Strange Places and Things

The Most Unusual City Names in the United States

What’s in a name?

If you’re fond of traveling, the United States is definitely one of the best countries to be in. There are all kinds of tours available, with each road trip giving you memories and experiences to last a lifetime. 

You can even set the theme of your travels according to your tastes, as there’s so much to see in this part of the world. For instance, there are several excellent destinations for your next fishing trip in the US. If you want to do something random and quirky, though, you might want to visit cities with some very unusual names.

The United States of America is home to 50 states and over 19,000 cities, towns and communities. Apart from the common names like Washington, Springfield, Madison, and Georgetown, you can find some unusual names in between. Some of them are quite shocking, while others are hilarious.

It’s a rather awkward feeling when someone asks you about the place where you live, and then you reply to them with the weird-sounding name of your city. The reaction: you’ll either be shot back with a blank stare or get a howling ridicule.

There are hundreds of weird city names in the US, but here we list just a few of them. Keep in mind that all of the names listed below are actual names, although not all of them are cities (others are towns and communities). Some are so strange that you’ll have a hard time believing they’re even real. However, the background behind these names might help to make sense of them (or not). Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of these destinations:

1. Hell, Michigan

Hell is an unincorporated community in Putnam Township, Livingston County, in the state of Michigan. There are two theories as to where Hell got its name. 

The first reportedly occurred during the 1830s where one of the German travelers exclaimed at how sunny the day was: “So schön hell!” (which means “So beautifully bright!”). The people heard the phrase, and the word “hell” got stuck.

The second comes from one of Michigan’s founders, businessman George Reeves. This also happened during the 1830s, during the time when Michigan was granted statehood. When Reeves was asked what he thought that the town should be called, he said, “I don’t care. You can name it Hell for all I care.” And the people took it literally! The name became official in October 1841. So yes, “Hell” is literally a place on earth. Sounds like it’s a perfect place to get married! (“Where did you get hitched?” “Man, it was in Hell!”)

2. Popejoy, Iowa

Popejoy is a sparsely-populated city in Iowa. The name may conjure some happy drug conceived by the Vatican, but actually, the city was named after a former resident and landowner named John Popejoy.

If you like exciting destinations, this one might not have much to offer. The 2000 census even shows that there were no families or under-eighteens living in the area. Of course, the population would have grown in almost two decades, though it’s still quite limited. You might want to drop by just out of curiosity, but that’s about it, 

3. China, Texas

“Let’s go to China!” We mean China… in Texas! This city in Jefferson County, Texas was originally known as “China Grove” due to the abundance of chinaberry trees there. Unfortunately, these trees are no longer abundant in the area, though many locals have taken steps to transplants and conserve them. 

This area might be worth visiting when the Chinaberry Festival is in full swing. The event is held every year in order to celebrate the city’s history and the people. However, you might want to see if the festival is really worth visiting, as it hasn’t been held on a large scale since Hurricane Rita in 2005. The destruction caused by this natural disaster has dampened the festivities, but the people there are still trying to revive their traditions.  

4. Accident, Maryland

What an inauspicious-sounding name for a place! But don’t worry… this little town in Garrett County, Maryland is generally a safe location to live. It is the only place in the United States with such a name. What do you call a person who lives in Accident? It’s “Accidental”!

There are some interesting sights and landmarks in this region, so you’d have a well-rounded experience if you care to visit. While the place itself might have a tiny population, it does have some important buildings such as Kaese Mill and the James Drane House. 

5. Embarrass, Minnesota

Would you feel odd when someone asks where you live? If you say “Embarrass,” that would likely be quite embarrassing, won’t it?

But actually, Embarrass owes its name to the French fur traders who visited the area. Feeling confused and lost while trying to navigate the area’s shallow, narrow river, they named the river “Embarras” which roughly means “to hinder with obstacles and difficulties.” Maybe these French guys felt kind of embarrassed too.

While Embarrass is a very cold region, there are still a few activities that might interest visitors. Camping is a popular activity there, so you might want to consider this spot next time. The community is thriving there, with a diverse population and a festival held at the end of August. You’ll learn a lot about Finnish culture here, so get ready for an educational and fun trip. 

6. Uncertain, Texas

Uncertain’s origin is as a bit strange as the name itself. When the original residents were asked to fill out an application for the area’s township, they were undecided about the name. So they wrote down “Uncertain” on the blank field of the application form. When the township was finally granted, it officially became “Uncertain.” The city’s name is still “Uncertain” even now, which is a testament to how weird history can be. 

7. Coward, South Carolina

Despite the name, not everyone who lives in Coward, South Carolina is chicken-hearted. But the town’s residents are still hesitant to reveal the reason behind the name, so it still remains a mystery.

Apart from enjoying the name, you probably won’t find much to do in this little place. It’s mostly a rural farming community, so you can come here to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. 

8. Imalone, Wisconsin

The name of this unincorporated community in Rusk County, Wisconsin may attract thousands of loners and introverted souls out there! 

The origin of “Imalone” is doubtful, but there’s a story about it. One day, the community’s founder named Snowball Anderson left his own gas station to the care of a guy named Bill Granger. When a salesman stopped by the gas station, he asked Granger for the name of the place so that he could put it on the invoice. Granger replied, “I’m alone,” meaning he could not find anyone to ask what the name was. The salesman wrote “Imalone” down on the invoice, and the name stuck. 

9. Kickapoo (various states)

Reading the name “Kickapoo” alone immediately elicits a nasty chuckle. “Kick-a-poo,” right? But the name actually derives from the Algonquian word Kiikaapoa or Kiikaapoi which refers to a group of Algonquian-speaking Native American and indigenous Mexican tribes. “Kickapoo” is also the term for their language.

There are many states that have places named “Kickapoo”: Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Illinois, to name just a few. While you might want to take some pictures for your social media account and have a laugh over the name, it’s important to stay respectful as well. Make sure you have a decent caption with such pictures explaining the origin of the name. 

10. Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

This scary-sounding name could be a moniker of the next death metal band or a title of the newest teen horror flick. Plus, the name of the county where this town is situated just adds more to the spooky factor: “Dare.” 

If you do decide to travel to this city, you’re probably fascinated by horror flicks and all things scary. This destination would certainly make for a fun Halloween trip with your friends or family. You can take a lot of cool pictures with the city or county sign while in your Halloween costumes. 

However, this region is also worth a visit due to its historical significance. This is where the Wright brothers tested out the first powered, controlled airplane flights. If you’re an aeronautics enthusiast, Kill Devil Hills is definitely going to be high on your list of travel priorities. 

11. Chicken, Alaska

This is yet another funny name that you might want to check out during your travels within the United States. It’s one of the very few gold rush towns still left in the world, which is one of the main reasons why it’s a popular tourist stop. The name is another reason, of course, and the reason behind it is also unique.

Surprisingly, the name ‘Chicken’ wasn’t named with the animal or food in mind. The town itself was meant to be named Ptarmigan, which is a kind of grouse. This animal was the main fare of the settlers back in the early days. However, the founders of the town weren’t too confident of their spelling prowess. This was a time way before the Internet, so verifying the word for sure wasn’t an easy option. In order to avoid any misspellings, the founders opted for a much simpler bird name.

While the town of Chicken might not be a booming place anymore, they have embraced their name in a fairly sporting manner. You can order chicken dinners and attend the Chickenstock festival there. However, there are no sewers there, so you’ll have to get used to outhouses.

12. Coupon, Pennsylvania

Located within Cambria Country in Pennysylvania, this unincorporated community has quite a logical reason for its name. It used to be a company town, where the workers got paid in coupons or scrip rather than actual money.  

If you do visit this part of the world, keep in mind that the Horseshoe Curve is within hiking distance. You can also catch a lovely view of the National Historic Landmark here, which might not be accessible from other areas.

Conclusion

If you’re longing for a visit to a unique, interesting place, starting off with an unusual name might be a good idea. Any of the places above is worth at least one visit, even if it’s just to get a few laughs.

You might find yourself enjoying these destinations more if you put in the effort to know the background behind the name. These will make for fun stories, and flesh out your experience a little more. Some of these places might also have some very unique activities to offer, so take a look around and see what you can get.

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