15 Places With Strange Names (and How They Got Them)

Sarah Afshar, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY SA 3.0
Sarah Afshar, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY SA 3.0

What's in a (bizarre) name? Here are some strangely named places and the stories, legends, and theories about their origins.

1. Santa Claus, Indiana

In 1854, a group of pioneers settled in southwest Indiana and established a small town called Santa Fe. But when they applied to get a post office two years later, they were turned down. There was already another Santa Fe, Indiana, with a post office. The new Santa Fe would need a new, distinct name to get one of their own.

Fact and legend blur when it comes to how the town settled on calling itself Santa Claus. The standard version of the story goes like this: the townspeople held several meetings over the next few months to select a new name, but could not agree on one. The last town meeting of the year was held late on Christmas Eve after church services. During the debate, a gust of wind blew open the church doors and everyone heard the ringing of sleigh bells close by. Several children got excited and shouted “Santa Claus!” A light bulb went off in someone’s head and by Christmas morning, the town had a new name.

2. Intercourse, Pennsylvania

The town of Cross Keys, nestled in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, changed its name to Intercourse in 1814. How and why is anybody’s guess. There are a few explanations floating around about the origin of the name, but none with a lot of solid evidence to back them up.

One story ties it to a racetrack that used to exist just east of the town. The entrance to the track had a sign above it that read “Enter Course.” Locals began to refer to the town as “Entercourse,” which eventually evolved into “Intercourse.”

Another proposed origin has to do with an old usage of the word intercourse—everyday social and business connections and interactions.

3. Idiotville, Oregon

Idiotville is a ghost town and former logging community northwest of Portland. Most of its former residents worked at a nearby logging camp called Ryan's Camp. Because of the camp’s remote location, locals said that only an idiot would work and live there. They began referring to the surrounding area as Idiotville. The name was eventually borrowed for a nearby stream, Idiot Creek, and officially applied to the community on maps.

4. Toad Suck, Arkansas

A widely accepted story about Toad Suck’s name dates back to the days of steamboat travel on the Arkansas River. Toad Suck sits along the river and its tavern was a frequent stop for boatmen, who were said to “suck on the bottle until they swelled up like toads.”

Dr. John L. Ferguson, late director of the Arkansas History Commission, proposed an alternate explanation. He thought it was likely that, since the first Europeans to thoroughly explore the area were French, the name was an English corruption of a French word (like how aux Arcs became Ozarks).

This Arkansas travel website runs with Ferguson’s idea and muses at length about the different words and phrases that could have given rise to Toad Suck, including eau d' sucre, chateau d' sucré and coté eau d' sucre.

5. Eighty Eight, Kentucky

Eighty Eight is an unincorporated town in Barren County. According to the New York Times, Dabnie Nunally, the town’s first postmaster, came up with the name. Nunnally didn’t think very highly of his handwriting, and thought that using a number as the town’s name would make legibility on mail less of an issue. To come up with the numbers, he reached into his pocket and counted his change. He had 88 cents.

An alternate explanation sometimes floated around is that Eighty Eight is located eight miles from each of its neighboring towns—Glasgow to the west and Summer Shade to the east. (According to Google Maps, however, Summer Shade is actually about five miles away.)

6. Eighty Four, Pennsylvania

Eighty Four is a small unincorporated community southwest of Pittsburgh. It was originally named Smithville, but Pennsylvania already had a Smithville (also a New Smithville), so the USPS required a name change to avoid postal confusion. The true origin of the name is unknown, but it's been suggested that the number comes from the town’s place along the 84th mile of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line, or the year the post office was built.

7. Ding Dong, Texas

The fact that Ding Dong is in central Texas’ Bell County is a funny coincidence. The county was named for Governor Peter Bell, and the town for resident and businessman Zulis Bell and his nephew Bert (no relation to the governor).

The Bells ran a general store and hired a local painter named C.C. Hoover to make a sign for their business. Hoover supposedly illustrated the sign with two bells inscribed with the Bells’ names, and then wrote “Ding Dong” coming out the bottom of the bells. As a rural community grew around the area, the words stuck as a name for the place.

8. Cut and Shoot, Texas

In the early 1900s, trouble was brewing in a small, unnamed community a little north of Houston. Different versions of a local legend say that the townspeople were fighting over either the new steeple for the town's church; the matter of which denominations could use the building (and when); or the land claims of church members.

Whatever the reason, the townspeople had gathered near the church and were on the brink of violence. A boy at the scene supposedly declared to his family that he was going to take up a tactical position and “cut around the corner and shoot through the bushes.”

The matter was eventually taken before the court. When the judge asked one witness where the confrontation had taken place, he didn’t know what to call it, since the town didn’t have a name. He told the judge, “I suppose you could call it the place where they had the cutting and shooting scrape,” and the name stuck.

9. Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Quebec

The municipality of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! in Quebec has a name that makes perfect sense -in French. Sort of. The Ha! Ha! is officially traced back to an archaic French term, "The haha," which means an unexpected obstacle or dead end. This would refer to Lake Témiscouata, which came into view suddenly for early French explorers. The citizens of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! are proud to say that it is the only city name in the world that features two exclamation points.

See Also: The Origins of the 8 Strangest Place Names in Canada

10. Hot Coffee, Mississippi

In the early 1800s, travelers on their way to Mobile often stopped at an inn in southern Mississippi, where owner Levi Davis greeted them with ginger cookies and a pot of piping hot coffee. The inn took on the name of its signature beverage, and eventually so did the surrounding area. Today, it’s not really a town so much as a scattering of farms, homes and businesses along Hot Coffee Road.

11. Knockemstiff, Ohio

Knockemstiff is a small rural town in south central Ohio. Several legends give different explanations for the name. One says that in the 1800s, a traveling preacher entering town came across two women fighting over a man. The preacher doubted the man was worth the trouble and said that someone should “knock him stiff.”

Another similar story has it that a woman went to a preacher to complain that her husband was cheating on her. The preacher’s straightforward advice became a motto around town, and eventually its name. Yet another explanation is that the name is slang for the moonshine or homemade liquor that many of the locals manufactured.

12. Two Egg, Florida

This little burg got its name during the Great Depression. The story goes that in the town’s general store, two lads often came in on errands for their mom, regularly trading two eggs for a package of sugar. Locals began referring to the place as the “two egg store,” and the name stuck for the town as well. Strange fact: On the town’s website, there is news about sightings of a Bigfoot-type creature called the Two Egg Stump Jumper.

13. Rabbit Hash, Kentucky

According to popular legend, a flood in the 1840s drove hundreds of rabbits from the riverbank, and right into the stew pots of hungry settlers. Described by the general store clerk as “a little slice of American pie,” Rabbit Hash consists of “eight buildings and an official population of one.”

14. Cookietown, Oklahoma

This place supposedly got its name in the early 1900s, after general store owner Marvin Cornelius gave a cookie to a young boy, who exclaimed, “I don’t want to leave Cookietown.” Despite its yummy name, Cookietown is more of a ghost town today—just a few residents and a church.

15. Glen Campbell, Pennsylvania

This small (pop. 306 as of the 2000 census) borough in Western PA isn’t named after the Glen Campbell famous for "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Wichita Lineman." Instead, it’s named in honor of Cornelius Campbell, the first superintendent of the Glenwood Coal Company, which operated the mines in the area. The Glen in the name comes from the Scottish word for a valley.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

Singers George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley, of the band 'Wham!', performing on stage, July 1986
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

Andrew Ridgeley (right) and George Michael (1963-2016) of Wham! performing on stage together in Sydney, Australia during the pop duo's 1985 world tour, January 1985.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in the Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.

The Origins of 12 Christmas Traditions

Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images
Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images

From expecting Santa to fill our footwear with gifts to eating cake that looks like tree bark, the holidays are filled with traditions—some of which are downright odd when you stop and think about them. Where did they come from? Wonder no more. Here are the origins of 12 Christmas traditions.

1. Hanging Stockings

While there’s no official record of why we hang socks for Santa, one of the most plausible explanations is that it's a variation on the old tradition of leaving out shoes with hay inside them on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. Lucky children would discover that the hay they left for St. Nick’s donkey had been replaced with treats or coins when they woke up the next morning. Another story says that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters' dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry. But this appears to be a modern telling—traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father's feet after being thrown through a window.

Regardless of what started the tradition, people seem to have realized the need to use a decorative stocking in place of an actual sock pretty early on. In 1883, The New York Times wrote:

"In the days of the unobtrusive white stocking, no one could pretend that the stocking itself was a graceful or attractive object when hanging limp and empty from the foot of the bedstead. Now, however, since the adoption of decorated stockings ... even the empty stocking may be a thing of beauty, and its owner can display it with confidence both at the Christmas season and on purely secular occasions."

2. Caroling

Though it may seem like a centuries-old tradition, showing up at people’s houses to serenade them with seasonal tunes only dates back to the 19th century. Before that, neighbors did visit each other to impart wishes of good luck and good cheer, but not necessarily in song. Christmas carols themselves go back hundreds of years, minus the door-to-door part. The mashup of the two ideas didn’t come together until Victorian England, when caroling was part of every holiday—even May Day festivals. As Christmas became more commercialized, caroling for the occasion became more popular.

3. Using Evergreens as Christmas Trees

Rows of Christmas trees at tree farm on cold winter morning
arlutz73/iStock via Getty Images

Before Christianity was even conceived of, people used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter; the greenery reminded them that plants would return in abundance soon. As Christianity became more popular in Europe, and Germany in particular, the tradition was absorbed into it. Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them "Paradise Trees" around the time of Adam and Eve's name day—December 24. Gradually, the tradition was subsumed into Christmas celebrations.

The tradition spread as immigrants did, but the practice really took off when word got around that England’s Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree as a nod to her German husband’s heritage (German members of the British royal family had previously had Christmas trees, but they never caught on with the wider public). Her influence was felt worldwide, and by 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree. Today, 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

4. The Colors Red and Green

As with many other old Christmas traditions, there’s no hard-and-fast event that deemed red and green the Official Colors of Christmas™. But there are theories—the green may have derived from the evergreen tradition that dates back to before Christianity, and the red may be from holly berries. While they’re winter-hardy, just like evergreens, they also have a religious implication: The red berries have been associated with the blood of Christ.

5. Ugly Christmas Sweaters

To celebrate this joyous season, many people gleefully don hideous knitwear adorned with ribbons, sequins, bows, and lights. In the past, the trend was embraced solely by grandmas, teachers, and fashion-challenged parents, but in the last decade or so, the ugly sweater has gone mainstream. We may have Canada to blame for that: According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book, the ugly sweater party trend can be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.

6. Leaving Milk and Cookies for Santa

Closeup image of wish list and treats for Santa Claus on table next to burning fireplace
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

When we plunk a few Oreos or chocolate chip cookies on a plate for St. Nick, accompanied by a cold glass of milk, we’re actually participating in a tradition that some scholars date back to ancient Norse mythology. According to legend, Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for Sleipnir, hoping that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The practice became popular again in the U.S. during the Great Depression, when parents tried to impress upon kids the importance of being grateful for anything they were lucky enough to receive for Christmas.

7. The A Christmas Story Marathon on TBS

If one of the highlights of your holiday is tuning in for 24 hours of watching Ralphie Parker nearly shoot his eye out, you’re not alone—over the course of the day, more than 50 million viewers flip to TBS. The marathon first aired on TNT in 1997, then switched to sister station TBS in 2004. This Christmas marks the 20th year for the annual movie marathon.

8. Yule Logs

Chocolate yule log cake with red currant on wooden background
etorres69/iStock via Getty Images

Throwing a yule log on the fire is another tradition that is said to predate Christianity. As part of winter solstice celebrations, Gaels and Celts burned logs decorated with holly, ivy, and pinecones to cleanse themselves of the past year and welcome the next one. They also believed the ashes would help protect against lightning strikes and evil spirits. The practice was scaled down over time, and eventually, it morphed into a more delicious tradition—cake! Parisian bakers really popularized the practice of creating yule log-shaped desserts during the 19th century, with various bakeries competing to see who could come up with the most elaborately decorated yule log.

If you prefer a wood yule log to one covered in frosting, but find yourself sans fireplace, you can always tune in to Yule Log TV.

9. Advent Calendars

Technically, Advent, a religious event that has been celebrated since the 4th century, is a four-week period that starts on the Sunday closest to the November 30 feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Traditionally, it marked the period to prepare for Christmas as well as the Second Coming. These days, it’s mostly used as a countdown to Christmas for the religious and the non-religious alike.

The modern commercialized advent calendar, which marks the passage of December days with little doors containing candy or small gifts, are believed to have been introduced by Gerhard Lang in the early 1900s. He was inspired by a calendar that his mother made for him when he was a child that featured 24 colored pictures attached to a piece of cardboard. Today, advent calendars contain everything from candy to LEGOs.

10. Eggnog

Eggnog in two glass cups
GreenArtPhotography/iStock via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be inspired to chug a raw egg-based drink, but historians agree that 'nog was probably inspired by a medieval drink called posset, a milky drink made with eggs, milk, and sometimes figs or sherry. These were all pricey ingredients, so the wealthy often used it for toasting.

Eggnog became a holiday drink when colonists brought it over from England, but they found a way to make it on the cheap, nixing the figs and substituting rum for sherry. And how about that weird "nog" name? No one knows for sure, but historians theorize that nog was short for noggin, which was slang for a wooden cup, or a play on the Norfolk variety of beer also called nog (which itself may be named after the cup).

11. Mistletoe

Mistletoe has been associated with fertility and vitality since ancient times, when Celtic Druids saw it as such because it blossomed even during the most frigid winters; the association stuck over the centuries.

It’s easy to see how fertility and kissing can be linked, but no one is quite sure how smooching under the shrub (actually, it’s a parasitic plant) became a common Christmas pastime. We do know the tradition was popular with English servants in the 18th century, then quickly spread to those they served. The archaic custom once allowed men to steal a kiss from any woman standing beneath; if she refused, they were doomed with bad luck.

12. Christmas Cards

Exchanging holiday greetings via mail is a surprisingly recent tradition, with the first formal card hitting shelves in 1843. Designed by an Englishman named J.C. Horsley, the cardboard greeting showed a happy group of people participating in a toast, along with the printed sentiment, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” A thousand of them were printed that first year, and because it cost just a penny to mail a holiday hello to friends and family (the card itself was a shilling, or 12 times as much), the cards sold like hotcakes and a new custom was born. Today, Americans send around 2 billion cards every year.

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