Illustration by Marta Duarte Dias
You know that meditation exercise where you repeat a word so many times that it loses its meaning?
It made me realize how our lives are full of words that aren’t really words anymore but faces, places or memories. For example, the fact that my childhood best friend is called Luna (“moon” in Italian) doesn’t impress me much, even though the only other Luna I know of is from Harry Potter. I also don’t burst into laughter every time I visit my friend’s house in Viottolo Peloso (literally, “furry alley”) or act shocked when my mother tells me she’s picking up groceries in Sesso (which, yes, is Italian for “sex”).
Which is why I can’t blame distracted Americans for living their lives in towns and cities while ignoring that they have very silly names. All I’m going to do is list some of my favorites here.
35. Bangs, Texas
My theory: All 1,603 inhabitants of this Texan town are obliged by city law to wear a fringe of hair on their foreheads, regardless of their gender or degree of sympathy for Zooey Deschanel. Furry animals are not exempt.
Reality: The town was named after Samuel Bangs, a printer during the Texas Revolution who was awarded with the land that later took his name.
34. Soda Springs, Idaho
My theory: The town was founded by junk food extremists who somehow managed to replace all natural water sources with Coke springs, Pepsi waterfalls and Mountain View ponds.
Reality: The name came from the presence of many carbonated water springs in the area surrounding the town.
33. Bluff, Alaska
Although the origin of this town’s name remains unknown, my instinct tells me you don’t want to play poker against its inhabitants (who I assume are called Bluffers?).
32. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
In 1950, popular NBC Radio host Ralph Edwards challenged American cities to rename themselves after his quiz show. Hot Spring, NM promptly accepted the challenge and became Truth or Consequences. This means that any American citizen could wake up tomorrow and be a resident of Game of Thrones or The Big Bang Theory. Sleep well, America.
31. Placentia, California
The name originates from the Latin word for “pleasant” but, let’s be honest, it makes you think instantly of the word “placenta,” the fancy way to say “afterbirth” — the bloody tissue expelled after the baby is born and eaten by cats or Tom Cruise. Eew.
30. Fries, Virginia
My theory: At some point during the 19th century children took over the local government and banished all vegetables in favor of an all-French-fries diet.
Boring reality: The town was named after colonel Francis Fries, a cotton mill owner who played a key role in the town’s establishment.
29. Dinosaur, Colorado
Originally called Artesia, the town changed its name in 1966 in an attempt to capitalize on its proximity to the Dinosaur National Monument. Willing to go all the way, they also renamed many streets to things like Tyrannosaurus Trail or Antrodemus Alley. This is where I want to spend my retirement years.
28. American Fork, Utah
My theory: Drenched in nationalistic pride, the patriotic inhabitants of this city swore on the constitution to only use American cutlery and promptly declared war to IKEA.
Less exciting reality: the town is named after the American Fork River.
27. Concrete, Washington
My theory: concrete streets, concrete buildings, concrete fountains, concrete rivers, concrete people.
Reality: Concrete was born from the 1909 merger of two towns, Baker and Cement City, both located near the Washington Portland Cement Company. This is poetry.
26. Briny Breezes, Florida
We don’t know exactly how Briny Breezes got it’s name. All we know is that it would also be an exquisitely good name for a line of cleaning products, a perfume targeting grandmas or my drag queen alter ego.
25. Whynot, North Carolina
Halfway between a statement and a hashtag, Whynot is an unincorporated community of people who are clearly open to possibilities and have healthy senses of humor. Legend goes that the name came about during a meeting to choose a name for the new town. One community member, exasperated that they couldn’t agree on a name, said, “Why not name the town Why Not and let’s go home?”
24. Hurt, Virginia
My theory: If the Founding Fathers had seen a therapist, she would have told them not to let pain define their lives. Unfortunately, psychology in the 16th century was a bit undeveloped and as a consequence Hurt, Virginia was allowed to happened.
Reality (sigh): The town is named for an early resident, Colonel John R. Hurt.
23. Ninety Six, South Carolina
This town’s name is a big mystery, although some believe it once indicated the distance from the closest Cherokee settlement. The only association I have with the number 96 is the birth year on the fake ID I use at One Direction concerts.
22. Cut and Shoot, Texas
My theory: I was really hoping that Cut and Shoot was named after a renowned film school educating the best editors and cinematographers in the country.
Reality: More predictably, Texas loves its guns and the origin of the name is a bit more literal than what I had pictured. According to the story, in fact, the name refers to a confrontation that took place in 1912 and almost led to violence.
21. Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
This spooky name of unknown origin could be the title of a metal record, a teenage horror movie or a scary video game. Let’s make that happen!
20. Canadian, Texas
My theory: the inhabitants of this Texas town don’t lock their front doors, reject weapons and made Alanis Morissette their honorary mayor.
Boring reality: the town was named after the Canadian River, which is a tributary of the Arkansas River.
19. Superior, Wyoming
Rumor has it that becoming a resident of Superior requires mastering the art of being gratuitously judgmental and claiming you listened to bands before they were famous.
18. Atomic City, Idaho
The town (originally called “Midway”) was renamed in 1950 for its proximity to the Idaho National Laboratory. Disappointingly, crossing the city limits will not provide you with extra eyes or super powers.
17. Okay, Oklahoma
My theory: The residents decided to embrace mediocrity, but took it too far.
The truth: Okay was named after the OK Truck Manufacturing Company. Well, that story’s OK, but I still like mine better.
16. Coward, South Carolina
The population of this southern town refuses to disclose the origin of its name, despite the continued reassurance that they have nothing to fear.
15. Three Way, Tennessee
Three Way was named after the three way split of the U.S. Route 45, which was obviously my first and only guess about its name.
14. Climax, Michigan
My theory: Everything in this village is emotional and overly dramatic like a Christina Aguilera cover.
Reality: The name was coined by the village’s first “Fence-Viewer and Pound-Master, District No. 1,” Daniel B. Eldred, in 1838 with the now immortalized words: “This caps the climax!”
13. Winnebago, Minnesota
My theory: In Winnebago there are no houses but only campers, and the whole city can overcome geography and change its location like the island from LOST.
Reality: The town, and the RV company, for that matter, are named after the Native American Winnebago tribe.
12. Uncertain, Texas
This city perfectly describes where I stand on every important matter and derives its name from the fact that, being at the border between Texas and Louisiana, it was initially unclear in which state it was actually located.
11. Last Chance, Iowa
This town is so small there’s not even census data on it, but whatever the origin of the name, “Last Chance, Iowa” sounds like a heartbreaking episode of This American Life.
10. Speed, North Carolina
It could be a reminder of how our lives are marching on at an unimaginable pace — or perhaps a homage to Jan de Bont’s 1994 action masterpiece starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock — but no, Speed was actually named after the town doctor Eugene Travis Speed Sr. who was, unfortunately, not an action movie hero.
9. Oblong, Illinois
This village was originally referred to as “Hen. Peck” because of its general store, owned by one Henry Peck. When it was incorporated in 1883 the inhabitants decided that the name wasn’t suitable anymore and renamed the town, very literally, after its shape. Now, that makes sense.
8. Cool, Texas
In order to be part of Cool’s community, you need to wear a leather jacket, drive a convertible and have a date to the prom. Photoshop skills are a plus.
7. Colon, Michigan
The official story claims that this town was named after a city in Panama, but the fact Michigan is home to places like “Brown City,” “Flushing” and “Colon” suggest a horrifying pattern.
6. Pink, Oklahoma
Nobody knows for sure where the name of this city comes from, but I do know where to host a Legally Blonde 20th anniversary party.
5. Blue Grass, Iowa
Native Americans used to camp in this area and noticed that the grass had a blueish tint. It’s unclear if they made the assessment before or after smoking it.
4. Rainbow City, Alabama
This city was named after a highway called Rainbow Drive and has been inadvertently fighting for LGBT rights ever since.
3. China, Texas
Slightly less populated than the other China, this Texan town owes its name to the chinaberry trees in the surrounding area.
2. Hooker, Oklahoma
The town was named after ranch foreman John “Hooker” Threlkeld, and whenever its inhabitants are reminded of some other likely word association they reply: “It’s a location, not a vocation.” Fair enough.
1. Popejoy, Iowa
Although the first thing that comes to mind is a synthetic drug engineered by the Catholic church, this town was actually named after former resident and landowner John Popejoy.
What do you think are the funniest place names around the world? Let us know in the comments!