From Blue Ball to Intercourse: Why Pennsylvania's Amish Country Has Such Lewd-Sounding City Names

There's a very good reason why Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is full of seemingly R-rated place names: History.

Welcome to Intercourse!
Welcome to Intercourse! / Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress // Public Domain

While there is no rule stating the Amish can’t enjoy a good dirty joke on occasion, smutty gags aren’t typically what anyone tends to associate with Anabaptists. Why, then, does it seem like practically every town in Pennsylvania’s Amish country has the kind of name designed to make teenagers snicker?

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is home to such places as Intercourse, Fertility, Blue Ball, Lititz, Paradise, Bareville, and Mount Joy. (Paradise might not sound dirty initially, but it would if someone was giving your mom a ride there. Similarly, if your name is Joy, the novelty of Mount Joy would wear off real quick.)

So where does all this seeming lewdness come from?

Intercourse frequently has its signposts stolen by delighted yucksters, and was the filming location for the 1985 Harrison Ford movie Witness. It owes its chucklesome name to one of a few fairly mundane and unsexy theories. One states that a racetrack entrance was nearby and that a sign stating “Entercourse” slowly morphed over the years. Another idea posits that the name refers to the town being at the intersection of the Old Kings Highway, which took people between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and the road that people traveled to get from Wilmington, Delaware, to Erie, Pennsylvania (which is how Intercourse got its original name, Cross Keys).

Being that the town was both an intersection and a cross, and that not everyone’s mind is constantly in the gutter, no one made the possibly salacious connection when renaming the town Intercourse. A third possible explanation is that the name refers to the friendly interactions that were at the heart of the community that originally settled there: social intercourse.

Blue Ball was originally named Earl Town. An inn built there in the early 1700s had a blue ball out front as part of its sign, hung there by landlord John Wallace, and the inn became known as the Blue Ball Inn, and eventually the whole town was renamed after it. 

Lititz is named after an old Bohemian castle; Mount Joy is named after a ship, the Mountjoy; Paradise owes its name to its beauty; Fertility seems to just be a “Hey, let’s be successful farmers!” kind of name; and Bareville is named for Andrew Bare, one of the area’s early settlers.

As for location: You could make a quick trip of visiting several of these towns at once. A 15-minute drive south will take you from Blue Ball to Intercourse, with Paradise less than 4 miles away from Intercourse.