5 Towns That Had to Change Their Names

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Many places have undergone name changes at some point in their past, often because the land came under new rule or because the settlement outgrew its old designation. But some towns and cities had more unique reasons to transform their titles. Scandal, shame, or a desire to honor their history can spur a community to present a fresh identity to the world. Here are five places whose name changes aren’t your average rebranding.

1. Berlin, Ontario, Canada, became Kitchener

A picture of a vintage letter
A memorandum issued by the Kitchener postmaster shortly after the city changed its name from Berlin in 1916.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A lot of German immigrants settled in Southern Ontario in the 19th century, and the city of Berlin was named as an homage to their motherland. This was fine—until the 20th century, when said motherland started bombing Canada’s allies during World War I. That, combined with the large population of pacifist Mennonites in Berlin, spelled trouble for the city. All the pacifists meant a large number of local men weren’t signing up for the war effort, which caused people from other towns to look at the heavily German-populated Berlin with suspicion.

Soon, there was a referendum (not supported by the majority) to change the city’s name. Citizens were given a variety of new names to vote on, but there was no space on the ballot to keep Berlin “Berlin.” Anyone who supported the status quo was, according to the National Archives of Canada, “immediately perceived, by those who wanted change, as being unpatriotic and sympathizers with the enemy.”

Violence, riots, and intimidation followed. Only 892 people out of a pool of about 5000 eligible voters voted on the referendum. A meager 346 votes were enough to change Berlin to Kitchener, named after Britain’s Minister of War.

2. Pile-Of-Bones, Saskatchewan, Canada, became Regina


Queen Victoria and the Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Duchess of Argyll by Hills & Saunders.

Today, Regina is a city more than 220,000 people strong. But in the 1880s, it was a barren grassland frequented mainly by buffalo and the Cree Indians who hunted them. Its original name, oskana kâ-asastêki, means “where the bones are piled.” The macabre moniker references the enormous piles of bones the Cree would construct in the hopes that living buffalo would return to visit their dead ancestors. Later settlers shortened the name to “Pile O’ Bones.” In 1882, the wife of Canada’s governor general, Princess Louise, suggested they change the name to honor her own mother, Queen Victoria. Regina is Latin for “Queen,” and all female monarchs sign their name using it. Thus the Saskatchewan settlement was elevated out of the boneyard to royal heights.

3. Wineville, California, became Mira Loma

Black and white image of an old ranch
This ranch was the site of the ghastly Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, which prompted the town to change its name.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie made a movie called Changeling, about a mother who is sure the kidnapped son returned to her is not actually her boy. The film was based on true events, and those events are why the town of Wineville, California, became Mira Loma (it’s since been incorporated into Jurupa Valley). The real-life kidnapped boy, Walter Collins, was likely murdered in Wineville along with at least three other boys by Gordon Stewart Northcott. The case became known as The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, as the partial remains of Northcott’s victims were recovered around the criminal’s chicken coop. Northcott was hanged in 1930, and the town sought to escape its appalling notoriety by changing its name in 1931.

4. Staines, Surrey, England, became Staines-Upon-Thames

Ali G at the MTV Europe Music Awards press conference
Ali G caused an English town to change its name.
Anthony Harvey, Staff/Getty Images

Americans have come to loathe or love Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat or Bruno. In his native Britain, he was first known as the character Ali G, an obnoxious wanna-be white boy rapper. Part of Ali G’s background is that he grew up in the mean ghettos of Staines—which is actually a lovely middle-class town in Surrey. His fame was such in the UK that the people of Staines didn’t appreciate being associated with his image. The borough council opted to change the town’s name to the more elegant Staines-upon-Thames, partly to distance themselves from Ali G’s obnoxious antics, and partly to advertise their proximity to the River Thames to encourage tourism. Though Ali G may have put the town on the map, as Alex Tribick of the Spelthorne Business Forum said, he also “put the stain in Staines.”

5. Gay Head, Massachusetts, became Aquinnah

Colorful cliffs at dusk with a rising moon in the background
Aquinnah was once named after its colorful cliffs.
Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

On the western edge of the island of Martha’s Vineyard, there is an outcropping of craggy, brightly tinted rock. The white settlers who arrived there in the 1600s described them as the “gaily colored cliffs.” The association stuck to the settlement that grew nearby, and thus, the town of Gay Head was born. In 1997, the people of Gay Head voted to change their town’s name to Aquinnah, to honor some of the residents’ ties to the Wamponoag tribe, who were the original holders of the land. As Carl Widdis, the tribesman who started the petition in 1991, said, “I guess it's simple. An Indian place should have an Indian name."

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. 

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.