What’s in a Town’s Name?

I love to learn about how towns got their names, both real and fictional. 

When fellow Filly Linda Broday, Jodi Thomas, DeWanna Pace and I decided to write our first anthology together, we wanted our stories to take place in our hometown.  The premise was that each story had to have a theme of Amarillo by morning, which was our working title.  You all will probably recognize it as “Give Me a Texan” the fantastic name that Kensington gave it! To any of you writers out there, don’t get too attached to the name of your work in progress because it probably will change. 

Historically, Amarillo wasn’t the first name given our town. In 1887, we were originally called Oneida when merchants from Colorado City wanted to establish stores at a logical stop in the Panhandle. Since they needed votes to choose the county seat and most of the voters were cowboys working for the surrounding ranches, the promoters promised each of them a residential or business lot to vote for Oneida.  Not surprisingly Oneida won but was promptly renamed Amarillo. Keep in mind that the Panhandle was only settled beginning in 1875. It’s been said that we were renamed Amarillo after the Arroya Amarillo or Amarillo Creek which were probably named by traders for the “yellow soil” and yellow wildflowers. Amarillo is Spanish for yellow.  Of interest, all the frame houses in Amarillo were painted yellow in our infancy. 

My story in “Give Me a Texas Ranger” is set in Tascosa, the second town settled in the Panhandle, although I had to change the name somewhat to fit my story. Its original name was Atascosa meaning “boggy creek”, but it was too difficult to pronounce, thus becoming Tascosa. Several kernels of history from actual accounts of Old Tascosa, as it’s known today, germinated into my story about how the “upwardly” folks of Upper Tascosa wanted to make sure the rowdy, detestable citizens kept their distance in Hogtown or Lower Tascosa. They would have never associated with people named Rockin’ Chair Emma, Boxcar Jane, Slippery Sue, and Gizzard Lips. Thus, for my story, Old Tascosa became Buffalo Springs along with its seedy residents restricted to a part of the town across the creek known as Buffalo Wallow instead of the original name of Hogtown.  

But, I could have never told my story without having my characters be forced to relocate from the oldest town settled in the Panhandle, Mobeetie, in order to stay one step ahead of the law. Both towns were founded only a year apart, some one hundred and thirty-five years ago. If it hadn’t been for Mobeetie, and one determined Texas Ranger Captain hell bent for leather on cleaning up the town, Tascosa would not have exited.  Separated by only 135 miles, they soon became mirror images of one another. 

Mobeetie, originally named Hidetown and later Sweetwater, is still referred to today as the “Mother City of the Panhandle”; and, evolved from buffalo hunters’ camps and from the nearby Army post, Fort Elliott. In the beginning (1875), it was the legal, business, and social center for this part of Texas. The town faded when the railroad bypassed it two years later; and in 1890 when the Army abandoned nearby Fort Elliott (the only military post ever established in the Panhandle), the town withered further.  What remained was totally destroyed by a cyclone…today I think it’d just be called a regular ol’ tornado. 

In anthology two, “Give Me a Cowboy” we set our stories over a four day period for the 4th of July Rodeo in Amarillo; however, one problem came to light.  There was no rodeo in Amarillo in 1890, so we had to find a new name to be historically accurate. If we weren’t all raised here we could have probably taken creative liberties but since many of the founding father’s families are still around, we weren’t about to take the chance of being called out on it. 

While driving down the highway one day, I saw a railroad crossing outside of Amarillo called Kasota; therefore, Kasota Springs was born.  Those who have read all of our anthologies, which I’m happy to say are still in print after six years, will recall that we used that town again in “A Texas Christmas”.  

My new eKensington contemporary single title “The Tycoon and the Texan” due out September 5th takes place partially on the Jacks Bluff Ranch outside of Kasota Springs.  You might remember the LeDoux family and their ranch from two of our anthologies. 

I’m calling my new contemporary series that I’m currently writing “Kasota Springs” as they will all take place in our imaginary town from the anthologies.  Many of the names from my stories will reappear as fifth and sixth generation residents. 


Now for some fun facts about some Texas towns and locations. 

One of the most interesting was how the famous, and still in existence, XIT Ranch got its brand. The ranch was created in 1885 and covered much of the Texas Panhandle when the Capitol Syndicate of Chicago received over three million acres of land in exchange for money to build the Texas capitol in Austin. The brand XIT is translated to mean X for the “ten” counties in which the ranch was originally located; I for “in”; and T for “Texas”. 

Happy, Texas, was named by cowboys who were elated on cattle drives to find spring-fed water at Happy Draw.  Long before settlers came to the region, the spring was known as the happy hunting ground by the Plains Indians.  Happy is proud to known as “The Town Without a Frown” and even had a movie named after it. 

Cut and Shoot, Texas, near Houston, was too much fun not to include.  Most of the stories agree that there was once a preacher who was much too popular with the women. When charges were made at a church meeting, the men ran to wagons and buggies to get knives and rifles to cut and shoot.  

I love Bass Hollow, which was named after Sam Bass and his gang who once made their outlaw camp there. They were notorious for their daring train and bank holdups during the 1870’s. 

A town gone many decades and where my grandparents once lived is Pantex, Texas, right outside of Amarillo. The location of the town would suggest that it is the abbreviation compound for Panhandle of  Texas.  A post office was establish for the population of 115 to provide service to the employees of the Pantex Ordnance Plant, which loaded bombs for the Army from 1942 to 1945, but the town vanished after World War II; however, the plant remains in operation today.

But my very favorite is still Mobeetie. Not just from its history, but a story I’ve heard many times.  Although the town was known as Hidetown when it was a hunters’ camp and later Sweetwater, which was changed by the post office since there was already a town by that name, I’ve heard, but can’t confirm that the Indians played a joke on the area folks when they translated the meaning of Sweetwater to be Mobeetie. Later it was discovered that Mobeetie really means “buffalo dung”.  It is subject to interpretation. Although I can’t confirm the theory, it dern sure makes a fantastic story for any writer.  By the way, the picture above is of the original strap-iron jail in Mobeetie.

What is your favorite town name and why?

To one lucky person who leaves a comment, I will send them a copy of an autographed anthology of their choice.  


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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at phylissmiranda.com

25 thoughts on “What’s in a Town’s Name?”

  1. Its hard to choose just one but one of my favorites is Ponce Inlet in Florida. Ponce Inlet has so much history and began around 1513 when a Spanish explorer named Juan Ponce DeLeon claimed the region. I love to visit Ponce Inlet and love to tour the famous Lighthouse at the Lighthouse Point State Park. The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse started in 1887 and they say that it is one of the best and most complete lighthouses in the country.

  2. Good morning, Cathy! You’re name will certainly be in the pot for tonights drawing. Thanks for stopping by. Hugs, Phyliss

  3. Good morning Katie J,

    Your choice of places sounds fantastic. I’ve vacationed in Florida many times, but I’m not familiar with Ponce Inlet. It is on my list of things to check out the next time I’m in Florida. It has such rich history. Thanks for sharing. Hugs, Phyliss

  4. We always laugh when listening to a new radio or tv person mis-pronounce a local town…. There’s Chili, Indiana… and it’s not like the food – but rather Chi [like the tea] and Ly [as in fibbing}.. When attending college, people would ask where you’re from.. My hometown is Rochester. I must have had some sort of accent, because people would reply with ‘New York?’…

  5. What fun information, Phyliss. Texas has some great town names. I’ve set five stories in Dutchman’s Creek, Colorado, a place that’s become so real to me I sometimes forget I made it up.
    In the southern end of our state we have two little towns with Piute Indian names. Parowan, which means good water, and Paragonah, which means bitter water.
    I live in a place called Sandy. Anyone who gardens here can figure that one out–unless one of the founding fathers named it after his girlfriend.
    Congratulations on your new book!

  6. Love to learn the names and reasons for that name for towns, here in Nebraska we have Wynot, Plainview, Grand Island, in the center of the state(?). I live at Osmond. Don’t know the reason for many but find the name of the nearby biggest town very interesting. Norfolk pronounced Norfork was named because it was on the Northfork of a river.

  7. Hi CateS,

    Man do I understand the pronunciation thing. I have such a Texas accent that sometimes people just don’t know what town I’m talking about. One of the most interesting is Houston, Texas and Houston Street in NYC. It’s unreal the difference in the pronunciation. Houston, like Sam Houston and Houston Street sounds like House Ton! Thanks for stopping by. Hugs, Phyliss

  8. Phyliss, what a fun and interesting post. I live in Calif. where there’re a lot of Spanish names. We laugh at the way the GPS gal pronounces them. You won’t believe how she murders Sepulveda.

    We recently heard an out of towner pronounce Port Hueneme (Why-nee-mee)as Hue-enemy. Our goldrush country had a lot fun town names which I’ve used in books. Hangtown, Rough and Ready,and Fiddletown come to mind. It didn’t take long to come up with stories for those towns.

  9. Hi Elizabeth,

    I love your story about your fictional town being so real to you. Love it and totally understand. That’s the way it is with Kasota Springs; however, we used the original Amarillo as our mindset town. This next book will have a town square, which Amarillo didn’t have, but we had it in Kasota Springs.

    Hum, Sandy. That does leave a lot open to think about. Linda Broday and I saw a tombstone in Waco next to the Texas Ranger Museum that had the name of the man and as I recall it said “husband of XYZ and cohort of XYZ”! Interesting. Have a great day. Hugs, Phyliss

  10. Elizabeth, I forgot to say that I love the name Dutchman’s Creek. I bet there’s a story behind the name you picked! P

  11. Hi Connie J,

    Thanks for leaving a comment. I’ve always had trouble knowing how to pronounce Norfolk but when I think about the reason for the name it makes sense. I now know that I use the wrong pronunciation. Have a great day. Hugs, Phyliss

  12. I have all of the TEXAN anthologies and enjoyed them. They have a firm place on my Keeper Shelf.
    I am not sure of the origins, but there is a little town called FORKS OF IVY which we pass on the way to our daughter’s in North Carolina. Nothing special, but it is a nice name.

    Thanks for such an interesting post.

  13. Awesome info, Phyliss. I know what you mean about wanting to be accurate for yourself, even though a reader might not care. My Outlaws and Lawmen series is set near Sedona, in 1881, but Sedona wasn’t given that name until the early 1900’s. Sheesh, all but broke my heart. Sigh.

    Your post reminded me I have an ancient wip set in Mobeetie, which likely will never see the light of a page, but if I ever do get back to it, I know what experts to contact! My Texan fillies.

    Hugs! xo

  14. I really enjoyed today’s post. When I lived in South Carolina there was a town called Walhalla. Walhalla at one time was also called the “Shoe String Town” because Main Street was so long.

  15. I love town names that reflect a description of the location more so over ones named after people… I guess it would be fun to learn more about how towns get some of their more unique names… thanks for the interesting post today! 🙂

  16. Margaret, love your comments. When the kids lived in San Antonio my GPS didn’t like Loop East, so it came Loupest. It took me months before I realize she was trying to say Loop East. Duh, on me. I’m not very good with pronunciation of names. My kids are moving back to California when school is out, so I guess I’d better bone up on the names. Hugs, Phyliss

  17. Hi Patricia B,

    I love that name Forks of Ivy. It’d be interesting to know the origin. Thanks for keeping our anthologies safe! When we decided to do one it was for one only, then it turned into one more, then two more, then another two. We’re thrilled that they are still available through BN and Amazon new and of course on the second market.

    Glad you stopped by and left a message. I’ll probably try to check out the name Forks of Ivy on the Internet. Hugs, Phyliss

  18. Really interesting article. I think the place I have been that has the most interesting names for their towns is Alaska.

  19. I love learning about city and town names. I love history and to know how they came about. The city isn’t just a name its full rich history both good and bad but still there for us to learn! On of my favorite city’s is Bettendorf, Iowa. My brother and I went there every summer since I was 10 to visit my Grandparents. It was the best times of my life. even today Its is filled with such great memories!

  20. Great post Phyllis. I always spend as much time coming up with names for my fictional towns as I do for my hero and heroine – the names can give the setting character and attitude. As for real towns, I live in a small town called Plain Dealing which is rather neat. Here in Louisiana there is a whole bunch of town anmes that ‘foreigners’ have trouble pronouncing – Natchitoches, Bogalusa, Choudrant, Opelousas and Zwolle just to name a few

  21. Tanya, that’s too funny. Yes, if you need advice on anything Texas your buddies can help you out or as we do in many cases … we’ll make up a story that will sound real. I chuckled at your mistake, but I nearly did something worse. I had Capt. McDonald of the Texas Rangers coming to Amarillo in “Give Me a Texas Ranger” two years BEFORE Amarillo was even around. Now being born and raised here and giving talks about Amarillo, don’t you think I would have been the laughing stock of the town!! I’m so glad I caught it before it went out. There were probably worse historical fact mistakes, but not that one … thank goodness. Hugs, Phyliss

  22. Hi Bonnie Jean, I love that name and the background. How cool. Thanks for stopping by today.

    Hi Colleen. As a writer and as Winnie pointed out, we take as much time creating a town as we do a character. As a matter of fact, at RWA last year I sat in on a workshop about creating a town just like you would a character. I’ve done that for a while, but never really thought about it being a character. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    Hi Joye, Alaska is about the only part of the US, except Hawaii that I haven’t been, but I’d really like to go. I bet the names are interest because it has such a rich history.

    Ladies, thanks to each of you for leaving a comment and I’ve got you all in for the drawing tonight. Hugs, Phyliss

  23. Hi Cori,

    Bettendorf, Iowa, what a great name; and of course there are no better memories than those spent with your grandparents. Thanks for leaving a comment. Hugs, Phyliss

    Miss Winnie, I knew you lived in Plain Dealing and think that is such a cool name. I bet there’s a fantastic history behind it. My mother and my grandparents came from Louisiana but I still can’t pronounce many of the names. The one that I find the most interesting is Natchitoches. I always pronounced it like Nacogdoches, Texas, until a visit there last year. Is it true that both were named from Indian brothers but spelled differently; thus pronounced differently? I’ve heard that but have not confirmed it.

    Hugs to both of you, Phyliss

  24. Well gald guess i’m too late again. I never know when ya’ll draw the names and on what day. Man, Texas has just about every name you can think of. Somewhere I’ve got a list that has all of the names, like Happy, Smile. and so many others. One day I will come across and let you know. I thought you meant TX. towns. I like Texhoma, OK. where we lived in Tx. It is a state line town and back in the 20’s and 30’s there was a town on each side of town, so the name Texhoma, whenever the TX. side lost the Post Office. My parents and grandparents lived there during those years. When we moved back there from Kosse, near Waco and Mexia, we had a home on the TX. side of town. There was still a big lumber company on that side where my dad worked. Some motels,,, a cafe, and a couple of stores. Also. we had a school there where I went to school. When I got out of 8th grade the state of TX. paid tuition to go to High School on the OK. side. We had to pay TX. taxes , and use the courthouse, and get driver’s license in Stratford, Tx. It was 19 mi. toward Amarillo. So, I told everyone I lived in Texhoma, Tx. but address was Ok. In the years after I married and moved away, they blended the schools so no more tuition needed. But, I lived in TX. and went to High School in OK. I also had TX. drivers license. Mixed up. huh? I also liked the name Mexia (sounds like Ma-hair) Daddy use to say when we went through their and saw the city limit sign that’s your town Maxie, and they don’t know how to spell it. ( Maxie and Mexia) Wish I wasn’t too late to win. That is a good gift.
    Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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