Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pseudo-Name My Town

The big kids just wandered by and asked me if I'd thought of a name for our town yet. It has one already, of course, but I'm loath to use it, partly for privacy's sake, and partly because in my hubris I think I can do better. All surrounding towns now rejoice, collectively, in the name of Panacea Falls, but what can we call this town?

I've thought about Fiat. Fiat, North Carolina, has a nice ring to it.

Epiphany thinks I should call it Saturn or Jupiter. There's already a Mars Hill.

I've been pondering town names I like, chiefly in Tennessee, since that's the state I traverse most regularly. You got your Holy-Land town names, like Lebanon, and your classical Sparta, and then there's Bucksnort and not one but two Lickskillets (Lickskillet and Lick Skillet, where they take life more slowly, one presumes). A good town name -- that is to say, a convincing town name -- needs some magical balance between the rational explanation (town named for fallen hero of skirmish with feral mule) and the utterly inexplicable (one good Lick Skillet deserves another).

Of course, in Arkansas, as my friend Pauler would certainly point out, you've got a place named Oil Trough, and then you have London . . . reflecting a certain torn-ness, on the part of the town fathers in these various places, between what is and what in their wildest dreams could be, if only.

Anyway, I dunno.

P.S. Aelred suggests Hernia.


steve said...

One lovely thing about flying by pilotage and dead reckoning is looking down at the landscape and trying to reconcile it with what is printed on the sectional map...
I've flown over "Fly, TN" and imagined what might be inside "Dime Box, TX". "Indianola, TX" exists as an aviation landmark but no longer as a town, having been reduced to a Victorian town grid by a hurricane in the mid 19th century.

VA said...

I think Kennedyville, NC. In relation to the politically incorrect Civil War legacy.

Jo Flemings said...

Well, I live not far from you and I felt earlier that this was the armpit of the universe but that is a little extreme. I am sure armpit status is probably more reserved for outer Mongolia but there are days when I just want to go home to Tara and this ain' t it.

Sally Thomas said...

Well, you know, I really love my town. So I don't want to make up a name to make fun of it (any more than I'm making fun of my parish by calling it Saint Dymphna's, even though . . . well, we know what Saint Dymphna is patron of, and we can be lovably that way at times . . . ).

No, I just want something that will capture, with verisimilitude, its small-town-ness and Southern quirkiness. It's got its dark pockets of corruption like any other place on earth, but in general life here is friendly and pleasant and very much on a human scale. The past -- names, buildings, the whole "where this place came from" thing -- has not been obliterated, and we appreciate that.

I'd want to know what's inside Dime Box, TX, too. That's brilliant. And isn't there an Indianola, MS, still extant? I know there's a Philadelphia, MS.

Yeah, this is what fascinates me no end -- town names underscore the claim that truth is stranger than fiction. You could not make up a fictional town name that was as simultaneously unbelievable and credible as most real ones. And to make a up a town name, you have to have either a history and/or a sort of town motto -- a "spirit of the town," or a "what the town fathers insist on believing is the spirit of the town, even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary."

Janet said...

There's a town in MS called Noxapater--kind of scary if you ask me.

There's one in MO called Herculaneum. My friend, the archaeologist, used to wonder who in heaven's name, wandering the MO wilderness would have known anything about Herculaneum. I suspect it might have been a priest.

My word is mayst. I hope I may.


Sally Thomas said...

Didn't people larn them classical things in them schools back east, before they got on the flatboat?

And yes, of course thou mayst.

Elizabeth@Frabjous Days said...

Well, of course, all American town names are just silly, so you could just name it Broomhandle or Energysavinglightbulb and it would be perfectly apt... ;-)

Mind you, the UK rejoices in place names like Ugley (it's not) and Lower Dicker and Frodsham.

My word is gonat. More than vaguely rude.

Maclin said...

We have a Bug Tussle here in Alabama. And I'm sorry I brought it up, because I haven't thought about it for years and this prompted me to google it and learn that there are Bugtussles (one word) in Kentucky and Oklahoma. I thought ours was the only one. I've been there, but not for many years.

Pintlala is one I always wonder about when I see the sign on the interstate. Frisco City is a tiny rural hamlet.

Paul said...


Sally Thomas said...

Yes, and "Prick Willow's" not a bit silly . . . or "Onehouse." :)

No, there really is a logic to American town names, though we have fewer layers of history and linguistic shifts than England does. Here we have the Indian names -- Waxhaw, for example. There I suppose you had settlers who figured that since the place already had a name, they might as well keep it; why make trouble?

You have your classically-inspired names, which I think tells you something about those settlers' vision for their little piece of America: another Sparta, another Athens, another Rome, another Herulaneum. Maybe those people liked the city-state idea, or they just liked being allusive -- a little Old Culture to leaven the new, or a bridge from Western Civilization to More Of It, They Hoped.

Then you have your Geographical Features names, like Spruce Pine or Red Bank or Flat Creek, and your landmark names like Miller's Mill.

And you have your Famous Citizen town names. My town's actual name is a Famous Citizen Name, though the Famous Citizen is a local Revolutionary War hero, which is not what people commonly think.

Utah has both a county and a town named for Millard Fillmore, which is -- unique, to say the least. But then, that's Utah for you.

And then you have Dime Box, Lick Skillet, Bucksnort, and Bug Tussle, for which I have no good explanation at all.

pauler said...

Don't forget Possum Grape or Toad Suck in Arkansas either..... In Little Rock a new bridge over Murray Lock and Dam is called, I kid you not, "The Big Dam Bridge." Gotta love it.

Mark R said...

I was going to suggest Bug Tussle until I saw the comments above. Bagshot Row also has a certain sentimental value for me, although that's a neighborhood rather than a town like Hobbiton or Bywater. I think I'll suggest Evergreen Ridge or Sugar Beet Landing.