zurnips?

Well, wouldn’t you know – it’s someone’s surname.  According to Wikipedia:

James Burnips was a local landowner and built the first store there in 1856.  He began selling lots of land for building in 1858.  A post office named "Burnip's Corners" opened in 1868, and the name was changed to "Burnips" in 1915.

Variants of this name include Burnap, Burnep, Burnip, Burnop, Burnup, and Burnhope.  They all trace back to a town in the north of England called Burnop.  The town name itself comes from the Old English baernetop, which means either an area at the top of a hill cleared by burning, or a hill with a brown top, or both (since they’re kind of the same thing).

As for the town itself …  It’s a crossroads in the southwest part of the state, just south of Grand Rapids.  Holland, Wyoming, and Overisel (see below) are nearby.

9. Zilwaukee

These Michiganders just don’t seem to know how to spell, do they?

Actually, it sounds like they might be downright devious instead.  Here, let Wikipedia explain:

Zilwaukee was founded in 1848 when Daniel and Solomon Johnson, two brothers from New York City, built a saw mill here.  Officially organized ten years later, the Johnsons gave the name Zilwaukee to the town purposely to cause people to confuse it with the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in hopes of luring settlers there to work.

New Yorkers, huh?  Well, it must have worked.  Today, this place has over 1600 people.  It’s in the northeast, between Bay City and Saginaw.  Its main claim to fame is some big interstate bridge over the Saginaw River.  According to some random blogger on the Internet:

The Zilwaukee, MI bridge is famous for three things: multi-million dollar cost overruns during its construction, numerous structural repair jobs, and being a magnet for "jumpers."

Zilwaukee Centennial Celebration, 1954
(Hmm, shouldn’t this be 1948?)

8. Hamtramck *

There’s not a lot of words that end with “mck” now, are there?

Well, it turns out the French seem to be just fine with that combination.  The town is named after Jean François Hamtramck, a French Canadian by birth and the first American commander of Fort Detroit.  Unfortunately, Hamtramck is one obscure surname, so we may never know the true meaning here.

Hamtramck is big time.  It’s got over 22,000 people, is the home of a huge GM plant, and includes several “famous” sons:
  • Baseball player Tom Paciorek
  • Singer Mitch Ryder (of the Detroit Wheels)
  • Basketball player and manager Rudy Tomjanovich (wait, wasn’t he the governor of Illinois?)

Formerly very heavily Polish, it is now known for its Middle Eastern immigrants.  Overall, it’s probably one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods around.  Interestingly, it’s also famous for its hip music scene.

M. Hamtramck

7. Maybee

Bad spelling again?  Or a rousing celebration of vernal entomology?

Well wouldn’t you know – another surname.  Abram Maybee built a grist and saw mill here in the early 1870s.  And the rest, ladies and gentlemen, is history.

As for the origin of the surname?  I really don’t know.  It appears to be a genuine mess.  I found sites claiming it was Scottish, English, Dutch, and French.  I also uncovered the variants Mabbe, Mabey, Maybe, Mabbe, Mabee, Mabes, Mabb, and Mabille. 

The town itself has 500 Maybeeans, and is just south of Detroit.  Interestingly, the main drags in town appear to be named Raisin St. and Blue Bush Rd.

BTW, there’s a Topinabee in Michigan too.  It’s in Mullet Township [snicker], and is named after some Indian chief.  It means “he who stays quiet.”

Perhaps, though I doubt it

6. Frankentrost

Named after one Dr. Frankentrost, whose medical laboratory on the edge of town was the site of some pioneering efforts in biomedical engineering in the mid 1800s until it unfortunately burned down, with the ill-fated Dr. Frankentrost inside.

Just kidding.  You’re not going to be believe this, but Frankentrost is German!  It means “the consolation of the Franks.”  Which also sounds like a good name for an indie rock band, by the way.

You’re not going to believe this either, but there was also a Frankenmuth (“courage of the Franks”), Frankenlust (“love of the Franks”), and Frankenhilf (“help of the Franks”).  Only Frankenhilf didn’t make it (it’s now called Richville). 

Not there’s a whole lot left of Frankentrost either.  It’s basically a crossroads, a church, and some farms.

Oh, and a band …

5. Germfask

A fask full of germs? 

No!  Actually, it’s from the first letters of the last names of the eight town fathers: John Grant, Matthew Edge, George Robinson, Thaddeus Mead, W.W. French, Ezekiel Ackley, Oscar Sheppard, and Hezekiah Knaggs. 

Well, I guess that does beat its former name, “The Dump.”  That came from its being a place where lumbermen dumped their loads into the nearby Manistique River. 

What I want to know, though, is just how incompetent were these people when it comes to anagramming?  I mean, all by myself, I was able to come up with the much more acceptable “Farm Kegs.”  Kinda got a nice ring to it, don’t it?

Germfask represent our first foray into the UP, the Upper Peninsula.  Germfask’s a township, by the by – of about 72 square miles and 500 people. 

4. Wooden Shoe Village              

Three words that probably have never gone together before.  Kind of like “metal shirt town,” or “plastic sock city,” or “bamboo helmet abode.”  Go ahead, try it yourself.  The possibilities are endless.

I’m sure this town was named in honor of the many Dutch who settled in Michigan (another theory points to a brand of beer).  All it really amounts to, though, is a bunch of cabins up north in the middle of nowhere – though on the eastern bank of the wonderfully named Tittawabassee River.  

3. Bad Axe

This town was originally called Bad Ass, but the Postmaster General had a cow when he heard about it.

Seriously, I was assuming this was named after some Indian chief again, but the origin seems to be much more prosaic.  Once again, I’ll let the fine folks at Wikipedia do the talking for me:

The city's unusual name dates to the time of its settlement.  While surveying the first state road through the Huron County wilderness in 1861, Rudolph Papst and George Willis Pack made camp at the future site of the city and found a much-used and badly damaged axe.  At Pack’s suggestion, Papst used the name “Bad Axe Camp” in the minutes of the survey and on a sign he placed along the main trail.

This town of 3000 is on the thumb of the mitten that is the Lower Penisula.  It’s the county seat of Huron County.  The local high school teams are known as the “Hatchets.”

Cool old movie theater

2. Ypsilanti *

Like “mck,” “yps” is not a combination you see that often, especially at the beginning of a word.

Well, looks like those Michiganders have fooled me again.  What seemed like it had to be the name of another Indian chief turned out to be the name of a patriot of the Greek independence movement, one Demetrius Ypsilanti. 

So why did they name the town after Demetrius, you ask?  Well, basically, Ypsilanti and the modern Greek state just so happen to share the same birth year.  In other words, it was just something in the news when the town fathers initially got together.  If the place were named today, it’d probably be called Kardashian.

This city of almost 20,000 lies just east of Detroit.  It’s the home of Eastern Michigan University, the first Domino’s Pizza joint, and the Tucker Torpedo. 

Personally, I know it from a book I read in junior high school, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti  That’s about a shrink in the local state hospital who brings together three patients who each thought that they were Jesus …  and then lets the fun ensue.

Demetrios, with water tower

1. Kalamazoo

What I like to think of as the Timbuctu of America, Kalamazoo is in the southwest cornet of the state. 

It’s got … 75,000 friggin’ people!  Take that, Burnips!  And that, Frankentrost!

Kalamazoo is also the home of Western Michigan University, Gibson guitars, and the Checker Cab Company.  Famous sons and daughters include Derek Jeter, Edna Ferber, Greg Jennings, and Dave Thomas (the Wendy’s guy).

Oh, the name?  It’s from the Pottawatomi ki-ka-ma-sung, which means either “boiling water” or “reflecting water.”

And, no, there is no zoo in Kalamazoo.

It’s a friggin’ city, people!

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Valley Lake, Lake, Flat Rock, Big Rock, Rock, National City, Michigan Center, Midland, Centerville, Middleville 
  • Short & sweet – Sun, Ray, Mio, Elo, Lum
  • Just a little out of place – way, way too many, though I do like Paradise, Walhalla, and Nirvana
  • Just a little off color – Climax, Whores Corner
  • Orthographically challenged – Azalia, Senter
  • Numerically oriented – Three Oaks, Trimountain, Three Lakes, Five Lakes, Six Lakes
  • Native American mouthfuls – Saugatuck, Hodunk, Menominee, Sebewaing, Dowagiac, Ishpeming (US Ski Hall of Fame)
  • A la francais – Bete Grise (“grey beast”), Epoufette
  • Double Dutch – Gaastra, Graafschap
  • Atypical adjectives – Saline, Vulcan, Crisp, Gay (home of the Gay Bar), Dafter
  • Unconventional verbs – Waters, Cooks, Irons, Prosper, Helps, Powers, Sands, Hawks, Amble
  • Abnormal nouns – Honor, Duel, Coral, Pearl, Alabaster, Palms, Peacock,  Pigeon, Lamb, Fox, Wolverine, Yellow Jacket, Butternut, Grape, Jam, Hemlock, Fibre, Armada, Aloha, Bravo, Disco, Bliss, Christmas, Colon (Magic Capital of the World), Flushing, Payment, and – of course – Hell
  • Fun to say – Trombley, Rumely, Trenary, Diffin, Floria, Felch, Grawn, Gobles, Crump, Cumber, Snover, Swartz Center, New Swanzy, Overisel, Travnik, Cathro, Pelkie, Paw Paw, Peshawbestown, Shabbano, Benzonia, Borculo, Tapiola, Unadilla
  • Just plain weird – Schoolcraft, New Era, Needmore, Kneeland, Freesoil, Hoxeyville, Watersmeet, Arbutus Beach, Birch Beach, Witch Lake, Duck Lake, Clam River, Dollar Bay, Dollarville, White Cloud, White Pigeon, Fruitport, Thunder Mountain, Rainy Beach (make your reservations today!), Bumbletown, Bunny Run
  • Too many cities – Reed City, Imlay City, Filer City, Copper City, Cement City, Marine City, Mass City, Brown City, Grind Stone City
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Ray, Romeo, Brutus, Napoleon, Romulus*, Remus, Burt Lake, Ann Arbor*
  • I’d like to introduce you to (grumpy old men division) – Burt, Ralph, Homer, Harvey, Herman, Melvin, Irving, Arnold, Luther, Byron, Elmer, E. Leroy 
  • Ghost towns - Central, Delaware, Denver, Wyoming, Singapore, Arthur Bay, Spoonville, Nonesuch, Seewhy, Podunk

* - author has visited


  1. Thanks, Alan. I'm guessing they didn't meet my original criteria - big enough to make it into a Rand-McNally atlas. Otherwise, they may well have been #'s 1 and 2.