Winnie Griggs Loves Quirky Town Names!

winniepubI 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 plain-dealingcircumstances 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!

whistling-oak 

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 pepper-clouda 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 handmedownfamily125both 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!

 <<-Click on cover to order from Amazon

To learn more about Winnie and her books, visit her website:

http://www.winniegriggs.com

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41 thoughts on “Winnie Griggs Loves Quirky Town Names!”

  1. Hello Winnie,

    I never really thought about a town’s name til now. I know while reading that if I have been to the town or lived there I pay attention to see if the author has the details correct. Hate to say it but I pay attention to the characters. I guess I haven’t had a book to draw me in yet because of the location. Sorry. Thanks for the info on your books. I’ll be sure to look them up. Have a great day.

  2. Hi Winnie!
    Although I don’t remember any off the top of my head I do like cute town names when I’m reading a story. The next town from us is Washington Crossing which is, of course, where Washington crossed the Delaware.

  3. I come from a town named Rush Lake and the nearest city to us is Swift Current – kind of get the idea where this is going?
    Of interest I live in a town called Ponteix and we have a sister town in France called Ponteix.

    I am very curious about names of towns/cities. We have towns around us named: Elbow, Carrot River, Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat – makes one wonder about the origin.

  4. Hi Winnie,

    I picked up The Hand-Me Down Family from Borders last week and it’s my ‘reading reward’ today for making it through a very tough week.

    I did wonder where you got the name, Sweetgum, from. I thought maybe it was a real town. There are so many interesting names out there. It does make you curious about the history and the people as you pointed out. Thanks for the info.

    Have a great weekend.

  5. i think the name of a town sets the stage for the tone of the town as in book Cold Sassy Tree by OLive Ann Burns Great book if you haven’t read it.

    I also have your newest book on my TBR pile but would love to win a title from your backlist:)

  6. Good morning all, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    Roberta, no need to apologize 🙂 – the characters ARE more important than the setting.

    Maureen, Washington Crossing – wow that really sparks some vivid images with the history behind it.

    RobynL, LOVE the list of town names. You have some really colorful ones in that bunch

    Za, Thank you for picking up my current release. Please let me know what you think when you get finished. I’m always looking for feedback on my stories.

    Anon1001, Thank you too for picking up my book and ditton on letting me know what you think. And I agree, a town name can definitely help set the tone for a story.

  7. Enjoyed your post and actually a towns name gives it a little more personal touch i think and does give the story a little more insight of the place being more important than without a name. I haven’t really thought much about it but thinking back on the books i read it does come to mind making the story having a little more character by the name of the town. I’ll think of this more now when i’m reading.

  8. I always wonder about the names in any of the books I read. The places…the people….the things…I wonder if any of them are real. Usually the places and the people are fictional but the things…..I love historical westerns and often recognize something in the book as something we have laying around and sometimes are still using.
    Will be looking for your book and adding it to my stash. Getting a lot of my TBR pile read as I wait for this broken leg to heal.

  9. Good morning, Winnie! Thank you for giving us your weekend here in Wildflower Junction!

    I truly enjoyed your blog–what a delightful collection of town names. Here in Nebraska, many of our small towns are named after Indians: Otoe, Ogallala, Pawnee City, even Omaha. But not nearly as quaint-sounding as yours.

    Here’s one for you, tho – Climax, Kansas. Can you imagine the ribbing the townspeople there get?

    And what’s with all the towns that have ‘ville’ in them?

  10. Lori, Hi! Glad you enjoyed the post and that it gave you some insights.

    Connie, Ouch! So sorry about the broken leg. And glad to hear you share my curiosity about town names. Isn’t it fun making up your own stories about how they came to be 🙂

  11. What a fun post, Winnie! I too choose the names of my towns as carefully as the names of my characters. In my current project, the town is Coventry, Texas. I like the name because it hints at the idea of covenant or commitment which plays into my theme.

    Texas has so many fun names for small towns, names that seem too quirky to be real but are. Some examples: Pancake, Noodles, Comfort, Crabapple, Fly Gap, Guy Town, Jollyville, Oatmeal, and Sisterdale. Conjures up some great images, don’t they? Also, there is a Nameless, Texas. I guess the settlers were to tired to come up with anything. And how about setting a romance in Beaukiss, Texas? Maybe that was the result of someone from Guy Town paying a visit to Sisterdale. *Smile*

  12. Hi Winnie!!! You’ve so been missed by me!! I remember reading a historical of yours from Dorchester and then didn’t see them anymore so I thought either you used a different name or wasn’t writing anymore. Its so good to see you back! I must of found out about yours just as you were leaving.

    I love reading those small town books!! I just love to know everyone’s story in the town and love to re-visit it! You know, as I post here on this blog and others and chat to authors, I’m learning more and more about all you do to put together your book and I so realize that its ALOT that you do! Reading the book and hearing the name of the town goes through smoothly and I get to settle into the town, the characters etc. But you took a long route to put that all together for us! I understand now how there’s so many details that you put in that are not just ‘there’ but more that you develop! I learned that about the picking of names too! It will have me appreciating even more about the towns you pick!

    I assume that all towns you make up the name (but can base it on a place you know but change things within it and all). Is that what you do for yours?

    Great to chat with you and everyone here at P&P! Hi Linda, Charlene, Eliabeth, Cheryl, Karen, Pam, Kate, Stacey, Patricia and Mary!!!

  13. I enjoy quirky town names. I grew up in a community called Rough Edge. It was at the edge of the county, so I guess that’s how it got its name. I’d really like to read your book so I hope I win. Even it I don’t I plan to buy it. 🙂

  14. Wow- I love how you pick the town names!! Names are fun – I like the Westwego. I’m from Pennsylvania Dutch country and they have some interesting town names in the middle of PA – things like Intercourse, Middle Sex, and Paradise! I like the sounds of your books! Thanks for visiting and a chance to win.

  15. Hi Winnie, I would love to read your new book Hand-Me-Down-Family, because I love the name. I was from a hand me down family myself. And yes I do notice the little town names when I am reading. I love them. I can name a few from around here. Some of them are just small communities. I was raised in a small community called High Bridge. Then there is another around called None Such and a small town nearby called Paint Lick. Don’t you just love these little names.

  16. I enjoy the names authors give their smalltowns. The names add something to the story. It is interesting to see how creative people are on giving their towns names, whether real or imagined.

  17. Hi Winnie,
    When I read a book I don’t usually think much about the name. I grew up in Texas as well, in a town called Bastrop. It is funny…as a young adult I always thought it was kind of embarrassing to tell people I graduated from Bastrop H.s. or my hometown was Bastrop, TX. It just sounds like a hick town. Turned out it was named after a famous explorer, but, it was too late. =)
    Around where my grandparents lived in Southern MO, there was a few interesting names… like, my great aunt lives in “Long Lane, MO” Which, of course, is one long street and that is all there is to the town. There is also Windyville…which I’m guessing must be breezy. haha.

  18. Winnie, just had to stop in and endorse your book, Hand Me Down Family…truly a lovely read! Thanks for the reading pleasure! Would love one of your backlist if I am that lucky….but regardless HMDF was a winner for me.

  19. All the names are fascinating and I bet the story behind a lot them would really be interesting. The first one that comes to mind is a town in western PA that I just discovered called Slickville – I have to guess there must have been some oil wells there somewhere lol.

  20. Hi Pam! Thanks for the welcome and I’m so glad to be here. And LOL on Climax, KS – that’s a new one for me.

    Karen, Coventry is a wonderful town name – love it! And the list of ‘real’ names you provided is definitely my kind of quirky 🙂

    Caffey – Oh wow! what a wonderful thing to say. Yes, I took a break after my Dorchester books but I’m back on track now. And to answer your question, I do make up my own town names. They’re not based on any one particular place, butI’ve lived in and visited a lot of small country towns in my life, so the towns I create are normally a hodge-podge of those places.

  21. hi Winnie, I attended your how to pitch session at RWA last summer. Great job and very helpful.

    Thanks for the great post. I love Larry Bird’s hometown of French Lick, Indiana…and Carefree Arizona just makes me want to live there.

    We had friends who moved to Fair Dealing, MO so the Plain Dealing struck a note with me. I spend a lot of time on place names and people names when I write.

    I can’t wait to get my hand on your new book. I am finding myself increasingly drawn to inspirational historicals.

    And MarthE…I’d heard of Intercourse PA but Middle Sex, now. I’m still laughing.

  22. JenT – Rough Edge, now there’s a name with the kind of nuances that has lots of possibilities for a story

    MarthaE – I agree that Westwego is a fun name. It neighbored the town I grew up in. My father was an electrician and set up his business there. He named it Wego Electric 🙂

    Quilt Lady – Oooh, None Such and Paint Lick! Some of these names you folks are listing are so much more fun than any I could make up. Lots of ideas for future settings.

    Colleen – glad to hear you enjoy checking out town names in stories and the extra layer they add.

    Stephanie – We have a Bastrop here in Louisiana as well. I never realized the name came from an explorer. You’ve made me curious now – I’ll have to look him up 🙂

  23. Julie!!! What a super sweet thing to say! So glad you enjoyed the book.

    Jeanne – Thanks for stopping in to comment. Slickville, huh? Oil wells is one explanation, but snake oil salesmen was the other thought that came to mind when I read it 🙂

    Tanya – Oh cool about your attending the pitch session. So glad you found it helpful. I really enjoy presenting that one and in fact I’ll be doing it again this year in DC.

  24. Welcome,speaking of names of towns,I live near a place an believe it or not its called stink holler! I dont know if its real or not but thats what the people call it,its like a community not really a town,an possum creek,as you can tell I live in the deep south,lol,funny huh?

  25. Estella – Hi! Thanks for stopping by to write a note. Glad you enjoyed to post (love your name by the way)

    Pat – Ooooh, there’s a town called Winnie! I’ll have to check it out on a map. Thanks for letting me know.

    Vickie – Too funny about Stink Holler. That’s the kind of town name people just would not believe if I put it in a book. Makes you wonder how it came about though…

  26. Hi Winnie! I never really thought about town names before but now you’ve got me thinking. Some interesting ones I’ve heard are Cranberry, Oil City, Beaver Falls, Moodus, and Brady’s Run. I believe Brady’s Run was named after a white man named Brady who escaped from an Indian by running several miles! Thanks for such a fun post! I love how you came up with the town names for your books!

  27. LOL…

    I had a town in my manuscript that I made up, and finally did a google search, and there was a town by that name, so I had to change it.

    There’s a place called Nowhere, AZ and it was definately nowhere.

    Alexandria and Mansura, two towns in Louisiana were named for towns in Egypt by soldiers who served there. Bunkie was named by a child who had a monkey. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

    Bought your book this week Winnie and can’t wait to read it.

  28. Margie – Thanks for stopping by. Interesting tale about how Brady’s run got its name – sounds like a good story gem in there somewhere 🙂

    Donna – Hi!! Wow, Bunkie is one of the towns I’ve wondered about ever since I passed through it on my way to college many years ago. I would have never come up with that explanation in a million years. Thanks, too, for picking up my book. Hope you enjoy!

  29. We have always enjoyed the unusual town names we see as we travel around the country. Where we live now in East Tennessee, the small communities that aren’t really towns now, but were community centers years ago have some unusual names like Shake Rag and Hog Eye. The first one is pretty easy to figure out, don’t know if I want to know the history of the other. Visiting our daughter in Weaverville, we pass through Flag Pond and Forks of Ivy. In upstate N Y where I grew up, we have Paradox Lake, Fishkill, Cranberry Lake, and Crown Point (near Fort Ticonderoga) to name a few. Each state has so many special place names. Have been by a few of the ones mentioned above.

  30. Hi Winnie – Hand Me Down Family sounds a a great read. I just looked it up on Amazon.com and read somemore about it. I have lived in Walla Walla – You know the town they liked so well they named it twice. Also, Andover. Supposedly there was a train wreck and the train rolled “over and over”. Now I live in Ham Lake and I have never found the lake!

  31. Hi Winnie. . . So glad to have you here and what a delightful post. I love quirky names as well, and have had great fun trying to find a perfect name for a Colorado gold town.

  32. Had to return to read all the comments and just had to add a town name. Northeast Nebraska has Wynot. Can’t you just hear the conversation?

    “How does this look for a place to put down roots?”

    “Why not?”
    Makes me chuckle just thinking about it.

  33. Judy – Thanks for checking out my book and I’m glad you like the sounds of it. And LOL about Ham Lake not having a lake.

    Pat!!!! How great to hear from you – long time no see. Thanks for stopping in to leave a comment

    Connie – glad you came back by. And I LOVE the name Wynot – wish I had thought of it. (And it sounds like your mind works a bit like mine 🙂 )

  34. Kind of late to comment but—-
    Did you know there is a Beaver Crossing, Nebraska?
    How long do you think it will take him? Just a joke about a real town in our state.
    In our neighboring state of So Dakota there is a Gay and also a Tea.

  35. Hi Sue! I’ve been out of town and just saw your post. Beaver Crossing, huh. I find I often use something paired with ‘Crossing’ or ‘Bend’ for off stage locations. I’ll have to remember that one…

  36. Namaste and Merry Meet, Sue!

    I am a name-whore, pardon my French. I own dozens of name books and have bookmarked so many sites with naming ideas it’s ridiculous. I pay attention to names of towns and places just as much as characters and when I am writing, everything that has a name – from roads to places to people – usually was arrived at through a long thought-out process and much research. I, too, am from southern Louisiana (Maringouin, as a matter of fact, and if you know Grosse Tete then I know you know of Maringouin, which means “mosquito”) and grew up with an appreciation for unique names. Some of my favorites were New Roads and New Iberia, Bayou Teche, St. Martinville, Ventress, Rosedale, Morganza, just to name a very few. I’m excited to have found your blog and another Louisiana writer and look forward to checking out the rest of your blog & your books! Cheers.

  37. Winnie, Hi!

    You wrote,”And who in the world would name their town Big Head? At some point I learned Dutchtown was actually settled by German immigrants…”

    “Big Head” is a translation of an ordinary German surname, Grosskopf.

  38. I read your post and every comment left after that. I didn’t see the one community name that has intrigued me over the years so I thought I would add it to the every growing list of location names. On a vacation trip up to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, we passed through a little place that was called Rooster Poot! I saw it on a road sign and had to do a double take to make sure that I read what I thought I had read! I wonder now why they would name their town that! 😀

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