Sunday, June 18, 2006

Can You Topo This?

Toponymy is the study of place names. It comes from the Greek topos, a place, and onoma, a name. It is a serious field of study; there is even a permanent United Nations commission soberly known as the Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN).

Toponymy involves history, etymology, and geography, of course, but I’m bypassing all that and going straight for the funny bone. I confess: it’s the silliness of some place names that attracts me. It’s shallow and sophomoric on my part, but life is serious enough already; a day without a snicker and a snort can be oppressive.

So here are a few strange place names that I’ve encountered. If I’ve missed some of your favorites, let me know.

  • AL: Burnt Corn
  • AK: Eek
  • AZ: Horse Thief
  • AR: Toad Suck
  • CA: Weed
  • CO: Last Chance
  • CT: Giant Neck
  • DE: Slaughter Beach
  • FL: Picnic
  • GA: Experiment
  • HI: Volcano
  • ID: Hellhole
  • IL: Oblong
  • IN: Santa Claus
  • IA: What Cheer
  • KS: Speed
  • KY: Rabbit Hash
  • LA: Waterproof
  • ME: Purgatory
  • MD: Mousetown
  • MA: Sandwich
  • MI: Hell
  • MN: Sleepy Eye
  • MS: Hot Coffee
  • MO: Tightwad
  • MT: Joe
  • NE: Magnet
  • NV: Jackpot
  • NH: Rye
  • NJ: Cheesequake
  • NM: Truth or Consequences
  • NY: Horseheads
  • NC: Lizard Lick
  • ND: Beach
  • OH: Mudsock
  • OK: Greasy
  • OR: Talent
  • PA: Intercourse
  • RI: Tarbox Corner
  • SC: Coward
  • SD: Tea
  • TN: Soddy Daisy
  • TX: Cut and Shoot
  • UT: Helper
  • VT: Satan's Kingdom
  • VA: Lick Fork
  • WA: Humptulips
  • WV: Left Hand
  • WI: Disco
  • WY: Chugwater

I can't promise that these aren't apocryphal stories, but two of the towns above appeared in unintentionally hilarious headlines. A paper in Waterproof, Louisiana, is said to have carried this headline for a tragic story: Waterproof Men Drown. And in Illinois, not too far from the farming community of Oblong, there is a city named Normal. A society section headline allegedly read, Normal Man Marries Oblong Woman.

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