We live in a great place, America, the New World, the amalgamation of different cultures encircled by the borders of fifty distinct states. And in those states are the names of towns that reflect a nod to a prior time or place. That’s how we end up with towns like Gordo Perro. (Fat Dog, Texas)
I love the names of towns from Boca Raton (Rat’s Mouth) to Baton Rouge (Red Stick). My love must have started early when I was born in Gallup, New Mexico. After all, how many people can say they were born in a town that’s a misspelled verb?
When our family moved to the southern part of the Dakotas, we settled on the banks of a river named after the local Native American Tribe. The river meanders through the town and rolls over a cascade of ancient rock, thus, Sioux Falls, a nice name, a name that pertains to the town. Not like Los Angeles. Angels in Southern California? With their traffic problems?
I also like Seattle, Washington, named after the Native American Chief known for his wisdom, compassion and ability to make a fine cup of espresso. It’s a wonderful gesture for a community to name a town after a historical figure. Because in the name is a life the citizens can possibly emulate. For example:
- San Francisco, CA: Named after the Patron Saint of animals and riding lawnmowers.
- Lincoln, NE: Named after the president who developed a line of luxury cars.
- Denver, CO: Named after the legendary pop singer.
- Vicksburg, MS: Named after a guy who didn’t amount to much.
As stated in example No. 2, naming a town after an ex-president is a popular practice. After all, what better way to say, thank you for extraordinary service. That is why we have towns like Harrison, New York, Madison, Wisconsin and Watergate, Massachusetts. Naming a town after an ex-president must have been an easy choice when it came to a town vote, but there were still some founding fathers that stood in a spot, looked around and stated the obvious.
- Portland, OR: Beautiful city with access to the Pacific Ocean.
- Green Bay, WI: Beautiful football village with an algae problem.
- Butte, MT: Beautiful mining town with a great view.
- Beverly Hills: Last residence of Vick’s ex-wife.
Naming a town after a unique location must have been a safe choice for the founding fathers who wished not to offend any segment of their population. I mean, who can get upset over South Bend, Indiana? Really? A river bending south? What are the chances? It’s the exact opposite of Hell, Michigan.
I remember the first time I heard of Hell. Our extended family was meeting my dad’s uncle’s second wife’s younger brother, which may have made him a distant cousin. And as we sat around a long table eating dinner, pleasantries and information were exchanged. And as the conversation continued, much was learned and more questions began to surface like, “Oh, are you really allergic to barbecue chicken?” And…
DAD: Where do you live?
COUSIN: My wife and I currently live in a small farmhouse outside of Hell, Michigan.
SON: Dad, your cousin F#@&ing swore!
Speaking of Hell, I really admire the towns that did not play it safe and picked names whose origins cannot be quickly identified. Names like Provo, Utah, Holyoke, Massachusetts, and Hackensack, New Jersey. I also like the name of another town in New Jersey, Hoboken. The town even has a famous son. But for some reason Frank Sinatra never memorialized his hometown in song: “Hoboken! Hoboken! If I can make it there, will anybody care?”
But no matter how obscure, every town’s name carries meaning. For example, Honolulu means please tip generously in Hawaiian. Some other examples:
- Sheboygan, WI: “To sneeze” in Dutch.
- Yakima, WA: “Oh my” in Latvian.
- Oshkosh, WI: “Excuse me” in Germanic Russian with a twist of French Canadian.
- Kalamazoo, MI: “Bless you” in Lithuanian.
- Kenosha, WI: “Thank you” in Germanic Russian with a splash of vodka.
In fact, if you are lucky to be driving through the state of Wisconsin, you may actually catch a couple of locals at a gas station conversing in an incomprehensible dialect.
CHEESEHEAD: Oshkosh my Sheboygan!
There are many notable ways to name a town. That is why I don’t understand why some founding fathers named their towns after territories they lived in. Actually, some fathers didn’t even get the right territory: Kansas City, Missouri and Missouri City, Texas. Even the fathers of Texarkana couldn’t even decide which state to pick. At least Oklahoma City got it right. But still, what a boring name! It’s like the founding fathers were in a hurry when they sat down for the final vote.
WESLEY: And what shall we christen thy town?
CARL: How come nobody brought whiskey?
RALPH: Don’t look at me. The last time I brought whiskey to a town meeting we all ended up in Texas.
CARL: That’s why we drink. C’mon, Partner. Go dawn to yeer saloon and brang back same whiskeee!
WESLEY: How about we pick a name for the town first?
RALPH: I’m not bringing you any booze, Carl. You still owe me from the last meeting.
CARL: I warn that hooch faaaar and sqaaare! Drawn Poker we was playin’.
WESLEY: New Lancaster?
RALPH: How could we be playing when I didn’t have any cards?
CARL: Ya sharl did.
WESLEY: New London?
RALPH: Not after your horse ate them.
CARL: My horse ain’t et y’all hand.
RALPH: Yes he did, Carl. His big head came right through that window over there and ate my inside straight.
CARL: I twart recall.
RALPH: What does “twart” even mean?
CARL: Ain’t reckon’ I reckon’.
RALPH: Well, if you ain’t reckon’, I ain’t arguin’.
CARL: Goot! Nawl go to yer saloon and git us sum drank.
RALPH: Fine! I’m leaving but I’m not coming back.
WESLEY: But you can’t leave. We need a quorum to pick a name.
RALPH: You think I give a flying cowpat what we call this Oklahoma City?
CARL: I’ll second that.