11 Totally Redundant Place Names
By Arika Okrent
East of Lancashire, England lies Pendle Hill, known for its historical association with witch trials, scientific discoveries about air pressure, and religious visions that led to the founding of the Quaker movement. It is also known for having a tautological name. A tautological name has two parts that are redundant, or synonymous. Tautological place names usually come about when more than one language goes into the name. The Pendle in Pendle Hill is derived from Pen-hyll, a combination of the Cumbric word for "hill" and the Old English word for "hill." So Pendle Hill is really "Hill Hill Hill." Here are 11 other redundant place names:
1. Lake Tahoe ("Lake Lake")
This scenic body of water on the Nevada/California border gets its name from a loose pronunciation of dá’aw, a word from the Native American language Washo that means "lake."
2. La Brea Tar Pits ("The Tar Tar Pits")
The animal bones displayed at this California attraction were preserved in la brea, Spanish for the tar.
3. Milky Way Galaxy ("Milky Way Milky")
The general astronomical term galaxy comes from the word the ancient Greeks used to describe the band of light they could see in the night sky, galaxias or "milky."
4. Minnehaha Falls ("Waterfall Falls")
The name for this Minnesota waterfall does not, as the legend has it, mean "laughing water." It comes from the Dakota word for waterfall.
5. Sahara Desert ("Deserts Desert")
The name for this giant expanse of North Africa comes from çaḥrā, the Arabic word for deserts.
6. El Camino Way ("The Way Way")
There's a street in Palo Alto, California called El Camino Way, or "The Way Way." If you drive down it in your Chevy El Camino you will be driving your way down The Way Way in The Way.
7. Avenue Road
The city of Toronto can't claim the foreign language excuse for this tautological street name.
8. Street Road
Nor can this name in Pennsylvania be blamed on foreign language issues.
9. Mississippi River ("Big River River")
Our favorite spelling word is derived from an Ojibwe or Algonquin word for "big river."
10. Faroe Islands ("Sheep Islands Islands")
Faroe comes from the Faroese word Føroyar, literally meaning "sheep islands."
11. East Timor ("East East")
Whether you say East Timor or Timor Leste, it still means "East East." Timor comes from the Indonesian/Malay timur, for "east." One could argue that the name isn't really tautological, however, since Timor is the name for the easternmost island in a chain of islands, and East Timor is the eastern half of that island. So it's a repeated word, but referring to more than one thing.
A version of this list first ran in 2013.