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Many U.S. state names originated from royal figures or Native American words. These well-known names have become so familiar that we often don’t think twice about them. But that’s not always the case when it comes to the cities and towns within a state. Each state has a few unique city names that not only deserve a second glance, but might even be worth a roadside stop for a selfie with the highway sign.
The origins of America’s strange town names are much more varied than those of their home states — from historical local curiosities to questionable crowdsourcing, and even, in some cases, petty revenge. Often, the etymology is shrouded in mystery or obscured over time, but these towns all have one thing in common: No matter how remote or sleepy they may be, they take pride in their eccentricity. Read on to learn about — and maybe even laugh out loud at — the funniest and strangest town names in all 50 states.
The word “normal” is used today for something standard or expected — usually not for town names. But in the 1800s, it was also a common word in college and university names — “normal” schools were what are now known as teacher’s colleges. The Huntsville Normal School (now called Alabama A&M University) opened in the community of Madison County, Alabama, in 1875. When the college moved to a new location in 1890, the small town it relocated to got a post office and took the school’s rather unassuming namesake of Normal. Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee also have cities named Normal.
The remote community of Chicken, Alaska, was named by its founding gold miners in the late 1800s. Legend has it, the settlers wanted to name their new home Ptarmigan, after the partridge-like bird who roamed the area and provided sustenance. But it wasn’t the easiest word to spell, so they decided on the much simpler — and, in retrospect, sillier — Chicken. The tiny gold rush town is located between Fairbanks and the Yukon border. At its peak, 400 people called Chicken home, but these days, the population sits in the single digits most of the year.
It sounds like a contemplative choice, but Why was actually named, quite simply, after the letter “Y.” Two major highways, State Routes 85 and 86, originally met in a Y-shaped intersection in the tiny southwestern Arizona town, which is located about 30 miles north of the Mexican border. State law dictated that all city and town names be made up of at least three letters, so the area’s local nickname, the Y, was spelled out. The town later replaced the unconventional interchange with a standard T-intersection, but the meditative moniker remained.
This jarring name comes from an anglicization of Sumac Couvert (meaning covered in sumac bushes), the name given to the small southern Arkansas city by the French trappers and hunters who settled the area in the mid-18th century. Smackover may sound aggressive, but the small Arkansas city says it prides itself on fostering a wholesome lifestyle. This includes a commitment to preserving the environment, which seems at odds with the history of this former oil-boom town.
California: Rough and Ready
Founded at the height of the California Gold Rush in 1849, this small town an hour northeast of Sacramento took its name from a Wisconsin mining company known as the Rough and Ready Company. The mining company was named after the 12th President of the United States, Zachary Taylor, whose nickname during his time as an army general was “Old Rough and Ready.” Taylor served as a commander during the Black Hawk War in 1832, during which Wisconsin politician A.A. Townsend served under him. When Townsend started his mining company, he honored his former general by giving it the same memorable name. Today, Rough and Ready is home to just under 1,000 people.
Colorado: No Name
It’s fitting that this mysterious moniker would have so many theories about how it came to be. One suggests that No Name was named after the nearby canyon and creek; another claims that the Colorado Department of Transportation simply assigned “No Name” to an unnamed highway exit. Fortunately, the funniest story is also the most widely accepted. Legend has it that the Colorado government once inquired with local villagers about what the town’s name should be. Most residents wrote “No Name,” and the state called their bluff, sealing their fate as one of the most inadvertently memorable place names in the U.S.
Hazardville, Connecticut, began as a 19th-century industrial village that manufactured gunpowder, but ironically, the serendipitous name has nothing to do with the danger of explosives. The town of 5,000 was instead named after Augustus George Hazard, an aptly named gunpowder salesman from New York City who bought into the production facility in Enfield, Connecticut, in 1837. A decade later, Hazard took over the company; the business was renamed Hazard Powder Company, and the area became known as Hazardville.
Delaware: Slaughter Beach
There are at least three stories believed to be the origin of Slaughter Beach’s macabre name. One points to the thousands of horseshoe crabs that emerge from the Delaware Bay onto the shore during spring and summer mating seasons, many of which fall prey to the local wildlife. Another tale credits a former postmaster named William Slaughter, while a third says it was inspired by a deadly Native American attack on early settlers in the area. If the mystery surrounding the sleepy fishing town’s name wasn't intriguing enough, consider that it is also located just 30 minutes from a place called Murderkill River.
Florida: Yeehaw Junction
Of the several competing stories about how Yeehaw Junction got its name, the most widely circulated one has an even more memorable moniker attached to it. Newspaper clippings discovered at the Desert Inn, the town’s 1800s hotel and restaurant, suggested that the intersection used to be called Jackass Junction — after the donkeys that were used to haul lumber in the area. But when the nearby Florida Turnpike was constructed in the 1950s, state officials compromised with locals to rename the intersection of U.S. Route 441 and State Road 60 Yeehaw Junction instead. Unfortunately, the historical Desert Inn was destroyed in December 2019 when a truck carrying oranges crashed into the building, taking a piece of Florida’s quirky history with it.
Hopeulikit’s name is about as wholesome as it gets. Pronounced "hope you like it,” this tiny Georgia community of approximately 100 people was home to a popular dance hall in the 1920s and ‘30s, located at the intersection of U.S. Routes 80 and 25 and owned by locals Beatrice and John Paul Ellis. Their families were generational land owners in the region, and the husband-and-wife team also founded and named the current-day community in the 1960s after their roaring ‘20s hotspot.
Hawaii is known for having some of the world’s most active volcanoes. It’s also home to a sleepy artist’s hamlet conveniently known as — you guessed it — Volcano. Located just a stone’s throw from Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park (and the frequently erupting Mount Kīlauea), this community is full of cozy bed and breakfasts, galleries, cafés, and restaurants. The name may be associated with volatile rock formations, but the village of Volcano is surprisingly serene.
Idaho: Good Grief
Good Grief might make you think of the lovable blockhead Charlie Brown, but the Peanuts cartoon character has nothing to do with this tiny Idaho town. According to a local historical society, the name came from a marital miscommunication in the 1950s. When a resident bought a general store without telling his wife, she responded with a shocked, “Good grief!” The area, which was known as Addie at the time, has been known as Good Grief ever since. Despite its Snoopy-less origins, Good Grief does have a prominent place in pop culture: It was mocked in the 1970s TV show Hee Haw, for having "a population of three with two dogs and one old grouch."
When it was founded in 1855, this DeKalb County city was known as Almon, after Almon Cage, the original landowner. It was later renamed to Newark Station, which caused confusion with the nearby village of Newark. State politician "Long John" Wentworth, who had lobbied to establish a railroad stop in the city, was given the opportunity to come up with a new, and hopefully lasting, name. He chose Sandwich, after his hometown in New Hampshire (named after John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, said to be the inventor of the sandwich). After providing the appetizing name, Wentworth would go on to serve two terms as the mayor of Chicago.
Indiana: Santa Claus
You can bet this Indiana town goes all out for Christmas. But just how did it get its famous name? When the town was established in 1854, it was called Santa Fe. With the arrival of a post office in 1896, the town was told to change its name to avoid confusion with the existing Indiana town of the same name. According to local legend, as the townspeople gathered on Christmas Eve and contemplated a new name, they took inspiration from the children excitedly calling out for Santa Claus. The post office in Santa Claus, Indiana, was established in 1856, and since the early 1900s, a group of volunteers works every holiday season to ensure the thousands of incoming letters to Santa get answered every year.
Iowa: What Cheer
When a man named Peter Britton settled this southeast Iowa community in the 1850s, he attempted to name it Petersburg after himself. But another early inhabitant, Joseph Andrews, helped to establish a post office in the mid-1860s, naming it — and subsequently the town — after the old English greeting “what cheer.” Today, What Cheer (pronounced “wot cheer”) has about 600 residents, down from about 5,000 at its coal-mining peak.
The community of Speed was known as Big Bend for years, before it was renamed in 1894 to avoid confusion with other similarly named cities. Reportedly, it was renamed after President Abraham Lincoln’s Attorney General James Speed. Other theories, however, suggest that its name came from local businessmen who insisted the town was making rapid and desirable progress. Regardless of its origins, Speed’s name came in handy in 2008, when it was chosen as one of only six U.S. stops on the Hot Wheels 40th anniversary celebration tour, which brought more than 10,000 people to the tiny town of just under 40 residents.
Kentucky: Monkey’s Eyebrow
Like many of America’s strangely named small towns, Monkey’s Eyebrow has several competing theories about its etymology. The most widely accepted story is as nonsensical as the town’s name, suggesting that, when viewed from an overlook on a nearby hill, it resembles the shape of a monkey’s eyebrow. What kind of monkey — or what exactly a monkey’s eyebrow looks like — is unclear.
Some believe that this northeastern Louisiana village was named for its early relative safety from flooding (predating the construction of the Mississippi River levee system). But another oft-repeated story tells of a steamboat captain who joked about an early settler being waterproof as he stood, surrounded by water, on a strip of land. That land became the original site of the town. Ironically, that location is now underwater, and Waterproof has been forced to move several times due to the whims of the mighty Mississippi River. The most recent relocation in 1880 was thankfully the last.
The name Meddybemps, with its assemblage of consonants and short vowels, has a distinct quality that stands out among the state’s strange town names. Like many historical place names, Meddybemps’ etymology is muddied in vague folklore — while some local tales tell of its roots in bumpy, unpaved roads (“many bumps”), it seems most likely that it is an anglicization of the Native Passamaquoddy tribe’s East Algonquian language. The anglicized version translates to “plenty of alewives,” in reference to the bountiful fish found in Meddybemps Lake.
The plotting of present-day Accident in Maryland’s westernmost county of Garrett was, well, a happy accident. In the mid-1700s, state settler George Deakins was given 600 acres of land as a debt repayment from England’s King George II. Deakins employed two engineering crews to survey the best land for development. When the crews, who had no knowledge of each other, came back with their findings, they had traced the exact same plot of land. Deakins named it the Accident Pact.
Massachusetts: Satan’s Kingdom
Massachusetts may be known for its idyllic New England charm, but it is not without its sinister side. Legend has it that this Franklin County village, near the Vermont border, was named Satan's Kingdom following a particularly fiery 1600s church service. As an attendee walked out of the sermon, a forest fire could be seen in the portion of town across the Connecticut River, and it was declared that Satan’s Kingdom was burning. The unfortunate name stuck.
Massachusetts may have Satan’s Kingdom, but Michigan cuts right to the chase with its town named Hell. The Livingston County community consisted of a sole grist mill and general store when a man named George Reeves settled there in 1838. While there are several legends about how it got its name, the official story is that Reeves was known to pay the local farmers in homemade whiskey, and that led to the farmer’s wives saying their husbands had “gone to Hell again” when they were nowhere to be seen during harvest time. Hell was officially incorporated in 1841 and still has its devilish name to this day.
The door’s always open in this Minnesota community, which was named after early resident and farm owner Alfred M. Welcome. The town was incorporated in 1880, and while a post office with the name Lily Creek opened in 1881, the name was already in use elsewhere in Marin County, so the name was officially changed to the unforgettable Welcome.
The southeastern U.S. is known for its wild alligator populations, so it seems fitting that Mississippi would have a town named after the frightening green creatures. However, the town of 200 people actually got its name from the lake that runs through it. Alligator Lake was once teeming with the territorial reptiles, and while efforts to reintroduce the species to its native habitat have been only marginally successful, the name lives on.
All of the many stories in circulation about how Tightwad got its pejorative name involve a mythical man and his miserly ways. The most popular tale paints this mysterious figure as a watermelon farmer. About 75 years ago, back when the village was known as Edgewood, a local postmaster asked the farmer to save him a watermelon for after his mail route. The farmer agreed, but then reportedly gave the watermelon to someone who had offered 50 cents more for it. The postmaster called him a tightwad, and later vengefully submitted the name to the state for approval. Apparently, the payback paid off.
Located along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, Pray has plenty of divine natural scenery to back up its name. However, it wasn’t named for its stunning setting — the town was founded in 1907 by an entrepreneur named Valentine Eggar, who attempted to name it after himself. He was told by the postal service that it was too similar to the Montana town of Edgar, so instead, he named it after local Congressman Charles N. Pray, who happened to be in charge of approving new post offices.
Home to only 50 people, the tiny eastern Nebraska village known as Surprise got its name in an appropriately wholesome way. In 1881, local landowner and Omaha Herald founder George Miller built a dam on a small stream near the headwaters of the Big Blue River. He hoped to operate a gristmill there, but didn’t think the stream would provide enough water to make it possible. To his surprise, the stream was indeed powerful enough. When the mill opened, Miller named it after his happy surprise, and the town took the name as well.
Where else would you expect to find a town named Jackpot than in Nevada? When Idaho outlawed casinos in 1954, slot machine mavens Pete Piersanti and Don French moved their slot operations — Cactus Pete’s and the Horseshu Club — less than a mile south to the state of Nevada. At first, the area remained unincorporated, and the club owners could not agree on a name. Paradise, Cactus Pete’s, and Horseshoe were all suggested names, but the county instead decided on the neutral name of Unincorporated Town No. 1 to settle the dispute. This forced the club owners to quickly compromise on the no-brainer name Jackpot in 1959.
New Hampshire: Dummer
The name Dummer is bound to elicit a giggle or two, but it actually originated with established politician William Dummer, who served as the lieutenant governor of the province of Massachusetts Bay from 1716 to 1730. Dummer is credited with negotiating the 20-year-long peace treaty that ended Dummer’s War with the Wabanaki Confederacy of four Native American nations. The town of Dummer, home to about 300 residents, is known for the serene landscapes of the Pontook Reservoir, a popular destination for birdwatchers and kayakers.
New Jersey: Cheesequake
Depending on your level of dairy tolerance, a cheesequake sounds like a slice of heaven or a nightmare to avoid at all costs. How this hamlet in central New Jersey got its name — pronounced not-so-phonetically as “ches quick” — is unclear. It’s believed to have originated with the Native American Lenni‐Lenape tribe, who named it for the spongy, cheese-like peat moss found in the area. Cheesequake is an unincorporated community within Old Bridge Township; the adjacent Cheesequake State Park is a local gem beloved by hikers.
New Mexico: Truth or Consequences
It used to be known as Hot Springs, but since 1950, this New Mexico city of 7,000 has sported a more memorable name — all thanks to a radio show. For the 10th anniversary of the popular NBC radio game show Truth or Consequences, host and producer Ralph Edwards promised to do a live recording in the first town that dared to name itself after the program. Hot Springs took up the challenge, and has been known as Truth or Consequences — or sometimes just T or C — ever since.
New York: Neversink
The origins and meaning of the name Neversink are uncertain — the Sullivan County town has moved several times since its 1798 beginnings. Some research indicates that the moniker comes from the Native American name Mahackamack. What is certain is that the original hamlet of Neversink is currently — and quite ironically — under water. It was one of the Catskill Mountain towns that was flooded to create reservoirs for the New York City water supply system. Located in the Catskills, today the city is home to about 3,500 people.
North Carolina: Whynot
As the name suggests, Whynot was born out of boredom and frustration. The rural community in Randolph County, North Carolina, found its memorable identity during a lengthy debate in the 1860s. As townspeople threw out suggestion after suggestion about what to name the community (so that a new post office could be established), a frustrated resident finally said, “Why not name it Why Not and let's go home?" Everyone agreed, the name was approved, and Whynot (then two words, Why Not) came to be.
North Dakota: Zap
While the origin of Zap’s energetic name is debated, the most widely accepted story suggests that it was named after a mining town in Scotland. The town was called Zapp due to having its own coal mine on the edge of town. But the North Dakota town’s true claim to fame isn’t its name. In 1969, Zap was the site of the “Zip to Zap” riot, a spring break party gone wrong that saw the National Guard and state troopers called in to disperse crowds of thousands of partiers from all over the U.S.
While the name might sound like something out of an Archie comic book, the story of how this small Ohio village came to be called Coolville is a little less awesome than it sounds. It was named after a New England man named Simeon W. Cooley, who was the first to map out the area with his brother in 1814.
It’s fitting that a town with a name as laid-back as Okay would have a fairly straightforward origin story. The present-day community of Okay is located about 50 miles southeast of Tulsa, but in the early 20th century, it was sometimes called Falls City for the nearby rapids of the Verdigris River. As the town grew and eventually established a post office in 1919, it was named Okay in honor of the O.K. Trucks company oil tankers that were manufactured locally.
The story behind Boring, Oregon’s name is hardly exciting — like many places, it took its inspiration from an early resident (and former Civil War Union soldier) William H. Boring. What is interesting is the 2012 partnership that Boring formed with a Scotland town named Dull. A year later, the town of Bland Shire, Australia, joined the other two to buck their mundane monikers and form the League of Extraordinary Communities. Together, Dull, Bland, and Boring are also known as the Trinity of Tedium.
It’s OK, you can giggle — the Village of Intercourse even says so on their official website. There are a few theories as to why the Lancaster County town adopted its infamous name in 1814. One story suggests that the name came from the town’s location at the intersection of two major roads. Another theory is that it evolved from “Entercourse,” based on the town’s proximity to the entrance of a former race track. A third possibility is that the name was instead tied to the early English meaning of the word intercourse. At the time, it referred to unity and friendship based on a community of faith, a description the village says still applies to Intercourse today.
Rhode Island: Common Fence Point
This long-standing beach cottage community, located at the tip of Aquidneck Island within the town of Portsmouth, has had the same name since 1638. As with many historical land designations, Common Fence Point was named quite literally after the parts of the land were separated with a fence. Sometimes simple is best?
South Carolina: Ketchuptown
The origin of Ketchuptown’s name is almost too endearing to be true. According to local lifetime residents of the small farming community, farmers in the 1920s would gather at the local general store to “catch up on the news.” Over time, the Saturday afternoon “catch up” became tradition. Although the name is spelled as two words — Ketchup Town — on the store sign, it slowly morphed into the single word it is today.
South Dakota: Bonesteel
Despite its threatening name, Bonesteel, South Dakota, is a sleepy little town of just 300 people, surrounded by scenic stretches of the Missouri River. Bonesteel was named for H. E. Bonesteel, a man who worked as a freight forwarder in the area in the early 1900s. Many of South Dakota’s towns were settled and named in relation to rail workers who traveled throughout the territory during the railroad building boom of the late 1800s.
Not unlike No Name, Colorado, the tiny Tennessee town of Nameless is said to have gotten its name from its uncommitted residents. While there are a few legends behind the droll name, the most popular one involves the early residents who tried to establish the community’s post office. When filling out the application, locals were still in disagreement on what to name themselves, so it was sent in blank. It came back with an official stamp from Washington, D.C., designating it Nameless. The identity (or lack thereof) stuck.
Texas: Ding Dong
A place called Ding Dong could only have a ridiculous naming story. Early inhabitants Bert and Zulis Bell, who founded the town in the 1930s, owned a general store and had commissioned a painter to come up with a sign. In good fun, another local dared the painter to paint two bells (for the — you guessed it — two Bells who owned the store) and to include the words “ding dong” underneath. The painter took him up on the dare, and the town has been known by its silly name ever since.
Sadly, this Utah town of 400 people did not take its name from the beloved red Sesame Street muppet, but its etymology is interesting nonetheless. According to official Emery County records, Elmo was founded in 1908 and was given an acronym for the first four families who settled there: "E" for the Ericksons, "L" for the Larsens, "M" for the Mortensens, and "O" for the Oviatts.
While Vermont’s tiny town of Podunk certainly fits the modern definition, that wasn’t the inspiration for its name. (Before newer home developments started going up, it was home to only about 50 people, some farm animals, and some boarded-up old buildings.) The etymology traces back to an Algonquian word describing “a marshy meadow." It’s likely that that’s where the name for the Vermont town — as well as the towns named Podunk in New York and Connecticut — came from. The current residents take no offense to the perception of their town’s name, and prefer to laugh it off.
Although it doesn’t sound like it, Tightsqueeze’s name originated from old-school acts of chivalry. In 1870, as the area developed, a general store was built close enough to the highway that women could step straight from their carriages to the store without getting muddy or dusty on the dirt road. When a blacksmith built his shop directly across the road, he did the same thing. The original general store owner was not pleased, but the narrow passing between the buildings remained, and word spread that wagons would have to slow down for the tight squeeze.
Unfortunately, Vader didn’t get its name from eager Star Wars fans. The Washington town of 700 people, originally called Little Falls and then Sopenah, was named in 1913 for German immigrant and Civil War veteran Martin Vader. The intention was to provide a name that stood out along the Northern Pacific Railway Company’s corridor. According to historical records, Vader was, for some reason, so offended by the use of his name that he picked up and moved to Florida.
West Virginia: Pie
It seems too good to be true that a town called Pie would in fact be named after the classic dessert, but that’s just the case with this West Virginia community. In a 1945 book on the history of the state’s place names, the town’s then-postmaster said that the area was named for Leander Blankenship, a resident "who really like[d] pie, regardless of kind." And who could blame him?
This Wisconsin town has nothing to be ashamed about. The peculiar name actually derives from a French translation meaning “obstruct” or “impede.” The town is situated on the Embarrass River, and lumberjacks and travelers in the area frequently used it for canoeing, but logs and other debris often created jams and obstructions in the waterways, leading to its name.
It may sound like a suggestion to stay hydrated, but the origin of the name Chugwater, while not entirely known, most likely comes from the Native American Mandan tribe. Legend has it that cliffs in the area were used for buffalo jumps — a hunting method in which buffalo herds were forced over the edge — and, when they fell in the waters below, a “chug” sound could be heard. (We’ll stick to the hydration advice instead!)