10 One-Letter Place Names

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s easy to overlook the fact that place names, just like words, have their own histories, etymologies, and meanings. Paris, for instance, is named after an ancient European tribe called the Parisii. Dublin comes from the Irish dubh linn, meaning "black pool." Tokyo literally means "eastern capital." And as for Chicago—well, it probably means something like "place of the wild onions," or "at the skunk place."

Because they’re used so frequently, place names also tend to simplify naturally over time, often becoming considerably shorter and easier to say than their original form. But some places names take succinctness to an extreme—the 10 places listed here all have names comprised of just a single letter.

1. Å // Norway

There are actually quite a few different places called Å across Scandinavia, of which Å (pronounced roughly the same was a the “oo” in door) in the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway is just one. All of them take their name from the same root: å means "creek" or "stream" in several languages and dialects of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, and is etymologically a distant cousin of aqua, the Latin word for water. 

2. D // Oregon

The river D flows west out of Devils Lake in Lincoln County, Oregon, and into the Pacific Ocean—just 120 feet away at high tide. Considered by many to be the shortest named river in the world (a title contested by the Roe River in central Montana), the D had no name at all until as recently as 1940, when its current name was chosen as part of a local competition: the Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce thought it appropriate to give "the shortest river in the world the shortest name" possible. 

3. E // Scotland

The E is a relatively short and shallow river in the far north of Scotland. It flows just 6 miles from the Monadhliath Mountains in the Scottish Highlands into nearby Loch Mhòr, which lies almost parallel to its considerably larger neighbor, Loch Ness. The origin of the name E is debatable, but it’s likely descended from either the Norse word for a river or stream, á, or for an island, ey

4. L // Nebraska

There are apparently two lakes in Nebraska called L, both named on account of their sharp right-angled shape. 

5. O // England

The O is a small tributary of the River Dart that flows across the Dartmoor region of Devon, in southeast England. The O’s original name was apparently "Ocbroke," literally meaning "oak brook," but an alterative history suggests that it was originally called the "Wo," in which case it probably takes its name from an Old English word woh, meaning "crooked" or "twisted." Whatever its origin may be, local legend has it that the valley the O flows through was once home to a menacing, unnamed dragon

6. and 7. Ö // Sweden and Ø // Denmark

Pronounced like the vowel sound in purse, Ö is the name of a tiny village in Ånge, a region of central Sweden; as of 2010, Ö’s population was just 58. Ø, meanwhile, is the name of a hill in eastern Jutland, the mainland peninsula of Denmark. Despite neither place being surrounded by water, both of their names literally mean "island" in Swedish and Danish. 

8. U // Micronesia

U is the name of the second-smallest of six districts of Pohnpei, a Pacific Ocean island in the Federated States of Micronesia, lying roughly 1000 miles southeast of Guam. Its name—pronounced like the "uh" sound in bug—probably comes from a local Pohnpeian word meaning "tide."

9. Y // France

Pronounced like a short "ee," Y is the name of a commune (the French equivalent of a township, or a local district) around 100 miles north of Paris in the Picardy region of northern France. Home to just 86 people at the last French national census, Y stands on the banks of the Somme river, and during the First World War was the site of some of the fiercest fighting on the Western Front—one of the largest mines in military history was detonated near Y in 1916, and the village’s Y Ravine Cemetery contains monuments to more than 400 soldiers. 

10. Y // Alaska

Y (pronounced exactly like the letter) was a census-designated place in southern Alaska named after the nearby Y-shaped intersection of the George Parks Highway and the Talkeetna Spur Road. With a population of over 1200 in 2010, Y was easily the most highly populated single-letter place in the world—but unfortunately it has since been renamed Susitna North.