Origins

Terrifying Town Names

Q.
Fiction has brought us all kinds of alarming place names. Take C.S. Lewis who, in Chronicles of Narnia, invited us to: Burnt Island, Deathwater Island, Dragon Island .. Back on the workaday end of the wardrobe, what are some alarming town names on our maps?

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A.

Alligator Pond, Jamaica
This Manchester fishing village is so named because its mountain range sports bumps like those found on an alligator’s back.

Asbestos, Quebec
Here’s a name that long attracted attention and bothered residents. Why ‘Asbestos’? Because this town in southeastern Quebec was home to the massive Jeffrey Asbestos Mine. But, in 2012, the mine shut for good. Change the name, don’t change the name – residents had debated for years. Finally, at the end of 2020, the people of Asbestos voted to change their town’s name to Val-des-Sources. ‘Asbestos’ no more.

Burnt Porcupine, Maine
A family-owned island that neighbours Long Porcupine, Bald Porcupine, and Sheep Porcupine.

Cow Head, Newfoundland and Labrador
It sounds grisly, but this name is said to have started with a seafarer who spied a large local boulder that looked like the head of a cow.

Dead Man’s Flats, Alberta
This Prairie hamlet most likely got its name from a ghastly 1904 fratricide on a dairy farm.

Gnaw Bone, Indiana
Some believe that the name is an English take on the town’s founding French settlement named ‘Narbonne’ after a city in France. Others link it to the words of a visiting musician who was struck by the poverty of the area during The Depression, where people seemed to have little more than ‘a bone to gnaw.’

Hazardville, Connecticut
Known for its early manufacturing of gun powder, Hazardville was named after Colonel Augustus George Hazard who took over and grew the town’s black powder mill in the early 1800s.

Knockemstiff, Ohio
It was a tough town that was known for its all-out bar brawls and free-flowing moonshine. The name is commonly attributed to a priest who, in stumbling upon two women brawling, declared that the man at the root of their dispute could not possibly be worth it. Someone, he said, should “knock him stiff”.

Pain Court, Ontario
Ouch. But, aha! The problem is if you read the town’s name in English. This French-speaking settlement was named by Catholic missionaries who noted the small bread loaves – the ‘pain court’ or ‘short bread’ – that poor parishioners brought in as offerings.

Savage, Minnesota
It’s all about the last names. This town used to be named Hamilton, but in 1902 the inhabitants were so inspired by businessman Marion Willis Savage – and his ever-winning, record-smashing racehorse Dan Patch – that they renamed the town.

Lower Slaughter, England
This Cotswold village has a name rooted in Old English where the word ‘slough’ means ‘wet land’, and ‘slothre’ means ‘muddy place’. Lower Slaughter is no ghoulish backwater. Its Copse Hill Road was crowned ‘Most Romantic Street in Britain’ in a Google Street View Poll. And don’t forget Upper Slaughter, an easy walk away.

Scarville, Iowa
You can thank Ole Scar – serious landowner – for this town name.

West Kill, New York
This town name is a nod to the West Kill stream. ‘Kille’ in Middle Dutch means ‘riverbed.’

 

www.justcurious.ca

Header: Edward Hopper. House by the Railroad. 1925

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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton