Perhaps because of the diversity of American settlers, or perhaps because of frontier humor, towns with strange names abound in the United States. Some of the most entertaining names have equally intriguing origins (unlike the often-mentioned Intercourse, Pennsylvania, which was simply named after an old usage of the word, meaning “conversation”).
10. Hell, Michigan
Perhaps of no surprise to many, Hell, Michigan, may owe its name to the founder of a whiskey distillery. To be more specific, the town was founded by a man named George Reeves, who purchased a sawmill on a creek now called Hell Creek, subsequently building a gristmill and distillery, as well as a combined store and tavern. On top of that, he built a sulky racetrack (a lightweight cart pulled by dogs or horses). He was also rumored to have once sunk barrels of whiskey to the bottom of the millpond while under inspection from federal tax collectors. Drinking, gambling and tax evasion!
Competing theories exist as to the original source of the name. One is that German travelers were overheard exclaiming, “So schön hell!” (“So beautifully bright!”) while stepping out of a stagecoach on a sunny afternoon. The other is that, when Michigan became a state, Reeves was asked what he thought of the town he’d helped settle, and he declared, “I don’t care. You can name it Hell for all I care.” Another theory is that the early explorers gave it the name because of being plagued by mosquitoes and bogged down in wetlands. Whatever reason is true, whenever it’s below freezing in the small town, there are bound to be plenty of jokes about “Hell freezing over.”
9. Surprise, Arizona
When Flora Mae Statler founded Surprise, Arizona, in 1938, she gave it the name because she said she “would be surprised if the town every amounted to much. At that time, the town consisted of just a few houses and a gas station. A one-mile-square parcel was divided to make inexpensive housing for agricultural workers. Thanks to further development and the arrival of thousands of retirees in the 1990s and 2000s to the resort-like community of Sun City Grand, the city, which is close to Phoenix, is one of the most rapidly growing in the state. Surprise is the spring training home for both the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. If she saw the city today, Statler would definitely be surprised.
8. Tightwad, Missouri
With a name like Tightwad, Missouri, there was bound to be a colorful origin story. Sure enough, the name is said to stem from an argument between a shopkeeper and a customer — who was also a postman — when the customer accused the shopkeeper of cheating him by charging an extra 50 cents for either a watermelon, or as some accounts say, a rooster. It’s interesting that the town would take its name from an argument over money involving a postman, since many towns only get official names when the necessity arises to deliver mail properly. Regardless of the truth of that story, the village (population 64) attracts plenty of visitors, who love to photograph the Tightwad Bank, which no doubt keeps careful track of customers’ money.
7. Burnt Corn, Alabama
A number of towns are named for food items. Just about any sort of fruit, vegetable and farm animal has probably had a town named after it somewhere in the U.S. What elevates this town to a place on this list is the addition of the unexpected adjective “burnt.” The town of Burnt Corn, Alabama, earned its name from one of several possible scenarios. One, from white settlers burning the corn planted by the Creek Indians to clear land for their homesteads. Two, from the Creek Indians burning the corn cribs of white settlers to drive them from the land. Three, from an ailing Creek Indian, who was left behind by his companions with enough corn to supply him and then, when he recovered enough to move on, burned the remaining corn in a bonfire, which other travelers then found. A fourth story involves, again, the Creek Indians burning the corn of a specific settler, James Cornells, who owned a trading house and later settled on the spring where the corn had burnt. Seems like, somehow or another, burnt corn had something to do with it.
6. Rabbit Hash, Kentucky
According to local legend, the miniscule town of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, was named after a dish the town was known for in the early 19th century. Steamboats navigating the Ohio River would stop there for a dish of the delicacy. The story goes that, in 1831, a pirate ship docked and entered the town, burning all the buildings and killing everyone. The next steamboat to stop saw only the sign “Rabbit Hash,” which was mistaken for the name of the town. In actuality, the town name was likely not adopted until required by the post office, in order to differentiate the hamlet’s initial name of Carlton from a town named Carrollton several miles down river. These days, regardless of the name’s true origin, the village (which boasts only a couple dozen residents) is better known for having elected two dog mayors, which was the subject of a documentary, “Rabbit Hash, Kentucky: Center of the Universe.”