Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Any state whose major universities have mascots of Beavers and Ducks is okay by me.  Looks like they’ve got some pretty weird town names too.

10. Milton-Freewater

Wasn’t he that economist?  Or am I thinking of Maynard Keynes?  John Kenneth Galbreath?  Trygve Haavelmo (real guy)?

Well, as you’re probably guessing, there were originally two towns, one called Milton and one called Freewater.  As for the name origins of the individual towns, well, they’re equally as boring.
Milton, originally Freeport, changed its name to Milltown when a mill was started there (and somehow lost an “l” and a “w” over the years).  Freewater, once the priceless New Walla Walla, changed its name when the town offered free access to water to new homesteaders.

Put the two together, and you get … the one-time Pea Capital of the World.  M-F is in the wonderfully named Umatilla County, just south of Walla Walla, WA.  It’s got a little over 7,000 MFers.
It’s also famous for its frog statues
(locals jokingly call the place Muddy-Frogwater)

9. Drain

In Massachusetts, they talk about going “down the Cape.”  I wonder if they ever use similar phraseology for this place?    Nah, that would be too perfect.

Why, of course it’s named after a Mr. Drain.  What did you expect?  In particular, we’re talking about one Charles Drain, an early settler and politician.  Possibilities for the surname are endless:
  • A Danish word for a yeoman farmer
  • Someone who lived along a ditch
  • Someone who dug ditches
  • A lazy person
  • An Anglicization of the Irish O’ Dreian
  • An Anglicization of the Scottish O’ Druachain
  • From the French derain, or “last,” for the last child

This town of 1,100 in the southwest part of the state includes such local landmarks as the Drain Public Swimming Pool and the Mildred Whipple Library.

Decisions, decisions

8. Remote

Truth in advertising?  Or commemorating that very important milestone in the history of the couch potato?

Well, it’s the former.  Remotes weren’t even around in 1887 when the town was founded.  Everybody knows that. 
Looks like the town’s still pretty isolated even today.  It’s smack dab in the middle of the Cascades, on the upper reaches of the Coquille River.  I count a couple of farms.  I’m not totally sure why they even bothered, though there is a pretty cool covered bridge.
And a cool old store too

7. Riddle

I give up.  What is it?

Why, it’s a town of 1,200 people, right along 1-5, halfway between Eugene and Medford.  It owes its name to early settler William H. Riddle.  And that surname denotes someone from the village of Ryedale, a spot along the river Rye, in Yorkshire.
Riddle is known for its:
  • Timber industry
  • Having the last nickel mine in the US
  • Being a “bedroom community” of Roseburg (?)
  • Being part of the “banana belt” of the Northwest (??)

Riddle, OR
an artist’s rendition (???)

6. Umpqua

The first time I ran into this name, I was doing some research for my employer.  I work for a bank, and was researching how our competitors did something or other.  Imagine my surprise when, among the Citibanks, Chases, Wells Fargos, and Banks of Americas of the world, I found Umpqua Bank (“the world’s greatest bank” – just Google “Umpqua bank,” if you don’t believe me).

The “Umpqua” name actually applies to quite a bit – a bank, a river, a national forest, an Indian tribe, and our little town of 100 people.  Not too sure what it means, however, though I did find some netizens out there who were more than willing to give it the old college try:
  • “This is the place”
  • “This stream”
  • “Thunder water”
  • “Loud noise”
  • “Canoe”
  • “Full tummy”
  • “Satisfied”

5. Clackamas

The sound you make when you drop all the billiard balls?

No, it’s actually a suburb of Portland, and boasts a population of 7,000.  Based on what I could find on Google, it looks like the town may be most famous for a shooting at a local mall.
By the way, there is an Umpqua branch in Clackamas.
Go Clavaliers!

4. North Powder

Try as I might, I could not find a South Powder, nor an East Powder, West Powder, or just plain Powder either.

This unlikely moniker comes from the Powder River, whose name comes in turn from the powdery, sandy soil along its bank.
NP has 400 people, and is in the northeast part of the state, right along the Oregon Trail.  No Umpqua branch, I’m afraid.

One happenin’ place

3. Brothers / Sisters

If this were merely one or the other, I’d probably include it in Honorable Mention, below, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t give it its own spot, let alone make it #3.  Put ‘em in the same state, though …

My only question is whether they are related.  Alright, let’s start with Sisters …
This town of 2,000 is the central part of Oregon, not too far north from Bend.  It was supposedly named after the nearby Three Sisters Mountains. 

The local high school has over-compensated for this incredibly girly name by calling their mascots the Stallions.  Yup, the Sisters Stallions.  Don’t laugh though.  This is where Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts got his start.
As for Brothers, there’s a story out there that the town was named for the Three Brothers Hills, which appear in front of the Three Sisters Mountains.  Now, the Three Sisters are huge, but Brothers and Sisters are an hour apart, with Brothers out in the flat, flat desert southeast of Bend.  I also couldn’t find anything on the Three Brothers apart from stories about the town name.  So, the name origin of this 100-person podunk might just have to remain TBD.

Interestingly, Brothers’ main claim to fame 
is as a place to launch model rockets

2. Zigzag

Here’s one that’s pretty standard for most funny town name books and blogs out there.

This one comes from an early explorer, who had to make many switchbacks to cross a canyon and river here.  The name has been applied to the town, the canyon, the river, a mountain, a glacier, and a brand of rolling papers (just kidding on that last one).

Zigzag the town is in Clackamas County, down the Mt. Hood Highway (the old Barlow Road), heading into Portland. 
Click here for a nighttime sighting of a sasquatch in the nearby woods!
Two for one!
(see below for Govt. Camp)

1. Boring

Truth in advertising again?    Or just some guy’s name?

Well, this one’s the latter.  Willam H. Boring was an early settler who came out West after the Civil War.  According to ancestry.com, the surname probably comes from the personal name Bor, which may have something to do with pine trees (and which would be very appropriate for Oregon). 
Like Zigzag & Clackamas, Boring’s close to Portland.  They have a Boring Post Office, Boring Fire Department, and Boring Middle School, as well some boring topless dancers (wait a minute – have I been there?) and the Not So Boring Bar & Grill.

The folks here seem to take it all pretty well.  In fact, they made Dull, Scotland their sister city.  And the Oregon legislature got in on the fun by officially declaring August 9 Boring and Dull Day in the state of Oregon.
Boring Washington city to the left

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Woods, Fields, Bridge, Midland, Halfway (formerly Half.com), Junction City, Central Point, Oregon City (end of the Oregon Trail)
  • Short and sweet – Dee, Bly (bombed by the Japanese in WWII), Van, Vale (be sure to stay at the Bates Motel), Ada, Bena, Zena, Noti, Hebo, Keno, Ruch
  • Just a little out of place – Santa Clara, Phoenix, Dallas, Austin, St. Paul, Peoria, Detroit, Saginaw, Toledo, Dayton, Pittsburg, Elmira, Albany, Nashville, Charleston, Selma, Jacksonville, Ontario, Glasgow, London, Waterloo, Denmark, Norway, Florence, Rome, Troy, Sparta, Damascus, Lebanon, Madras, Paradise
  • Just a little off-color – Beaver, Beaver Marsh
  • Numerically oriented – Tri-City, Three Lynx, Four Corners, Sixes, Tenmile
  • Orthographically challenged – Shedd, Agness, Milwaukie, Owyhee (an old spelling of Hawaii) Corner
  • Native American mouthfuls – Yachats, Molalla, Yoncalla, Umatilla, Tillamook (world’s largest wooden structure), Siltcoos, Scapoose, Clatskanie
  • Atypical adjectives – Green, Golden, Sandy (world’s tallest topiary bear), Nonpareil, Dairy, Plush, Paisley
  • Abnormal nouns – Enterprise, Monument, Outlook, Friend, Flora, Alfalfa, Fox, Wren, Crow, Lime, Timber, Trail, Mist, Rainbow, Bonanza, Cornucopia, Talent, Tangent, Helix, Sublimity, Steamboat, Fossil, Greenhorn, Nimrod
  • Unconventional verbs – Bend, Echo, Post, Spray, Wonder, Promise, Glide
  • Fun to say – Hebo, Wasco, Dufur, Philomath, Imbler, Zumwalt
  • Just plain weird – Lee’s Camp, New Era, Green Acres, Christmas Valley, Mt. Angel (tallest glockenspiel in US), Bridal Veil, Aloha, Sweet Home, Alkali Lake, Medical Springs, Pistol River, The Dalles, Swisshome, Wagontire, Yamhill, Gearhart, Barview, Government Camp
  • Just plain weird, -ville division – Butteville, Sodaville, Susanville, Wilderville
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Joseph, Donald, Otis, Eugene (world’s largest rubber band ball), Cecil, Merlin, Rose Lodge, May Park, John Day
  • Ghost towns – Mabel, Waldo, Richmond, Bohemia City, Narrows, Antelope, Apiary, Izee, Champoeg (pronounced "shampoo-ee"), Bayocean, Blitzen, Horse Heaven, Jawbone Flats, Idiotville

    1. Hi, Cliff--

      Nice list! I don't think, however, that "Owyhee" belongs in Native American Mouthfuls. It's just an old spelling of "Hawaii," after three Hawaiians who vanished there circa 1820.

    2. Great catch. Owyhee is now under "Orthographically Challenged." Who woulda thunk it. Thx!

    3. You didn't mention Wanker's Corner

    4. Yeah, it didn't quite meet my criteria - had to be big enough to get on my Rand McNally atlas. It is an all-time beaut though. Thanks!

    5. You missed Idiptville. No, seriously.

      1. Wow! You're right. It is only a ghost town however. Wikipedia explains the name by saying, "Since the spot was so remote, it was said that only an idiot would work there, so the camp was popularly known as Idiotville." Thanks!

    6. Yup, it's there - under Abnormal Nouns. It would definitely have made it to the list if I had been able to find out more about it. You're not from there, are you Casy?

    7. No love for Champoeg? It's pronounced "shampoo-ee."

    8. I'll add it under ghost towns(that's what Google is telling me it is).

    9. Lucky we don’t have Piceance, Colorado got that one.