I have always been fascinated by colorful and quirky small town names. I grew up in South Louisiana so I was familiar with town names such as Westwego, Cut Off, Dutchtown, Raceland, Crown Point, Head of Island, French Settlement and Grosse Tete (French for Big Head).
For someone who already had storytelling in her blood, these names really sparked my imagination. I spent many childhood hours making up stories about how all these towns got their curious names. Westwego – was it named by some settlers from back east who travelled great distances and decided this was far enough? Or was it merely a stopping point for folks headed even farther west? And who in the world would name their town Big Head? At some point I learned Dutchtown was actually settled by German immigrants and was originally called Deutschtown, but the name evolved over the years into what it is today. Another fascinating story-sparker!
When I went to college, I moved further north while still remaining in Louisiana and encountered a whole new map of town names to puzzle over. There I encountered towns with names like Bunkie, Dry Prong, Flatwoods, Powhatten and Breezy Hill. Again, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering about the circumstances and people who settled these places.
Then I married my college sweetheart – a prince charming disguised as a cattle-rancher-in-the-making. He swept me away to his home town, a place I was delighted to discover was called Plain Dealing.
Today, whenever I start a new book, finding the right name for my town (always fictional) is just as important to me as finding the right names for my hero and heroine. There is always a story in my mind about how the town name came to be, though that rarely makes it to the pages of the book.
My first book, WHAT MATTERS MOST, was set in the Texas town of Far Enough. The town name was based on my childhood musing over the real town of Westwego. I pictured a small group of settlers travelling through the area and the womenfolk getting tired of the whole thing and telling their menfolk they’d travelled ‘Far Enough’ and were ready to settle down NOW!
For my second book, SOMETHING MORE, the heroine arrives on the scene at a stage relay station called Whistling Oak. The name came about when I pictured a giant oak with a hole formed by two trunks that had not quite fused together. As the stagecoach driver explains it to the heroine, “See that ol’ oak tree over yonder with the hole in the middle? That’s what gave this place its name. Big wind blows through just right and you can hear the whistling for near a mile.”
Large flocks of small blackbirds winter near my home. Hundreds of them will land in fields or trees in the area. If something comes along to spook them, they all fly up at once, like a scattering of pepper on the wind. That was the inspiration for Pepper Cloud, MO, the town my third book, WHATEVER IT TAKES, takes place in.
My fourth book, A WILL OF HR OWN, is set in a town called Clover Ridge, VA, a somewhat more mundane town name than I normally go for. But I wanted something that was indicative of lushness and serenity. Besides, the story doesn’t tarry there for long. A good one third of the book actually takes place aboard a ship.
Turnabout, TX, was the town name I chose for my fifth book, LADY’S CHOICE. That one was almost a no brainer since the whole theme of the book, in both the primary and secondary storylines, was about turning one’s life around after having made poor choices earlier in life.
When I started work on my current release, I struggled for quite a while with what to name the town. I came up with and eventually discarded several names. THE HAND-ME-DOWN FAMILY is my first foray into the inspirational market and I wanted something that would provide a subtle nod to that change. I also wanted it to have that rural, small town feel and be just a tiny bit quirky at the same time. And then one morning I woke up, and there it was. Sweetgum, TX. The sweetgum tree is indigenous to the area, the name is fun and rustic sounding, and the word itself has that hint of heart to it that I was looking for.
So, do you pay very much attention to town names in a book? Do they help set the tone for you at all? And are there real town names you’ve come across that have tickled your fancy, piqued your interest or just plain caught your eye? Share some of your favorites.
Come on in and visit! Winnie will give away a copy of her newest book, THE HAND-ME-DOWN FAMILY, or one from her backlist to TWO lucky commenters!
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