Special Report

50 Strangest Town Names in America (and Where They Came From)

There are no rules for naming towns. Some are christened, reasonably enough, after their founders or early patrons. Others are named for monarchs or political figures, or for saints — for instance, St. Louis and St. Petersburg, Florida. (Such names in the West often take the Spanish form, as in San Francisco or Santa Monica.) Other places have monikers, saintly or otherwise, based on French, German, Scandinavian languages, or various other tongues.

Some town names reflect their geographical situations or nearby features or reference places their settlers or early residents left behind. Some, though, are just made up. These often have intricate, sometimes amusing, sometimes unlikely origin stories. And these are usually the funniest, most unlikely, or just plain strangest ones.

What makes a town name strange? That’s a matter of opinion, of course. Residents of some places brag or joke about what they’re called; others dispute or deny the etymologies. That’s their right. We don’t offer this list to make fun of any place name. We just enjoy the unexpected, and we’re pretty confident that these are all town names that will make you think twice.

Source: dougtone / Flickr

1. Accident, Maryland
> Municipal status: Town
> Population: 289

In 1786, when land speculator William Deakins, Jr., was granted the patent, or official land grant, to the tract where this town now stands, he called it “Accident.” According to local lore, this was because he and another speculator, Brooke Beall, had accidentally surveyed the same tract simultaneously.

Source: 128412996@N04 / Flickr

2. Arab, Alabama
> Municipal status: City
> Population: 8,247

The city of Arab (pronounced “ey-rab”) has no Middle Eastern connections. It got its name through a typographical error. After a village grew up around mid-19th-century settler Stephen Tuttle Thompson’s farm, Thompson asked the federal government to open a local post office. He offered three possible names for it: Ink, Blue Bird, and Arad, the last of these for his son Ranson Arad Thompson. Whoever processed the application chose Arad — but misspelled it “Arab,” and the name stuck.

Source: smartee_martee / Flickr

3. Bad Axe, Michigan
> Municipal status: City
> Population: 3,024

Planning the first state road through Michigan’s Huron County in the early 1860s, surveyors Rudolph Papst and George Willis Pack established a camp site where the city is now. They called it “Bad Axe Camp,” after an old axe they found there. They used the name both in their record of their journey and on a sign on the trail. By the time Papst returned to the area following the Civil War, the name “Bad Axe” was being used officially on local maps.

Source: Marine2844 / Getty Images

4. Bald Knob, Arkansas
> Municipal status: City
> Population: 2,906

Local legend maintains that Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto was the first to describe the immense rock outcropping above the site of this city as a “bald knob” (though presumably in Spanish). One of the community’s founders, Benjamin Franklin Brown, posted a sign reading “Bald Knob” along the railroad tracks in the early 1870s. Beginning in 1877, the layered stone knob itself was quarried for railroad ballast. The following year, Bald Knob got its first post office, firmly establishing the name.

Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library / Wikimedia Commons

5. Ball Club, Minnesota
> Municipal status: Census designated place
> Population: 186

Nothing to do with baseball, Ball Club is named for Ball Club Lake, on which it sits. The lake in turn was so named because its shape supposedly resembled clubs used by local Ojibway to play the stickball game that evolved into modern-day lacrosse.