Residents of a North Carolina town met to decide the name of the place. Someone would say, “Why not name the town such and so?” And someone else would say, “Why not name it this or that?” Finally someone said, “Why not name it Why Not?” and Whynot, North Carolina was born. Come along as we name towns!
TROUBLE WITH TOWNS
- Because there was no control over the names of towns, confusion reigned. There were 75 towns called Summit, with 20 states having more than one Summit. Four of those states had four cities named Summit. Indiana had two towns named Scipio just 50 miles apart.
- Sometimes towns would have one name designated by the locals, another name designated by the post office, and a third name designated by the railroad.
- So much mail was being sent to Mount Tabor, South Carolina, instead of Mount Tabor, North Carolina, that residents in South Carolina dropped the “Mount” from their name and spelled “Tabor” backwards to become the town of Robat.
- On September 4, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison established the U.S. Board of Geographic Names and appointed ten men to bring order out of the chaos.
- Twin Forks, Washington was in dire financial straits when someone suggested they rename the town after a really rich American. The reasoning went that this rich individual, after being informed of the honor, would cough up a bunch of money and save the town. George Pullman, inventor of the Pullman railroad car, was chosen. They sent him a letter telling him of the name change and their financial plight, and eagerly awaited the response. The result was a polite letter and a check for $50. Pullman had already had a town named after him: Pullman, Illinois.
- Edwinton, North Dakota was also suffering from a money crunch when they decided they could appeal to the entire country of Germany by giving their town a German name. They renamed the town Bismarck after Prince Otto von Bismarck, who was chancellor of Germany. Town officials were hoping that the name change would draw the attention of wealthy German investors. The Germans were flattered but did not invest. Regardless, Bismarck is now the capital of North Dakota.
- In California some executives needed the support of an influential banker named Ralston, so they declared that they were going to name a new town after him. Mr. Ralston said he was not worthy of the honor and declined. The executives, amazed at his modesty, named the town Modesto instead.
- Pioneer Ezra Meeker thought his hometown of Franklin, Washington, was a boring name. He decided to change the name to the Indian word Puyallup just because he liked it. It’s an Indian word meaning “generous people.” No one objected, so the name was changed.
- Folks in a town named Mole Hill in West Virginia decided to rename the place Mountain, thus becoming the first people to actually make a Mountain out of a Mole Hill.
- Settlers in Pennsylvania had a hard time making a living and named their community Skunk’s Misery as a result. Then the Slocum brothers set up a forge and a distillery and convinced residents that it would be hard for them to make a name for themselves if they came from a town named Skunk’s Misery. The town was renamed Unionville. When the forge and distillery became successful, the people renamed the town Slocum’s Hollow in honor of the men who were providing them with jobs. But then the businesses failed and the Slocums left town, and the town was renamed for President Harrison. Next the Scranton brothers arrived and set up a new forge which flourished. The town name was changed to Scrantonia, then shortened to Scranton. It remains Scranton, PA today.
A LITTLE LIBRARY BRIBERY
- In 1917 Thomas Bicknell announced that he would donate a library to any town in Utah that would rename itself Bicknell in his honor. The town of Thurber and the town of Grayson both jumped at the chance. What to do? Bicknell named one town after himself and the other town after his wife, whose maiden name was Blanding. The books were evenly split between the two towns.
- When Dr. Elijah Dix made the same proposal to a Maine community in 1803, the town was named Dixfield. The townfolk were outraged when they found that Dr. Dix’s “library” consisted of a single crate of outdated medical texts. It remained Dixfield anyway.
- On the Fourth of July, 1876, soldiers camped in Arizona decided the 100th birthday of the nation deserved special observance. Someone shimmied up a tall pine tree, lopped off the branches, and attached an American flag to the very top. The flag stood there for many years and Flagstaff, Arizona was named.
- In 1751 George II of England erased a debt he owed to George Deakins by telling him he could have 600 acres of land in Maryland. Deakins wanted to get the best 600 acres, so he hired two sets of surveyors to tell him what they thought. Neither team knew about the other. Deakins was amazed when both groups recommended the identical plot of land. Deakins considered this an accident of fate and dubbed the land “The Accidental Tract.” Today the town that grew up there is known as Accident, Maryland. They have trouble preventing their interstate signs from being stolen. The signs say, “Accident Ahead.”
- Settlers in Massachusetts were trying to think up a name for their town when someone pointed out that if you started digging in Massachusetts and dug through the planet, you’d come out in Canton, China. They suggested it would be symmetrical and proper to have a town named Canton at each end of the hole. Canton, Massachusetts it became.
- When residents of a town in Virginia argued hotly and endlessly over a name, the only thing to do was to name it Disputana.
- Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania was so named because of all the wild hops growing in the nearby bottomland.
- A town in Tennessee wanted to name itself after the Biblical town of Jericho, but a clerk with bad handwriting filled out the form and the town was named Jellico instead.
- Montana once had a town called Pair o’ Dice. When more respectable people moved in, the name was changed and it is now Paradise.
- In 1887 settlers in Washington named their town Slaughter after Lt. W. A. Slaughter who had played a prominent role in the Indian wars of the area. Local jokes were rife, and when a new hotel was dubbed “The Slaughter House,” the hilarity of visitors could not be contained. The town was renamed Auburn.