Ain’t That Peculiar?
Places with unusual names sometimes make us want to take a second look
We have all lived close to, traveled through or seen signs for places with strange names. As a youngster growing up in northern Alabama, I hunted deer along the bluffs above Hog Jowl Valley, made many trips through Dogtown on my way to one of my favorite fishing lakes and had relatives from the Lickskillet community.
It was only after I started retrieving cars across the country for a leasing company, and later escorting mobile homes, that I discovered towns with strange names weren’t a regional thing. I’ve been to Truth or Consequences, N.M., and Chunky, Miss., and passed by signs pointing to places like Intercourse, Pa. (in the heart of Lancaster County’s Amish country), and Boring, Ore., an unincorporated village that proclaims itself to be the “most exciting place to live.”
If you’ve ever been to Hell — Michigan, that is — in the winter, you know that it does freeze over.
Truckers have called me from some interesting places — Hooker, Okla., and Conception Junction, Mo., for instance. Many citizens of towns with unusual names make light of their respective communities. To one extent or another, we all have a juvenile sense of humor, no better proof of which may be the case of former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s insert-your-headline fun.
The local newspaper in Hooker is the Hooker Advance. To be honest, almost any business with Hooker in its name — i.e., the Hooker Senior Citizen Center, — is bound to invoke a few giggles. Hooker locals proudly proclaim, “It’s a location, not a vocation.” And it’s true. The town was named for cowboy John “Hooker” Threlkeld, who got his nickname for his cattle roping skills.
Farther east, you will find Peculiar, Mo. According to the town’s Facebook page, Peculiar is “where the ‘odds’ are with you.”
Peculiar is “where the ‘odds’ are with you.
And if you’ve ever been to Hell — Michigan, that is — in the winter, you know that it does freeze over. How Hell got is name is debatable. One theory is a pair of German men traveling through the area emerged from a curtain-clad stagecoach one sunny afternoon in the 1830s, and one was overheard saying to the other, “So schön hell!” Translation: “So beautifully bright!”
Another story is that George Reeves (not the actor who played Superman in the television series, but an early pioneer) was asked what they should name the town he helped settle. Reeves reportedly replied, “You can name it ‘Hell’ for all I care.”
No matter how Hell got its name, people seem to enjoy the name enough to detour to town to have their photos made in front of customized signs that read “Welcome to Hell.”
Some place names need no more than a simple welcome sign to provoke double-takes. “Welcome to Welcome, A Friendly Place,” reads the sign outside Welcome, N.C.
And then there’s Success, N.H. It is an unincorporated township with a total land area of 59.2 square miles, but according to the 2010 census it has a population of zero. You’ve got to love the irony.
Also, you have got to love tiny Hope, Ariz., where they let you know as you exit the area that “You’re now beyond Hope.”
I’ve been through Allgood, Ala., numerous times, and for further inspiration, I would consider visiting Surprise, Ariz.; Romance, Ark.; Cool, Calif.; Little Heaven, Conn.; and Carefree, Ind.
Some places have crude-sounding names like Belchertown, Md.; Colon, Ga.; and Hygiene, Colo., and Ontario in Canada has Crotch Lake.
Maybe one of the better ones in this category — which I expect to be popular with the male population — is Gas, Kan. Locals capitalize on getting people to stop with its unofficial slogan, “Don’t pass Gas, stop and enjoy it.”
A few years ago, a colleague told me she was going to Toad Suck, Ark. Now that one just might win the prize for most negative mental image.
Behind every place with a strange name is a story, or sometimes a lack of one becomes the story.
No Name, Colo., got its designation after Interstate 70 was completed, when the Colorado Department of Transportation started to improve signage. A DOT official saw the region did not have a name and wrote “No Name” for exit 119.
Nameless, Tenn., became so called because, according to legend, locals decided that the community should be “nameless” after one of them said, “This here’s a nameless place if I ever seen one, so leave it be.”