In this age of commodification, branding is everything. But North America is full of places that were named by people who seem not to have gotten the memo. Weird town names can be a lot of fun—who doesn’t get a kick out of hearing about Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, or Toad Suck, Arkansas?—but sometimes place names cross the line from absurd to creepy or just plain depressing.
The Chambers of Commerce representing the following not-so-great-sounding places are either shaking their heads in misery or laughing all the way to the bank. After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity!
No Joke—These 15 Weird Town Names Really Exist!
- Some grim place names have their roots in specific historical occurrences. Dead Women Crossing, Oklahoma, was purportedly named for a grisly murder that took place there in 1905. A schoolteacher named Katie DeWitt went missing shortly after filing for divorce from her husband (unusual enough at that time). Her remains were later found at a crossing of Deer Creek. Her head had been severed from her body. Another local woman was accused of the crime but committed suicide before she could be tried. Locals say DeWitt still haunts the area.
- Anyone wishing to see some of the beautiful scenery at Cape Disappointment, Washington, the site of a State Park, may be disappointed. The cape is one of the foggiest places in the United States, receiving about 2,552 hours of fog a year. That would be the equivalent of 106 days if they occurred consecutively. The fog may have played a role in Cape Disappointment’s name. British fur trader John Meares is said to have come up with the name when he entered the cape in 1788 looking for a route inland. Thinking the area was only a bay, he turned his ship around and headed back out to open water, just missing the mouth of the Columbia River.
- Despite its disconcerting name, Accident, Maryland, was actually named for a happy accident. Original settler George Deakins had been granted 600 acres of land in Western Maryland by England’s King George II. Wanting to get the best land possible, Deakins hired not one, but two, corps of engineers to survey the land in the area. Both crews, without knowledge of the other, marked the same oak tree as their starting and returning points. Deakins chose that spot, naming it “The Accident Tract.”
- Other communities got their names due to residents’ sense of humor. Gripe, Arizona, was once home to an agricultural inspection checkpoint. The community allegedly took its name from the profuse complaints of motorists forced to stop there.
- Idiotville, Oregon, got its start as a logging camp that was so remote, workers said only an idiot would be willing to work there. The name stuck, and even the stream running through the camp came to be called Idiot Creek.
- There’s nothing particularly unusual about Peculiar, Missouri. The name dates back to 1868 when frustrated Postmaster E.T. Thomson was struggling to find a town name that wasn’t already in use. He realized he’d need to come up with “something peculiar” if he wanted to stop going in circles, and finally just settled on that.
- Similarly, residents of Oddville, Kentucky, chose their town’s name in 1851, when they got their first post office, just to be different. Presumably, the founders of Ordinary, Kentucky, population 50, had the opposite impulse.
- Hell, Michigan got its name from founder George Reeves, who settled there in 1841. Much of the land in the area was swampy and useless for farming or anything else. When someone asked Reeves what to name the town, legend has it he replied, “I don’t care. You can name it ‘Hell’ if you want to.”
- Satan’s Kingdom, Massachusetts, is an unincorporated area that allegedly took its name from a misunderstanding. A man who lived up a mountain in the area visited a Puritan preacher who prayed for the destruction of Satan’s Kingdom. For unknown reasons, the man took offense, assuming the preacher meant his home. Others say the name started as a nickname for the area in the 18th Century, because of the unsavory people who lived there. There is also a Satan’s Kingdom in Vermont and a State Recreation Area in Connecticut, complete with river tubing.
- Other places were named after people. Hazard, Kentucky, for instance, didn’t get that name because it’s a dangerous place to live. It was named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. The popular The 80s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard was actually inspired in part by the name of this town, though the show spelled it with two zs and set the action in Georgia.
- Was your hometown was boring? Maybe you grew up in one of at least three towns in the United States named Boring (they’re in Maryland, Oregon, and Tennessee). All three took their names from prominent residents whose last names were, you guessed it, Boring.
- In some cases, no one is quite sure of how a place got its name. Dinkytown, Minnesota, is a neighborhood in Minneapolis that has the feel of a standalone small town. No one knows for sure how the area got its name, which was in use by the mid 1940s, but some theories posit that it came from the streetcars that once served as public transportation there, called “dinkys,” or from a popular snack of chicken tenders enjoyed in the area, also known as “dinkys.“
- The origins of how two islands, one in Maine and one in British Columbia, came to be known as Mistake Island seem to be lost to history. One could easily guess some hapless sailors were trying to get somewhere else when they stumbled upon these land masses, but if so, they were too embarrassed to say so.
- There’s nothing in the story of Embarrass, Wisconsin, to make its founders blush, though, except maybe the frigid air there. The town was named by French settlers who, after spending a very long, cold winter in a town that routinely see temperatures dip below -60° F, perhaps wanted to warn others away. In French, “embarrass” means “hardship.”
- At least one other hair-raising place name comes from a linguistic oddity. You won’t find a yeti or a Sasquatch or any other scary monsters in Eek, Alaska. The town’s name comes from an Inuit word for “two eyes.” No sources reveal why the town was named “Two Eyes,” but it’s just possible that the answer to that question might make you let out a panicked “Eek!”
What are your favorite strange place names? Share them below!