Most place names are taken at face value. We don’t question why California, Paris or Manchester have those monikers, or what they mean. We just accept what these places are called (though in case you were wondering:
- The name California is derived from Califia; a mythical island paradise described in a Spanish romance novel from the 1500s.
- The name Paris is derived from the city’s early inhabitants, a Celtic tribe called Parisii.
- The name Manchester is derived from Mamucium; a 1st century Roman fort that was located in the Castlefield area of the city.)
Other place names however mean a little more to us – not because of our relationship to the place itself, but because the name is shared with something much more familiar.
Literal place names of the UK
It might be quite easy to get lost trying to find this tiny, remote Hamlet (just 24 people live there) but that’s not how it got its name, which is derived from the Gaelic word for inn (taigh òsda).
Pity Me, County Durham
Many theories surround the origin of this village’s unusual name, however the Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names describes it as “a whimsical name bestowed in the 19th century on a place considered desolate, exposed, or difficult to cultivate”.
The origin of the name Beer is uncertain, although it’s unlikely it has anything to do with the brewing or manufacturing of beer. Theories include the name having derived from the word “bearu” (Saxon for “wood”), “byr” (Norse for “farmstead”) and “bere” (Anglo-Saxon for “barley”).
Sadly, the origins of the name Catbrain are far less interesting than its literal interpretation indicates – in fact it has nothing to do with cats, brains, or cats’ brains. It’s actually derived from a Middle English phrase “cattes brazen” which refers to the rough clay and stone mix that is typical of the soil type in the area.
You probably assumed this South Birmingham village was named after Hollywood in Los Angeles, but the UK village actually predates it. History books have Hollywood, UK as dating back to 1250AD while the States’ Hollywood wasn’t formed until 1853. It’s said that Hollywood, Worcestershire, got its name from the abundance of Holly bushes in the area.
Weird place names from the USA
Tenderloin’s name has nothing to do with the area’s production of prime beef fillet (it’d be impressive if it was, considering Tenderloin’s a neighbourhood in downtown San Francisco). The neighbourhood’s name was actually taken from a part of Manhattan of the same name, although how Tenderloin, Manhattan came to be called this, no-one’s sure. A likely explanation is that Tenderloin references the area being the “soft underbelly” of the city (like the cut of meat).
Boogertown, North Carolina
A number of stories claim to explain the origin of this town in Gaston County; while there’s no way to know which one is true, we do know that it has nothing to do with your nose.
Many years ago a “booger” was a ghost or goblin. One tale claims a soldier riding through the area saw some strange eyes looking at him through the bushes. Turns out, they belonged to a cow, but the soldier’s sighting of a “booger” led him to call the place “boogertown”, and it stuck.
Another story claims the unexplained deaths of local livestock led residents to believe a booger really did haunt the area.
The name of the Alaskan village Eek is derived from an Eskimo word meaning “two eyes”.
If you’ve ever wanted to see Hell freeze over, this is your chance – in winter, temperatures in Hell regularly drop below freezing. The name, however, doesn’t stem from the town’s similarities to the fiery depths of Satan’s kingdom (not that this stops local residents playing up to it). Legend has it that the town actually got its name when George Reeves, an early resident in Hell, was asked what the town should be called and he said “call it Hell for all I care.”
Calling Alaska’s Chicken a “town” seems a stretch – at the time of the 2010 Census its population was just 7. Despite this Chicken boasts a hotel, gift shop, a chicken themed restaurant (standard) and even a mini-golf course. The name, according to folklore, was chosen by local miners. They wanted to name the community after a type of bird that was native to the area – the Ptarmigan. Unfortunately they couldn’t spell it so instead settled on naming it after a popular nickname for the Ptarmigans – “Chickens”.
Strange place names from around the world
The name of this Belgian town has no relation to the English word. It’s actually derived from the name of the stream that runs through the town – the Sille.
The small town of Dinosaur in Colorado used to be called Artesia, but changed its name to capitalize on its proximity to the Dinosaur National Monument, the headquarters of which are located to the east of the town.
Cool in California is anything but – at least in the summer, when temperatures can reach 40°C. Residents originally wanted to name the town “Cave Valley” in relation to the local limestone caves. Unfortunately another town had already claimed this name so they settled on Cool, after Reverend Aaron Cool – a circuit-riding preacher who spent a lot of time in the area.
As nice as this Southern French city might be, this has no bearing on its name – for one, it’s pronounced “neess”, not “nice”. The name is derived from the Green name Nikaia, which means “city of victory”, in reference to invasions that shaped the city’s history.
Queensland (home to the small town of Banana) produced more than 95% of Australia’s bananas in 2014/2015.Oddly, this fact has nothing to do with the town’s name. It’s actually named after an ox called Banana, who was once used by local stockmen when herding cattle.