towns with unusual names A welcome sign for Accident, Maryland. Photo by Garrett County Chamber of Commerce.
Greetings from Hell, Michigan. Photo by Victor Block towns with unusual names
Greetings from Hell, Michigan. Photo by Livingston County CVB

Vacationers seeking a double thrill can go whitewater rafting on the Colorado River and then zip line over a canyon. Farther east, in North Carolina, travelers are after a different goal – fine dining. And up in a tiny community in Minnesota, visitors are immersed in Finnish culture.

Quirky Town Names

If these travel experiences interest you, where they’re located adds to their appeal. They’re among countless towns and communities throughout the United States that have names which are delightful and droll, sometimes comical and always curious.

Stories of how communities ended up with their unusual names can be as intriguing and entertaining as the unique monikers themselves.

No Name, Colorado

Take the case of the Colorado destination. When Interstate 70 was being laid out there, a future exit was located near an unnamed village.

The highway planners temporarily identified the off-ramp as “No Name” and lo and behold the term stuck.

Despite this affront, No Name, Colorado is not a no show when it comes to attractions.

Nearby parks offer hiking, biking, rock climbing and other outdoor pursuits as well as lovely waterfalls and breathtaking views.

Barbeque, North Carolina

The tale of the North Carolina community began when an early settler thought that mist rising from a creek resembled meat-cooking pits he had seen on Caribbean islands.

He referred to the stream as Barbeque and that name was adopted for the community which grew nearby.

Visitors to Barbeque, North Carolina may enjoy North Carolina-style barbeque in its chopped, sliced or pulled manifestations.

Embarrass, Minnesota

A small community in Minnesota holds the title of coldest place in the continental United States.

Fur trappers from France who were among the first Europeans to arrive in the area had trouble navigating a shallow, twisting river and called it Embarras, meaning “to hinder with obstacles.”

Later immigrants from Finland arrived in Embarrass (an S had been added to the name) to work at mines and logging camps.

They built houses, barns and saunas using traditional methods and materials which provide tourists to Embarrass, Minnesota with an introduction to a slice of Finnish culture.

An Amish buggy ride in Intercourse. Photo by Brian Evans
An Amish buggy drives along the roads in Intercourse, PA. Photo by Brian Evans

Intercourse, Pennsylvania

A different way of life greets visitors to a community in Pennsylvania whose name has a double meaning.

One explanation for its source is that it originally was located at the intersection of two major roads.

Another is that when the community was a British colony, social interaction among people – called “intercourse” in the English spoken at that time — was an important part of the culture.

The lifestyle of the Amish who live in Intercourse today has changed little over time.

Manicured farms have no electric wires, and horses pull plows that till the fields and buggies which take the place of cars.

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Other communities with out-of-the-ordinary names have their own stories. A small town in New Mexico originally was called Hot Springs because of mineral-rich thermal waters which spas and bath houses claimed could cure “anything that ails you.”

In 1949, the producers of the “Truth or Consequences” radio program sought a town willing to take on the name of the show as a publicity stunt.

The people of Hot Springs agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.

towns with unusual names A welcome sign for Accident, Maryland. Photo by Garrett County Chamber of Commerce.
A welcome sign for Accident, Maryland. Photo by Garrett County Chamber of Commerce.

Accident, Maryland

Although no one is sure how the town of Accident, Maryland got that name, one popular story is that it came about, well, by accident.

According to that recounting, the British Lord Baltimore opened western Maryland for settlement in 1774 and two men set out to survey the area.

When one of them showed up to begin work, the other claimed that he already had begun to chart that tract. Realizing they had chosen the same parcel of land “by accident,” they decided to call it that.

Boring, Oregon

The name of Boring, Oregon isn’t meant to describe what the community has to offer.

Visitors find an antiques mall, pick-your-own-produce farms, and tours and tastings at a popular microbrewery, among other attractions.

They learn that a Union soldier and pioneer named William Boring settled in the area in 1856. Later town fathers, displaying a bit of humor, adopted the motto “The most exciting place to live.”

Santa Claus, Georgia

An unapologetic effort to cash in also can be the source of offbeat place names.  Years ago, an enterprising man in Georgia who sold pecans to people driving from the northeast to Florida had an idea for attracting more business.

He incorporated his farm, named it Santa Claus and became its mayor.  Later a businessman developed the land as a community for middle-income families and gave it street names like Candy Cane Road and Rudolph Way.

Hell, Michigan

A very different story awaits visitors to a town in Michigan that was settled in 1838 by a man who operated a grist mill.

When short of cash to purchase grain, he paid with home distilled whiskey and some farmers went on a several-day bender. Asked where their husbands were, wives often replied, “He’s gone to Hell again.”

According to local folklore, when townspeople were seeking an official name for the community the mill owner remarked, “Call it Hell. Everyone else does.”  

Hence a new industry was born, based on tourism. Today people are invited to “Bring your family for a little bit of Hell on Earth,” to mail postcards from the Hell Post Office, and to drop by the Hell ice cream store, saloon and other establishments that tout the name.

If none of these humorously named hangouts prompts you to consider a visit, there’s an alphabet-long list of other possible alternatives, from Allgood, Alabama to Zig Zag, Oregon.

Not to mention Looneyville, Texas and Little Heaven, Delaware; Money, Mississippi along with Marmaduke, Arkansas, and Ding Dong, Texas as well as Disappointment, Kentucky.

The choices cover the country, tempt the imagination and offer a different way to explore and experience the United States.

Author Bio: After gallivanting throughout the United States and to more than 75 other countries around the world, and writing about what he sees, does and learns, Victor Block retains the travel bug. He firmly believes that travel is the best possible education, and claims he still has a lot to learn. He loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won a number of writing awards.

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