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10 strange place names and the stories behind them

The world is full of places with names that most of us would have trouble suppressing laughter. For example, the UK is home to childishly funny greats like Netherthong and Lower Swell! Sometimes the reasons places end with names that make their residents look red are as strange as the names themselves: like these 10.

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10th Truth or consequences

Until 1950, this town in southwest New Mexico was called Hot Springs, which made sense since it was mostly known for its natural hot spring spas. This made it quite a popular spot for out of town folks, but apparently not popular enough for those who run the town and had a bold idea to promote tourism.

One of the most successful shows on US radio in the early 1950s was called Truth or Consequences and it was decided to rename the city afterwards. That decision came after a referendum that again proves direct democracy is a bad thing and resulted in the radio show visiting town for a broadcast shortly after the big name change – on April Fool’s Day. That was not all, however, as the show’s host, Ralph Edwards, made a trip to town every year after that until he died. Additionally, he even managed to appear in an episode of Doctor Who titled The Zygon Invasion, so maybe they were right to do it after all.[1]

9 Frog eye

This article could easily consist entirely of places in Alabama, which seems to be the strange named capital of the world, but since no one knows how Boar Tush got its name (maybe you’d prefer not to ask), let’s focus on Frog Eye. This town is located on the banks of the Tallapoosa River and there are a number of different stories that are told about where its name comes from. It may seem like the residents made up something when they got drunk, but a local woman named Michelle Fortson has studied the history of the area and believes this actually happened during the prohibition period.

The story goes that his salon illegally sold under the counter alcohol during this period and that he had to find a way to prevent state police from finding out. So the salon owner put a ceramic frog statue in his window and used it as a secret signal to the local drinkers. If the frog had both eyes open it was safe to ask for alcohol, while if one eye was closed it meant the police were in the bar and they should abide by ordering soft drinks.[2]

8th Stingy collar

There’s a good reason this little Missouri place had such an unfortunate name, but luckily it has nothing to do with wedgies. The story goes that at some point in the early 20th century, a watermelon farmer lived in the city. One day when the postman was delivering to this farm, he asked the farmer if he would put one of the watermelons aside so he could pick it up when he had finished delivering the rest of the mail. According to local legend, the farmer said he would then choose to sell the watermelon to another customer who had paid him 50 cents over the postman’s offer.

Annoyed that it was robbed of its fruit, the postman called the farmer a tightwad and did so every day thereafter until the name stuck. Up until that point, the city, where only 69 people live, was called Edgewood. These days, the small population seems happy to adopt this name, and that’s understandable if you think it might as well be referred to as You Owe Me A Watermelon, Missouri.[3]

7 Doubtful sound

Doubtful Sound is a fjord in southwest New Zealand and at 421 meters the deepest fjord on its South Island. Part of the strange name was given to it by British naval explorer Captain James Cook after he first saw him on the island in 1770. When he saw the mysterious fjord shrouded in mist from his ship, he began to doubt that the ship could successfully steer the ship in and out of the inlet, thinking it was too tight a pressure. That led him to christen it Doubtful Harbor.

What has been lost for history is why it switched from Doubtful Harbor to Doubtful Sound – although it is known that it was whalers who invented the revised version a few decades after Cook’s visit. Maybe they were trying to convince themselves that they couldn’t hear any screams from the whales they were killing. The fjord may sound dubious, but it is also a beautiful sight. Its breathtaking natural beauty makes it a popular tourist attraction today.[4]

6 Saint-Louis-you Ha! Ha!

That sounds like the name of a French sitcom with too much slapstick, but it’s actually a city in Quebec, Canada. It’s not far from the US border, but its strange name makes it sound like it belongs to a completely different world. This has its origins in several sources, with the “Louis” bit presumably being the name of one of the men who founded the city, but the reason for the “Ha Ha” part is more unusual. It wasn’t stuck at the end of the name because everyone was laughing at poor old Louis, but because of a lake just outside town. ‘Ha-ha’ is an old-fashioned French word meaning a kind of block that brings a path to the end. Lake Temiscouata does just that for the city as the beginning of the lake marks the lake’s boundaries and hence the ‘ha ha’ part of the name likely refers to it.

The only thing no one seems to know is why two exclamation marks were added; Maybe someone found the name too memorable without them! On the plus side, it gives the 1,300 people who live there the right to live in the only city in the world to have two of them in their name.[5]

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5 Island of illusions

That sounds like the title of a B-movie thriller, but it’s the name of a real place. Deception Island is one of the South Shetland Islands in Antarctica and was named with the kind permission of a very frustrated visitor. In 1820 the US hunter Nathaniel Palmer stumbled over it with the crew of his ship while they were on an expedition to hunt seals. They thought it was a perfectly normal island and decided to approach and land there. The very narrow inlet that you have to sail along to get to the shore of the island is called Neptune’s Bellows. It is only when you get there that it becomes clear that the island is actually the edge of a huge volcano.

Although this volcano had collapsed when Palmer and his crew arrived, the shock caused him to discover it instead of what he expected to name the land after its deceptive appearance. The volcano may have fallen in on itself, but it wasn’t extinct – and it’s still technically active to this day.[6]

4th traffic

You will find the town of Intercourse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but it’s an Amish country so you probably shouldn’t get your hopes up too high based on the name. The quaint little village hasn’t always been nicknamed the raise eyebrows as it was known by the much less exciting name of Cross Keys when it was founded in 1754. It is known that the great name change took place in 1814, but various reasons are given for this.

One of the popular stories behind the name is that it was just a reference to the fact that two major roads crossed in the village. A more interesting theory is that there was a racetrack at one point, the entrance of which was known as the Entercourse, which name gradually mutated over time to become Intercourse. The third possible reason for the name is that the word “traffic” can mean conviviality, fellowship and friendship, as was common in rural villages of this type. Of course there is a fourth option, but that’s up to your imagination.[7]

3rd Wet jacket arm

Certain parts of the world seem to spawn a lot of weird names, and New Zealand’s Fiordland region is one of them. We’ve already looked at Doubtful Sound, but that’s a boring normal name compared to Wet Jacket Arm. This bay owes its name to the man that Captain Cook visited again with his crew during a voyage to New Zealand in 1773. It seems they didn’t pick a particularly good time of year for Fiordland weather as they caught heavy rainstorms for most of the time there. This left their naval uniforms soaked and a combination of anger and lack of imagination led them to name the Wet Jacket Arm area.

While it’s a name that does nothing to capture the wonder of an area so beautiful that it’s now part of a national park, we should probably be grateful that they were most upset about their jackets. Who would want to go to a place called Damp Underwear or Soggy Socks?[8]

2nd Glen Campbell

Who wouldn’t want to name their district after the rhinestone cowboy? Well, the 306 people who live in that tiny part of Pennsylvania apparently named Glen Campbell. Despite having the same name as the Wichita Lineman singer, the origin has absolutely nothing to do with him. Instead, it dates back to 1889 and was actually a tribute to a man named Cornelius Campbell. Now we know what you’re thinking: why didn’t you just call the Cornelius Campbell neighborhood? For one thing, Cornelius Campbell is a stupid name for a place.

Apart from that, Campbell also worked as superintendent at the then most important company in the district – the Glenwood Coal Company. Many of the men in the area had mining jobs for the company, which took the part of the name “Glen” from the Scottish word “valley”. Thus, as the name for the community, Glen Campbell was a combination of the name of the company and the man who ran it. However, none of this prevented country singer Glen Campbell from being flattered enough to visit him in 1971. Maybe the people there were too nice to tell him the truth.[9]

1 Slaughter beach

For a seaside town hoping to attract carefree tourists for sunbathing, it doesn’t seem like sounding like a video slasher about a resort town being followed by a madman with a chainsaw. Slaughter Beach in Delaware was founded in 1681 and there are many theories as to where its adorable name came from.

One is that a Native American attack on a group of settlers led those settlers to ask the tribal chief to meet their god on the beach for peace talks. The story goes that this “god” was actually a cannon that was used to kill the Native Americans. A second, almost equally grim, story is that it was named after the horseshoe crabs that crawled on it to spawn. According to this version, these crabs would often be flung onto their backs by waves and unable to return to the sea, causing them to roast to death under the sun. A third suggestion is that the name comes from another nearby area called the Slaughter Neck. The latter makes a lot of sense and is less morbid than the first two, but … how did Slaughter Neck get its name ?![10]

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About the author: I am a freelance writer living in Dundee. In addition to my paperwork, I make short films as half of a duo called Wardlaw Films.

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