What’s in a Name? Some Peculiar Western Monikers

The original name of Hot Springs may have been more accurate, but you've got to admit the current name of this New Mexico city is more eye catching

The original name of Hot Springs may have been more accurate, but you’ve got to admit the current name of this New Mexico city is more eye catching

In his seminal travel book Blue Highways, author William Least Heat-Moon explored U.S. back roads, sometimes taking long detours just to visit a place with a compelling moniker. This led him to towns such as Nameless, Tennessee.

In the course of my road-food journeys through western North America, I’ve seen my share of creatively named towns, either in passing or when poring over highway maps. Hence this list of attention-grabbing names. Admittedly, a number of these places are unincorporated communities, a few no longer populated, but where’s the fun in pointing that out?

There’s no Nameless in the U.S. west, but there is a No Name in Colorado and a Nothing in Arizona, the latter concisely answering the question: “What’s there to do in your town?”

Also under the “let’s not attract tourists” category, it’s an epic battle between Arizona—boasting Why, Gripe and Goobertown—and Oregon countering with Boring, Idiotville, and Nimrod (apparently, the main town sign in the latter has been bolted down to keep it from being stolen). California vaults into third place with Bummerville, Hellhole Palms and Clapper Gap, while Idaho narrowly misses the podium with Slickpoo.

You might have better luck luring visitors with sexual innuendo. So argues Climax (Colorado) or, more perversely, Camel Hump (Wyoming). I dare not guess what Washington’s Humptulips stands for.

In California, the restless spirit of Deadman Crossing is countered by the fatalism of Dunmovin. Speaking of spirits, Idaho has Beer Bottle Crossing, while California features two places that likely don’t do much business: Condemned Bar and Mormon Bar. Chugwater (Wyoming) is apparently what happens when you run out of beer.

Stoner was obviously ready for Colorado’s new liberal marijuana laws. Weed (California) and Weed Heights (Nevada) are hoping their states follow suit.

Want the last name in any directory? California has that covered with Zzyzx, narrowly edging out Oregon’s Zig Zag; don’t vowels count for something?

How would you feel about visiting two Montana towns, Prison Farm or Square Butte? What about Blubber Bay or Spuzzum, both in British Columbia, or Alberta’s Hairy Hill? Don’t forget your Hygiene in Colorado or you won’t get to visit Santa Claus, in Arizona of all places.

Sometimes a seemingly strange name means something. Helper, Utah was named for the extra train engines needed to haul long lines of freight cars up steep grades nearby.

 A true story: New Mexico’s Hot Springs changed its name in the 1950s to that of a TV show, Truth or Consequences, looking for a town willing to do just that. In 1999, Internet startup Half.com gave the town of Halfway, Oregon $100,000 and some computers to change its name to that of the company for a year. But truth in advertising obviously failed Alberta’s Seven Persons, which actually has 230 residents.

Why not have some fun with your community name? In Saskatchewan, there’s long been a town entrance sign that reads, “New York may be big, but this is Biggar.”

Finally, this is a road-food blog, so it’s fitting to end things with a New Mexican place named for a 1920s’ bakery that made dried-apple pies. It’s called Pie Town. If you happen to be passing through, stop for a slab of real pie at Pie-O-Neer. Its motto: “If you bake it, they will come.” Amen.

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