Across the United States there are towns that are remarkable for their storied namesakes. From accidents to legends, each of these diverse towns has one thing in common: their strange names. Places like Hot Coffee, Mississippi and Chicken, Alaska are known for their obscure postal names but are full of character and community because of it.
1. Normal, Illinois
Photo: Wikimediacommons.org via Willjay
The somewhat abnormal name of this town of 53,000 was taken from Illinois State Normal University, a normal school (or teacher training institution), which was located there. The school, now known as Illinois State University, is the oldest public building teaching higher education in the state.
2. Dummer, New Hampshire
This northern New Hampshire hamlet is home to about 300 citizens, who are probably just as clever as folks in the surrounding towns. The founder, a wealthy businessman from Portsmouth, clearly didn’t think things through when he named the new town after Massachusetts Governor William Dummer (1677–1761).
3. Hell, Michigan
Ready to go to Hell? You’ll find this unincorporated village in south-central Michigan, just 20 miles from the bustling college town of Ann Arbor. The name may come from the German word hell, which means bright, or it could be attributed to the thick clouds of mosquitoes and deep forest found in the area when Western explorers first arrived.
4. Rough and Ready, California
With about 511 souls, this former Gold Rush town, founded in 1849, was named for a Wisconsin mining company, which was in turn named for General Zachary Taylor (nicknamed "Old Rough and Ready"), the 12th President of the United States. The company’s founder, A.A. Townsend, had served under Taylor during the U.S.-Mexican War.
5. Chugwater, Wyoming
The Chug, a stream that runs through this scenic cattle-herding valley, gives the area its name. The most famous citizen of the town of around 178 was a rodeo horse named Steamboat, who served as the inspiration for the bucking bronco on the Wyoming state license plate.
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6. Random Lake, Wisconsin
With around 1,600 residents, this town is part of the Sheboygan metro area and sits clustered on the shores of its eponymous lake. The first surveyors in the region named the body of water—and apparently they were feeling very uninspired that day.
7. Bigfoot, Texas
Photo: flickr via Jimmy Emerson, DVM
The state of Texas is rich in bizarrely named towns. This one, a village of 685 in Frio County, was first settled in the 1860s as “Connally's Store," but later was renamed in honor of Texas Ranger William A. A. "Bigfoot" Wallace, a former resident of the town.
8. Choccolocco, Alabama
Photo: flickr via Jimmy Emerson DVM
Located in northeastern Alabama, this town of 3,246 had its moment of fame in the early 2000s, when “The Choccolocco Monster” was repeatedly sighted at the edge of the woods, scaring motorists. The culprit was later found to be a local teen who liked to dress up in a cow’s skull. The origin of the town’s name remains a mystery.
9. Forks of Salmon, California
Photo: flicker via Jimmy Emerson DVM
This unincorporated Northern California town was settled during the Gold Rush, and its name has nothing to do with eating a nice fish dinner. Instead, it comes from the hamlet’s position in between the north and south forks of the Salmon River.
10. Why, Arizona
This rural desert spot is home to around 65 people and got its name from the Y-shaped intersection of the two major highways, State Routes 85 and 86, that originally comprised the center of town. It’s now a T intersection, but the name stuck.
11. Whynot, Mississippi
Photo: flickr via Old White Truck
David Ruffin, one of the crooners in the Temptations, came from this sparsely populated settlement near Mississippi’s eastern border. No one knows who gave it this name, or why—but after all, why not?
12. Boring, Oregon
This town at the foot of the Cascade Range is named for William Harrison Boring, a former Union soldier and farmer who settled the area in 1874. The townspeople embrace their low-key moniker with humor, and have adopted the tagline, “An exciting place to live.”
13. Bread Loaf, Vermont
This unincorporated community gets its name from a loaf-shaped nearby mountain. Vermont does boast many excellent bakeries, but this community is known for the famed writer’s workshop held there every summer, sponsored by Middlebury College.
14. Peculiar, Missouri
Photo: flickr via Scott Robinson
After local folk found that all their other ideas for town names had already been taken, the postmaster settled on this one, figuring it would be too strange to be duplicated. The city now boasts a comical slogan—”Where the Odds Are With You”—and about 5,847 residents.
15. Embarrass, Minnesota
Photo: flickr via Jimmy Emerson, DVM
This unincorporated village gets its name from its river, which French fur traders dubbed “Rivière d'Embarras,” or, loosely translated, “river of obstacles.” It may not be an embarrassing place to live, but it probably isn’t very comfortable—it bears the dubious distinction of being the coldest place in Minnesota.
16. Duckwater, Nevada
This high desert town gets its name from nearby Duckwater Creek, a well-watered marsh and a hospitable place for wild waterfowl. The area is also known for its hot springs, found on the tribal lands of the Duckwater Shoshone.
17. Accident, Maryland
Photo: flickr via kenficara
This small town in the mountains of far western Maryland is home to just over 300 people. The origin of its name is the result of a mistake made during a 1751 land survey. The town name dispersed among people during the Revolutionary War when soldiers were granted lots in the area.
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18. Humptulips, Washington
Photo: flicker via Jimmy Emerson, DVM
Native Americans of the Chehalis tribe gave the nearby river the name Humptulips, which may mean “hard to pole” (as in navigating with a poled canoe) or “chilly region.” About 250 people live in this village near the Washington coast.
19. Nameless, Tennessee
One legend has it that when local residents inadvertently left a blank space on a form requesting a post office, the federal government gave this place its moniker. Others believe the name was adopted in protest after Yankee feds rejected a name chosen to honor a Confederate general. Whatever its origin, the Nameless name has attracted attention from writers and travelers ever since.
20. Hot Coffee, Mississippi
Photo: flickr via Jimmy Emerson DVM
This celebrated spot in Covington County got its name from a wayside inn at the central crossroads, where fresh-brewed java, made from local spring water and beans roasted in New Orleans, was served to tired travelers.
21. Deadhorse, Alaska
Photo: flickr via generalising
Only 25 to 50 permanent residents live in this community on Alaska’s North Slope, hard by the Arctic Ocean. But because it’s a jumping-off point for oil workers and tourists, the population can sometimes swell as high as 3,000. The town is believed to have gotten its name from the Dead Horse Haulers Trucking company, which used to make runs to the settlement in the 1960s and '70s.
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22. Zzyzx, California
This unincorporated flyspeck in the Mojave Desert was once known as Soda Springs, but a wily entrepreneur, who hoped to make the land’s mineral springs into a tourist spot, changed its name into something more memorable. Now home to a desert study center run by a consortium of California State University campuses, it’s usually the last entry in the index of any U.S. atlas.
23. Cookietown, Oklahoma
Photo: flickr via cosedavadere
Another unincorporated town, Cookietown is located in Cotton County, Oklahoma. With a population less than 20 and spanning only a half-mile long, you’ll blink and miss this hidden treasure. Legend has it that the town’s namesake comes from an old roadside store that would pass out delicious cookies to travelers passing through.
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24. Correctionville, Iowa
Located in Woodbury County in Northwest Iowa, the 750 residents of Correctionville agree that their towns’ namesake is unique. This small farming community gets its name from the original surveying work done to plat the community in 1855. The surveyor marked the “correction line” to signify the Earth’s curvature, and the rest is history!
25. Santa Claus, Indiana
Nobody quite knows how this community decided to name itself “Santa Claus” back in 1849 when it was founded. Regardless, this town has embraced their unique name by developing Christmas-themed attractions year-round. The town of about 2,500 rallies around the holiday and even responds to letters from little children across the nation who send their Christmas lists to the town’s post office.
26. Chicken, Alaska
Founded in 1902, this village gathered for gold mining prospects. Over 100 years later, the town consists of a small general store and a handful of other shops that support the 12 full-time residents. The town’s namesake comes from the large population of ptarmigan in the area, which is a 5-hour drive from Fairbanks, Alaska.
27. Waterproof, Louisiana
This town of 600 has a rich history, and its namesake story is equally interesting. Louisiana steamboats would pass through the town regularly and due to the geography of the region, flooding on the Mississippi River was normal. While a steamboat passed through the flooded river banks one day, an early resident sat atop a large hill. As legend goes, the steamboat captain exclaimed that the man on the hill was “waterproof”; the man liked the sound of it so much, he penned the town name after this exchange.