A Brief History
On December 29, 1890, the United States Army 7th Cavalry Regiment conducted a massacre of about 200 Native Americans at a place called Wounded Knee in South Dakota, (see our article “Wounded Knee Massacre”). We contend that the name, Wounded Knee, is a bit on the odd side. After all, should other places be named “Headache,” “Sore Butt,” or “Infected Toe Mountain?” Geographical places or formations, whether of a national or local variety have often been named for one reason or another in a way that seems a little odd to us that speak English. (Or is it “we” that speak English?) We even ran another article, “10 Places With Names That Sound Funny (in English)” should you care to check that out. Today we once again explore goofy sounding place names, and you are invited to share any other places you believe belong on this list. (And there are so many we will certainly make sequel lists!)
Questions for Students (and others): Which of these places have you heard of? Have you visited any of these oddly named places? Do you live near a place with a name you find to be odd?
1. Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
Wounded Knee got its name from Wounded Knee Creek that flows through the area. The creek got its name from, you guessed it, an Indian (Native American) that got himself injured in a fight at the creek, presumably his knee was wounded. Good thing a more embarrassing part of his body was not wounded…
2. Little Bighorn River, Montana/Wyoming.
We could not pass up the name of the River that gave Custer’s Last Stand its other name, The Battle of The Little Bighorn after citing Wounded Knee, the place where the 7th Cavalry turned things around and massacred Native Americans. Although it sounds like an oxymoron (think, Jumbo Shrimp, or Hot Water Heater), the name actually makes perfect sense in that this stream is a tributary of the Bighorn River, and since it is smaller than the Bighorn, it became known as “The Little Bighorn.”
3. Screamer, Alabama.
As you may guess, the name of Screamer, Alabama refers back to some sort of screaming or yelling, or at least that is the theory. One story says the name comes from the wildlife that once roamed the region, bears, cougars (aka “panthers,” “mountain lions,” etc.) and other presumably noisy critters that would voice their disapproval of people at night. Another tale concerning the name of the place refers to Native Americans that were confined to an Indian Reservation adjacent to railroad tracks, with the Native Americans yelling at the trains carrying White people as the trains passed. The Indians would have had to scream pretty loud to be heard over the din of a steam locomotive drawn train!
4. Hazardville, Connecticut.
Did this place get its name from the gunpowder making industry that used to be located there? No, even though that would seem to make good sense. It is actually named after Colonel Augustus George Hazard, the guy that owned the gunpowder factory, called the Hazard Powder Company. How apropos! The place is not even a town, but an area of a town called Enfield and is considered an Historic Site. Population is about 4600.
5. Why, Arizona.
As tempted as we are to simply type, “Why Not?” and leave it at that, we will give you the real reason behind the name. That reason is because of the “Y” in the road located there, but apparently the locals (174 of them) thought a single letter was insufficient for a place name. Click on Why for more information.
6. No Name, Colorado.
Seriously, is this the laziest way of naming a place or what? In fact, by definition, the place and for that matter no place can be named “No Name” because that is indeed a name! The way the name came about is pretty interesting, as it has its origins of I-70 (Interstate Route 70) being built in Colorado when an exit was constructed at a place that had no name, thus a temporary sign was posted at the exit proclaiming, “No Name.” The locals, a mere 200 or so souls, got a laugh out of the sign and took the name for their little piece of Colorado.
7. Two Egg, Florida.
Since the restaurant chain, Denny’s, already has dibs on “Grand Slam,” I guess this little Florida burg had to settle for a lesser name. Legend has it that during the Depression (1930’s) local people would pay for items at the local general store with eggs used as currency because of a lack of money. This sort of barter system led to the store being referred to as “the two egg store” and the name caught the attention of people passing through the place. Locals apparently got a charge out of outsiders calling their town (actually an unincorporated area of Jackson County) Two Egg and kept the name for themselves. Or maybe the name came from an incident in which 2 eggs were dropped. Who really knows?
8. Santa Claus, Indiana.
Sometime soon we expect the Politically Correct Police to find some sort of insult or problem associated with the name of this place, so enjoy it while you can. Meanwhile, the town was originally called Santa Fe, but supposedly the Post Office informed the people that they would have to rename the town to avoid confusion with another Santa Fe. (If they had ZIP Codes back in the day this would not have been an issue.) The name “Santa Claus” popped into the heads of the locals as the next logical name associated with “Santa,” so they agreed to use the Christmas oriented name instead. Not surprisingly, a bajillion letters get sent to the town each year by young petitioners asking for Christmas presents, as it is the only place in the world named after the jolly old elf with the reindeer and bag of toys. With a population of nearly 2500, Santa Claus is the most populous city in Spencer County.
9. Bugtussle, Kentucky.
If you are old enough to recall the 1960’s television show, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971), you will know they hailed from a fictitious town called Bug Tussle, but the show never told us what state their hometown was in. People guessed just about every Southeastern State and even Arkansas that had some sort of mountains, but we will never really know. On the other hand, we have a real Bugtussle, Kentucky, right on the Tennessee border. Not surprisingly, the name comes from the “doodlebugs” that live there, bugs so big that they could “tussle” you for the best spot to sleep. (Doodlebugs in this usage refer to the larval form of the “Antlion” insect.)
10. Hot Coffee, Mississippi.
Out of all the goofy names of places in the United States (and rest of the world), we could not pass up this one, as hot coffee is pretty much the author’s drink of choice. Yes, the name refers to the hot coffee travelers could find at this cross-roads town, located where the Natchez to Fort Stephens Wagon Road crosses Jackson’s Military Road. A local shopkeeper claimed to serve the best hot coffee around, and apparently he did because his store became famous for the delicious brew sweetened with molasses. National Geographic Magazine said of Hot Coffee, “A tiny community of farms, homes, and businesses scattered along two-lane Highway 532. The 12-mile stretch known locally as Hot Coffee Road runs from the town of Mount Olive to a crossroads that dates back to pioneer days.”
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For more information, please see…
Gallant, Frank. A Place Called Peculiar: Stories About Unusual American Place-Names. Dover Publications, 2012.
Gladstone, Gary. Passing Gas: And Other Towns Along the American Highway. Ten Speed Press, 2003.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of the burial of the dead after the massacre of Wounded Knee showing U.S. Soldiers putting Indians in common grave; some corpses are frozen in different positions in South Dakota, published January 17, 1891 by Northwestern Photo Co. (Trager & Kuhn) in Chadron, Nebraska, is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a44690. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.