Bad Names for Towns: Funny American Place Names
Weird and Funny Place Names
First, an advance warning to all past, present and future residents of the many great American towns and cities that happen to bear unusual names: Know that your fair city will be ever-so-gently mocked below.
Know that this is nothing personal: the unfortunate place name is not your fault. That's even if — in a hypothetical case — your great-great-grandmother had been the one to lobby to christen your town Boozin-Snoozin Alley. Know that had she had her way, she would have gifted generations of travelers and mapmakers with innumerable good giggles. Alas, she didn't, and there is no town with that name in the United States.
But there are still many other funny American place names for us to enjoy. So let us now freely honor the many pioneers, entrepreneurs, explorers and scoundrels who did, in fact, manage to grace their towns and cities (and roadsides and hamlets) with names worthy of a second look, a smile and a smirk.
One invaluable catalog of American places is the U.S. Census Bureau, which tracks the names of the largest cities and the tiniest communities. Place names are updated every decade, most recently in 2010.
For the detail-oriented: note that not all of the place names referenced here are actual cities. Some are tiny towns, while others are just smallish places — called census-designated communities — with no stoplight or mayor required.
A swift glance at the list shows that American place names — including the odd ones — fall into one of the following major categories.
Painfully Obvious Place Names
This town is named for a natural formation, not an escaped circus animal.
What do American place names taste like?
Number of places so named
Bitter Springs, Arizona
Sweet Home, Arkansas
Sour Lake, Texas
Salt Lake City, Utah
Hot Beverage Place Names
Number of places named for it
What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get Place Names
Some place names are very matter-of-fact about natural surroundings. There's Twin Lakes (in six states), Three Lakes (in two states) and even Mosquito Lake (just in Alaska.)
Dinosaur, Colorado also falls into this what-you-see-is-what-you get category. It really is a place where dinosaurs (fossils, at least) can be found.
Sometimes, American place names draw on natural features that aren't merely seen with the eyes, but also perceived by the nose and the tongue. Maybe the well water tasted like diluted candy. (Result: Sweetwater.) Maybe something in the air smelled like rotten eggs. (Result: White Suphur Springs.)
It's interesting to note that Americans have named many towns after tastes they prefer in their diets. Americans are obviously inspired by sugar and salt, but have little regard for spiciness. There's only one Spiceland (Indiana) amid many sweet-somethings. Salt tops sugar in popularity, though, especially if you count towns named Saline or Salineville (six of them) or Salinas (just one in California.)
Reality-inspired place naming will only get a nod as truly odd when the local feature in question, say a rock outcropping shaped like a pachyderm, leads to a name like Elephant Butte. (That's in New Mexico, and, yes, it definitely rates as a funny American place name.)
One-Word Place Names
Some of the most unusual American place names come from the choice of a single, simple, surprising, descriptive word. Examples include: Chicken (Alaska), Tombstone (Arizona), Airport (California) and Volcano (Hawaii). A place called Beach makes the list of funny names simply because it is in North Dakota.
And then there's Stamps (Arkansas). Any good philatelist ought to want to call that place home.
A theme in one-word names seems to be brains, as in Brilliant (in both Alabama and Ohio.) There are other towns called Clever, Bright and Smartsville. (Those are in Missouri, Indiana and California, respectively.)
My favorite one-word place name is Peculiar. (That's in Missouri.) But it's a close tie with Why, Arizona.
Where is Paradise? Why is it in Oklahoma?
Places named after pleasant, happy things
Number of places named for it
Places named after unhappy, miserable things
Number of places named for it
Mud (or muddy)
Names That Aspire To Place Heaven On Earth
Optimism is required when naming a place. You have to at least assume the community being named will stick around long enough to appreciate the effort and actually use the name. But there's a special, intense kind of optimism — likely mixed with some hubris and scheming boosterism — that leads people to name a town after the Garden of Eden.
Using only place names as evidence, it would seem that Americans are full of this particular kind of optimism. Towns named Eden and Avalon abound. And 15 different places claim to be some sort of paradise. There are contenders in a variety of states from Hawaii to Kansas, but places in California are the most brazen in making the claim. In that state alone, there's Paradise (a town), Paradise (a designated place) and Paradise Park (another designated place).
The namers of American places have even gone so far as to place heaven on earth. (That's Swede Heaven, Washington.) No town has been named after hell.
All this optimism makes Americans a little squeamish about broadcasting the truth of a place in its name. That may be why no place is called Often-Smelly-Flood-Prone Town. On occasion, though, especially out west, the truth of snakes and mosquitoes and other rough edges creep into the place names. Weedpatch (California) may indeed be a bad name for a town, but the name is fun and funny.
Where's the Money? Three Places Named Dollar
Names inspired by the love of money
Number of places named for it
Sales (or sells)
Cash (or Cashton or Cashiers)
Places named for local resources or products
Name of resource
Number of places named for it
Names To Praise the Almighty (Dollar)
This may be my favorite category: the place names that humorlessly celebrate capitalism in all its glory.
There are numerous cities with names that advertise their supposed wealth in coal, lumber, wheat, corn, raisins and prunes. That's not to mention the many all-purpose towns named Enterprise (all 10 of them) and the much rarer towns named Success (only two of them.)
But remember that paradise-seeking optimism? The Successes may be few and far between, despite all those Industries, but no town has been named Poverty. And for all the towns named Dollar, not one has been named Cents.
No city has been named Broke or Busted. Instead, there's a town called Cash in Arkansas.
No cities have been named Generosity or Savings. There's only a Tightwad (Missouri). No town in named Greed, yet there are plenty of place names that seem eager to flaunt wealth and status. One gem in this vein is Aristocrat Ranchettes (a census-designated place in Colorado).
So how does wealth accumulate, possibly leading to life in one of the 11 places named after some variation of Country Club? American place names give quite a bit of credit to luck. The town of Lucky is in Louisiana, while Jackpot is in Nevada, of course. There are also seven places named Bonanza.
No town is named Hard Work.
Misleading Place Names
High Point, Florida should lead any list of misleading place names. The simple fact is that very little of Florida pokes up much above sea level. And High Point isn't even the highest point in the state. (That's Britton Hill, elevation 345 feet — barely topping the torch on the Statue of Liberty.)
Misleading names abound elsewhere. For instance, I would guess that Sublimity (Oregon) and Blessing (Texas) fail to live up their names from time to time. Most likely, so does Promised Land in South Carolina.
Pop. 101, But a Name Fit For a Metropolis
This category of place names might be better called delusions — or confusions — of grandeur.
The United States was apparently founded by men and women with overriding desires to copy foreign place names. The evidence: Paris is a place name in many states (including Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri) and that's not counting places named New Paris and South Paris.
Venice is found in Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska and Illinois, while Berlin is found in Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey and North Dakota. There's a Cairo in Georgia and six other states, and the name Baghdad is echoed in the communities of Bagdad, Arizona and Bagdad, Florida.
Some of these big names grace very tiny places. (See Misleading Place Names, above.)
Towns and cities only make the funny places list when they are named for an especially odd foreign place. (Babylon, New York made the list.)
Incredibly Unimaginative Place Names
Unfortunately, the vast majority of United States place names tend toward the bland: take Greenwood, Delaware.
In fact, in the entire state of Delaware is made up of so many blandly named places that the state does not even make an appearance on the following list of funny American place names. Even a state like Connecticut has Hazardville. (Missouri and Virginia win points here for refusing to skirt the boring place names issue: each has a place named Bland.)
Cities that were named after people also tend to be unimaginatively named. There should have been a limit on the number Smithfields and Smithlands allowed.
Sure, some people do have funny-sounding names, and some of those funny-sounding names have been attached to towns, but it's a little low call Lumpkin (as in Lumpkin, Georgia) a funny-sounding place name. There really was someone named Lumpkin, and there probably still is. Now, perhaps, if the town founders had added a little something extra to the name — say, Lumpkin's Hump — then it might have made this list. But they didn't.
With boring names, though, at least the people living in those places didn't completely waste the naming opportunity. There's no good excuse for No Name, Colorado.
Funny American Place Names: The Ultimate List
Funny American Place Names: The Official Quiz
Number of place names
All The Odd Names Are Here
Crazy, unusual, unique and funny American place names are arranged alphabetically by state. Note that not every state made the list.
List and quiz by E. A. Wright.
Allgood, Brilliant, Gordo
Chicken, Livengood, Mosquito Lake, Red Devil
Avenue B and C, Carefree, Chloride, Cowlic, Lazy Y U, Scenic, Sells, Six Shooter Canyon, Tombstone, Why
Bonanza, Cash, Delight, Flippin, Grubbs, Magazine, Smackover, Stamps, Yellville
Airport, Aromas, Country Club, Descanso, Furnace Creek, Goodyears Bar, Needles, Rainbow, Raisin City, Rough and Ready, Spreckles, Weed, Weedpatch
Aristocrat Ranchettes, Bonanza, Dinosaur, Gunbarrel, No Name, Parachute, Rifle, Severance
Boca Raton, Burnt Store Marina, Christmas, Frostproof, High Point, Howey-in-the-Hills, Leisure City, Niceville, Paisley, Town 'n' Country, World Golf Village, Yeehaw Junction
Between, Climax, Enigma, Ideal, Santa Claus, Social Circle, Thunderbolt
Assumption, Bone Gap, Cave-In-Rock, Energy, Joy, Metropolis, Normal, Time
Cylinder, Defiance, Diagonal, Promise City, What Cheer
Agenda, Home, Protection, Speed
Rabbit Hash, Science Hill, Stamping Ground
Belcher, Bossier City, Cut Off, Dry Prong, Lucky, Many, Plain Dealing, Start, Triumph
Bagtown, Chance, Secretary, Shaft
Buzzards Bay, Onset
Cement City, Flushing
Cosmos, Fertile, Good Thunder, Staples, Thief River Falls, Welcome
Hide-A-Way Lake, Robinhood
Clever, Fair Play, Fairdealing, Goodnight, Humansville, Neck City, Peculiar, Tightwad
Elmo, Hungry Horse, Pray, Wineglass
Angel Fire, Bent, Elephant Butte, Gallup, Loving, Pie Town, Raton, Truth or Consequences
Babylon, Bohemia, Deposit, Speculator
Bald Head Island, Duck, Grandfather, Kill Devil Hills, Micro, Stem, Toast
Chagrin Falls, Hide-A-Way Hills, Newcomerstown, Reminderville
Bowlegs, Box, Bushyhead, Greasy, Hooker, Mutual, Okay, Scraper, Slick, Sour John
Drain, Talent, Tangent
Emporium, Fairchance, Hop Bottom, Intercourse, Media, Potlicker Flats, Scalp Level, Seltzer, Smock, Trainer, Twilight
Cope, Coward, Folly Beach, Ninety Six, Privateer, Promised Land
Interior, Running Water, Tea, Two Strike
Bean Station, Soddy-Daisy, Three Way
B and E, Bangs, Bigfoot, Cool, Cut and Shoot, Dish, Groom, Gun Barrel City, Happy, Humble, Impact, Lawn, Mart, Muleshoe, Noonday, Point Blank, Ponder, Rising Star, Rule, Runaway Bay, Sanctuary, Scissors, Scurry, Spur, Tool, Uncertain
Bountiful, Helper, Hurricane
Fries, Hurt, Wise
Concrete, Dollars Corner, Humptulips, Spangle, Startup
Cheap Lake, Hundred, Pinch, War
Butternut, Jump River, Strum
Bar Nunn, Reliance, Story, Ten Sleep
Nice List, But...
Maybe you know of an amazingly named town that was overlooked here. Maybe you know the real story behind how such-and-such town got its name and would like to enlighten us all. Or maybe the place names in your part of the world simply put these weak American names to shame.
Feel free to leave your comments below.
Funny Place Names Poll
What's your favorite American place name?See results without voting
Read More About the United States By E. A. Wright
- Tips and Advice for Tourists in New York City
Visiting New York City for the first time can be overwhelming and confusing. It's big, noisy and crowded. Here are a few practical tips for NYC tourists to make a visit to the city a bit less stressful.
- 10 Songs For A California Roadtrip
In California, life takes gasoline. Find proof in these 10 songs celebrating California's car culture.
- Big Sur: Driving the California Coast
In Big Sur, towering mountains drop away to meet the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. This is some of California's most dramatic scenery.
- Death Valley Flowers: Spring Wildflowers in a Desolate Land
Death Valley National Park is a striking place, a place with extremes in topography and temperature. And some years, if the conditions are just right, the park erupts with a wild show of wildflowers.
More by this Author
California beach songs are as bright and mellow as sunshine itself, and these 10 songs are great for a California beach party.
Thinking of leaving home for California? These 10 songs will get you packed up and moving to the Golden State. California's calling.
- EDITOR'S CHOICE19
A guide to fragrant, sweet-smelling flowers: From lilacs to freesias, these flowers are treat for the nose.