Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Cows. Cheese. More cows. Cheese curds. Badgers. Cheeseheads. Packers. Brats. Snow. Blatz. Cows. Cheese.

10. Fence

It’s rather hard to believe, but there is an actual explanation for this one:

The community name stems from [a] hunting method used by Indians. They would build two fences, one of brush and the other of pickets; when deer jumped the first fence, they landed on the sharp points.

This town of 230 is in the far northeast part of the state, into the UP. It looks very flat and farmy.

This just scares me

9. Praire du Sac

Literally, this one means “prairie of the sack.” (“Cul-de-sac” means “bottom of the sack,” by the way). 

But the French also used "sac" to refer to the Sauk Indians. So, really, this is really no more imaginative than “Sauk Prairie.” 

PDS is in the south central part of the state, and claims 3,000 citizens. It’s practically twinned with Sauk City, which has 3,400. Just in case things weren't confusing enough already, the two usually go by the name of Sauk Prairie. Both are right along the Wisconsin River.

Reminding us that it was the French who originally settled this area, Wisconsin also includes:
  • Eau Claire – “clear water”
  • Lac du Flambeau – “lake of torches”
  • Prairie du Chien – “prairie of the dog” (i.e., the prairie dog) 
  • Butte des Mortes – “mound of the dead people” (i.e., an Indian burial mound)
  • Eau des Chiens Mortes Flambeaux – “flaming water of the dead dogs” (okay, I made that last one up)

PDS is also home to the
Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw

8. Baraboo

More Frenchie. This town is named after the nearby river, which was in turn named after an early settler named Jean Baribault. 

I think I much prefer the American spelling. I mean, why do the French even bother to put all those letters at the end of every word? It’s not like they actually ever pronounce any of them, right?

Baraboo’s pretty big time. I’m talking over 12,000 Baraboobians … um, Baraboobers … er … inhabitants. It’s in the south central again, just 20 minutes away from Prairie du Sac.

Baraboo’s main claim to fame is being the former home of Ringling Brothers Circus. Currently, it’s the home of Circus World Museum. Not content to rest there, Baraboo’s Wikipedia entry also mentions the International Crane Foundation and Aldo Leopold’s Shack (but why didn’t they mention the International Clown Hall of Fame???). It also lists 25 famous sons and daughters – none of whom I have ever heard of before (including Aldo).


7. Poy Sippi

As I recall, “Mississippi” means something like “many waters.” So, I guess this one means “lots of mashed taro root paste.”

I’m sorry. What we’ve got here is instead something along the lines of “Sioux waters.” It’s from the Potawatomie, and is shortened from poygan sippi. The term was originally applied to the Pine River, which flows through the town.

This petit burg of almost 1,000 is just a little north and east of Prairie du Sac and Baraboo. 

By the way, spell check keeps insisting I change this to “Poignant Sips.”

Wilstar SS Dixierose-Red-ET 
Unanimous All-American Fall Yearling in Milk
Wilstar Holsteins, Poy Sippi, WI

6. Packwaukee / Peewaukee / Pensaukee

Well, we’ve all heard of Milwaukee, but where the heck did these other ones come from?

Now, Milwaukee may mean several things – “pleasant land,” “gathering place by the waters,” and “some misfortune happens.” Huh, whuh? Can’t tell if that last one is a joke or not.

Packwaukee was named after a “friendly chief of the Ho-Chunk tribe.” That name may, in turn, mean something along the line of “thin land.” It’s got 2,500 people, and is “located in the heart of Wisconsin on the shores of Buffalo Lake.”

Peewaukee means either “dusty water” or “lake of shells.” It’s basically a suburb of Milwaukee, and comes in at 13,000 inhabitants. Its Wikipedia entry lists eleven people I’ve never heard of.

Pensaukee means “inside the mouth of a river.” That’s fitting as it is indeed located where the Pensaukee River empties into Green Bay. We’re talking about 1,200 people here. Its main claim to fame seems to be getting wiped out in an 1877 tornado.

5. Oconomowoc

Ock-a-nama-wanna-waka … Ock-o-nama-wama-mama-nocka …  Ock-o-nama-mama-wanna-waka-jama … Ah, forget it. (But do check out this great video of Texans trying to pronounce this and other WI gems.)

Would it help if I told you it was originally Coo-no-mo-wauk, and that’s Potatwatomi for “waterfall”? I didn’t think so.

Well, would it make it any easier if I told you it was a thriving city of 16,000? No? Just a little west of Milwaukee? Sister city of Dietzenbach, Germany? Nah? Ah, heck with it.

By the way, this (unpronounceable) place’s main claim to fame is premiering The Wizard of Oz. Continuing the cinema theme, it’s also the setting of an eponymous film:

an absurd comedy about Lonnie Washington, a confused adult who moves back in with his boozing mother and reluctantly teams up with his friend's mishandled t-shirt business in hopes of finding a little direction

I think this goes without saying

4.  Menomonie

Carl Sandburg thought that the most beautiful word he ever heard was “Monogahela,” which just so happens to be a river in western Pennsylvania. He must have never have run across “Menomonie.” To me, at least, it’s pure poetry.

It comes from an Indian tribe of the same name (which explains why there is also a Menomonee in Michigan as well). The name means “the people” … in Menomonee.

It’s another big one, coming in at 16,000-plus. It’s located at the other end of the state, though – in the northwest, just west of Eau Claire. M-town’s Wikipedia entry features sixteen people I’ve never heard of, some of whom sound very interesting indeed:
  • Wilson Hall – half of the comedy duo God’s Pottery
  • Aaron Yonda – comedy video producer, co-founder of Blame Society Productions
  • Harry Miler – "the greatest creative figure in the history of the American racing car"
  • Luke Helder – local college student who attempted to create a smiley-face on the US map with pipe bombs

Almost forgot … There is also a Menomonie Falls in the Badger State.

Open July 3rd thru July 5th

3.  Oshkosh

More poetry. In that it rhymes. Not in that it’s a beautiful use of language.

Another chief. This one’s name means “claw.” Accordingly, this little blurb will now substitute the word “Claw” whenever I would otherwise be tempted to use the word “Oshkosh.” Here goes …

This metropolis of 66,000 is just a little southwest of Green Bay, on the rather large Lake Winnebago. As befits such a huge place, Claw can claim a couple of big-time corporate citizens:
  • Claw B’Gosh – cute kids clothes
  • Claw Corp. – trucks and other heavy equipment

Claw is also home to AirVenture, the world’s largest airshow. Finally, Claw features 53 famous sons and daughters, two of whom I have actually heard of, but you probably have not (Lewis Hines and Carl Laemmle).

Old-timey postcard of Claw

2. Spread Eagle

I won’t say any more about this one save to say that it’s definitely naughty.

The place is way up in the northeast. It’s even closer to the border with Michigan than Fence. 

The name is after the Spread Eagle Chain of Lakes. They, in turn, get their name from how the lakes look like a spread eagle. Hmm … Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a shred of photographic evidence of this on Google Images, or on Google Maps.

In general, there doesn’t seem to be a whole heckuva lot on SE out there. Fittingly, though, I did find a strip bar, the Gold Nugget. 

By the way, there is also an Eagle, WI.

I don't know, do you see it?
(BTW, I’m sparing you the other images I found)

1. Sheboygan

If “Menomonie” is pure poetry, then “Sheboygan” has got to be the exact opposite. I mean, honestly, could there be a less mellifluous combination of syllables? 

This one possibly means “passage between the lakes,” in Chippewa.

So, we’ve got about 49,000 Sheboyganeers, Sheboyganees, or whatever they’re called. The place is right on Lake Michigan, about halfway between Milwaukee and Green Bay.

Sheboygan’s Wikipedia entry actually says that it’s “well-known for its bratwurst.” It’s also “well-known” for the Dairyland Surf Classic, “the largest lake surfing competition in the world.” Finally, I count about 50 famous sons and daughters, including two that I – and maybe even you – are actually familiar with,  comedian Jackie Mason and basketball coach Rick Majerus.

The Sheboygan: burger, brat, cheese curds,
and probably an extra millimeter of plaque on all your arteries

Honorable Mention:
  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Mountain, Valley, North Prairie, Prairie Farm, Bay Settlement, Plainville, Newville, Centerville, Junction City, Midway, Wisconsin Rapids
  • Short & sweet – Iola, Ella, Lebo, Lodi, Alto, Atma, Omro, Okee, Hika, Juda, Yuba, Boaz, Cato, Cobb, Plat, Pell, Dane, Lund, Urne, Nye, Rio
  • Native American mouthfuls – Onalaska, Kewaskum, Taycheedah, Ashippun, Mazomanie, Wonewoc, Wandawega, Weyauwega (Indian for “old woman”), Manitowoc (“place of the spirits”), Manitowish, Mukwonago, Winnebago (“greenish dirty water”), Ashwaubenon
  • What’s with all the wau’s? – Waupun (“first light”), Waukau, Wausau (“far away place”), Waupaca, Waubeka, Waukesha (“little fox”), Wauzeka, Waunakee, Waumandee, Wauwatosa (“place of the small ball”)
  • Just a little off color – Gays Mills, Beaver, Beaver Dam, Beaver Brook 
  • Orthographically challenged – Arkansaw, Tichigan, Monico, Pardeeville
  • Numerically oriented – Two Creeks, Two Rivers (birthplace of the ice cream sundae), Twin Bluffs, Twin Lakes, Three Lakes
  • Abnormal nouns – Winter, Avalanche, Arena, Atlas, Almond, Blueberry, Pound, King, Luck, Spirit, Siren, Range, Cable, Gurney, Institute, Bowler, Bloomer, Husher, Hustler, Cataract, Calomine, Chili, Cream, Disco
  • Atypical adjectives – Loyal, Polar, Rural, Plain
  • Unconventional verbs – Dodge, Retreat, Strum, Breed, Embarass
  • Fun to say – Oostburg, Avoca, Algoma (“snowshoe”), Muscoda, Kenosha (“northern pike”), Wabeno, Basco, Borth, Blenker, Ringle, Kempster, Herbster, Stitzer, Crivitz, Clarno, Cleghorn, Cazenovia, Mishicot (“hairy leg”), Neopit (“four sitting”), Peshtigo (halfway to the North Pole), Pulicifer, Boscobel, Van Buskirk, Ixonia, Zenda
  • Hard to say – Trempealeau (Fr. for "plunge into the water"), Lake Nebagamon (world’s largest ball of twine), Beloit (world’s largest collection of angels)
  • Just plain weird – Lead Mine, Redgranite, Beetown, Moose Junction, Elk Mound, Blue Mounds, Coon Valley, Plum City, Wild Rose, Rising Sun, Sun Prairie, Fairplay, Dairyland, Egg Harbor, Tunnel City, Combined Locks, New Diggings, Superior Village, Sugar Camp, Soldiers Grove, Liberty Pole, Iron Belt, Black Earth, Little Black, Big Flats, Rib Lake, Random Lake, Little Chute, Little Suamico, Slinger, Spooner, Starks, Humbird
  • Just plain weird, -villes – Janesville (two-story outhouse used by Lincoln), Franksville, Shortville, Downsville, Footville, Stangelville
  • Just plain weird, falls – Pigeon Falls, Clam Falls, Jim Falls
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Alvin, Nelson, Milton, Byron, Sheldon, Seymour (birthplace of the hamburger), Arthur, Edgar, Elroy, Earl, Tony, Waldo, Ruby, Irma, Alma
  • Ghost towns - Bluff Siding, Pokerville, Crusher

By the way, I got most of my Indian names from this site.


  1. Cool, though i don't agree that most of the ones you have listed as "weird" sound weird at all, even ones I'd never heard of before in spite of being a WI native. BTW folks, its super easy to say "Oconomowoc" simply say " Ah(or Oh) Cah Nah Mah Wok" - I've heard it all my life, so it was no problem for me, but really, many of the other indian ones look a lot more worthy of joking around about how hard they are to pronounce/fig. out, but it's your opinion i guess :) ! I am from Menomonie (a dairy farm 5 min. from town) & my maternal Grandpa lived near Menomonie Falls, across the state (on Lake 5, technically in the village of Colgate - so, there's some more odd names for you !). I love Wisconsin !!! Menomonie is a great little town, too, & the area is rich with traditional WI things plus is known as the Seatle of the mid-west for having so much natural & organic services/producta available & people into it (including myself). A great & affordable (albeit, can be way too damn cold in the winter!) place to live !