Fun With Fictional Town Names

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Hello! Winnie Griggs here. I’m buried in revisions that really need to get turned in tomorrow, so I hope you’ll forgive me for revisiting an old post today. This is actually the first post I ever did here on Petticoats & Pistols, back in March of 2009. Back then I was a guest poster, not a bona fide Filly and was quite green at the art of blogging. But everyone, both Fillies and commenters alike, were so warm and welcoming that I was overjoyed to later be invited to come on as a regular.

And since I’m reusing an old post, I’ll freshen it up a bit with a giveaway.  See details below!

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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, my own prince charming.  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.”

whistling-oak

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.

pepper-cloud

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. (2016 update: That book was revised and republished in 2012 under the title HANDPICKED HUSBAND and was the first book of my current Texas Grooms series)

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.

 

2016 Update: Since the time I wrote this post I’ve come up with a number of other town names for my books – Knotty Pine, Tippanyville, Foxberry and Frog Swallow among the more notable.

So, do you pay very much attention to town names in 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.

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GIVEAWAY: I’ll be selecting one person from the list of those who comment on this post to receive one book of their choice from my entire backlist.  Drawing will take place some time after noon Central Time on Tuesday.

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.

30 thoughts on “Fun With Fictional Town Names”

  1. I do enjoy town names. Some I enjoyed were Climax with Surprise and Result nearby. There is also one named Boring and I think I recall one called Laststop.

  2. Town names are so unique. To be honest I sometimes think that the town a person comes from gives a description of their personality

  3. I pay attention to town names and love it when I come across a unique name. On a vacation to Pennsylvania one year, we drove through small towns such as Paradise, Bird in Hand, Blue Ball to name a few. I now live in a small town called Blossom, which I think would be a great town name in a book.

  4. Winnie, I’m fascinated with town names and that’s always a real joy whenever I begin a new book. Town names need to SAY something. There needs to be a reason for them. And the same thing with ranches. My ranch names have a reason for being what they are. They and the towns mean something big to the people who live there. Very interesting post.

    • Ah Linda, I knew we had a lot in common!Naming my towns are every bit as important (and fun!) as naming my characters. And that goes for businesses, streets and other landmarks

  5. I live in Oklahoma, and we have some interesting town names like Coweta (Co-weeta) & Bochita (Bock-chita) and then there’s Lake Eucha (OO-chee). I have some interesting names in my books like Lookout, Advent, and Cut Corners, which was the idea of one of the ladies in the collection. Town names can be fun to create.

    • Funny you should mention Coweta since I have cousins living there there now. I assume you know it’s an Indian name for a branch of the Muscogee (Creek) tribe. I also had family at one time in Checotah, a town named for Samuel Checote, the first chief of the Creek Nation elected after the Civil War, and around Eufaula, another Creek name. It’s funny (to me anyway) because my kin are on the Cherokee and Choctaw roles, but not the Creek roles. No kin lived near Bokchita (“big creek” in Choctaw) though. 🙂

  6. I find it interesting… some truly odd names out there… sometimes I wonder how they came to be called what they are.

  7. Many county and city names in the Northeast where there were early British colonial settlers were based on where folks came from, were based on Indian words, or were named after famous people. The first big one that comes to mind is New York City, of course for York in England. It’s also why the states of New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and New Mexico are “new.” 🙂

    In Massachusetts: Bedford, Bristol, Boston, Cambridge, Chichester, Coventry, Essex, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Springfield, Suffolk, Taunton, Worcester.

    In New Jersey: Bedminster, Birmingham, Chester, Cornwall, Essex, Gloucester, Manchester, Middlesex, Monmouth, Leeds, Liverpool, Norfolk, Somerset, Stockton, Sussex, Windsor.

    In Pennsylvania (“Penn’s Woods”), the two earliest settled counties (other than Philadelphia) were Chester and Bucks, followed thereafter by Northampton, Berks, Lancaster and York–all English names.

    My own town (just a crossroads really) is from an Indian word for a nearby creek meaning “cloudy waters.” Even the state of “Wyoming” is based on a Delaware Indian word that meant “at the big plains,” the name of a county in Pennsylvania.

    As for unusual town names in the Pa. county of Lancaster where there are many thriving Amish farms, in addition to Melanie’s list, there are also Intercourse, Mount Joy, Bareville, Chickies, Fertility, Fetterville, Smoketown, Slackwater, Farmerstown, Churchtown, Goodville, Eden, Hopeland, New Holland, New Providence, and last but not least Hinckletown, Noodledoosie and Zooks Corner.

  8. My all-time favorite is Elsewhere, a small community in S. Louisiana that has since been absorbed into a larger community with a boring name. When I was a young teacher, though, I loved driving through that tiny village. Wish I had taken a photo of the sign, but now folks’d think I just photoshopped it! lol

  9. Hi Winnie! We have a lot of oddball names in Oregon (and Washington); Boring, Oretown, Brothers, Sisters, Riddle, Drain, Remote, Zigzag, Bridal Veil, plus a whole lot of Native American Indian names (some I have trouble pronouncing).

    I love seeing or reading about unusual town names, especially in historical western books! 🙂

    Thanks for the book giveaway chance

  10. Hi Winnie – Enjoyed your blog about the town names for your books. I like the Plum Lost town name….. Here in Indiana we have lots of crazy small town names. Enjoy reading your books & the names you give your characters, the way you make them come alive for all of us to enjoy, you take us places that we never heard of & weave all this into a excellent story.

  11. We have several little communities in this area. My favorite is Forks Of Ivy in North Carolina. Here in Tennessee there are communities that formed many years ago, but were never really full fledged towns. Shake Rag ( now called New Victory after the two churches at the intersection), Hog Eye (and it fits it’s name. the trailer at the intersection is surrounded by trash.), and No Fatty ( I have no idea why or how it got its name) are just a few o the old communities.
    Was nice hearing how you started out here and how you select your town names.

  12. I’ve always been intrigued by names of towns. I lived in a town called Sugar Creek…there was no creek within miles. I also like the town names of Surprise and Paradise both in Arizona. I was born in Riverside, CA and there was no river very close.

    Thank you for your post Winnie. Have a blessed day!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

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