9 Towns That Changed Their Names (And 4 That Almost Did)
In March 2010, the city of Topeka, Kansas, unofficially changed its name to Google for a month in an effort to curry favor with the tech giant, which was then looking for markets in which to test its new fiber-optic technology. It wasn't the first time the midwestern town had rebranded itself, either: 1998, the capital city temporarily changed its name to ToPikachu to commemorate Pokémon's debut in the United States.
As extreme as the measure seems, Topeka isn't the only city that has played the name game in order to drum up publicity. Here are nine other towns that changed their names—plus four that considered the idea.
1. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
Ten years after welcoming the first contestant—a sailor who played the role of a grocery clerk with a lollipop in his mouth—on Truth or Consequences, host Ralph Edwards promised to broadcast an episode from the first town to rename itself after his popular radio and television show. Residents of the resort town of Hot Springs, New Mexico, voted 1,294-295 to make the change in 1950, and Edwards, who later created and hosted NBC's This Is Your Life, visited Truth or Consequences every year until 1999. Edwards died in 2005, but his legacy lives on in the form of Ralph Edwards Park and a celebration in the city of 7,000 every May.
2. McGillicuddy City, North Dakota
The 250 residents of Granville, North Dakota, were more than happy to temporarily change their town's name in 1998. The $100,000 that the farming community received over the next four years from Sazerac Co., a New Orleans-based distributor of Dr. McGillicuddy's mint schnapps, helped finance a new community center. "These small towns, they don't have a lot going for them," one resident, whose grandparents were among Granville's original homesteaders, said. "You just take what you can get."
Granville was chosen as the winner of Sazerac's nationwide search for a snow-covered small town that could help promote the McGillicuddy brand. As part of the deal, Granville agreed to rename its bar the Shady Eye Saloon, the name of the fictional Dr. McGillicuddy's favorite watering hole. "Yeah, we took some flak from people, that this was the town that changed its name for money," another resident said. "But we're still Granville on the map." Indeed, the town's post office and schools kept the Granville name.
3. Joe, Montana
After the Chiefs acquired longtime San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana in 1993, a Kansas City radio station commemorated Joe Cool's arrival by convincing the smallest incorporated town in Montana to change its name to Joe for the duration of the football season. The residents of Ismay—a town named after two sisters, Isabelle and Maybelle—voted 21-0 in favor of the change. "It would have been 22-0, but one of our voters was out of town," town clerk Wayne Rieger said. In addition to receiving national attention, Ismay's residents were flown to Kansas City to see the Chiefs play the Bengals.
4. DISH, Texas
The two-member town council of Clark, Texas, approved a deal to rename the town DISH after EchoStar Communication Corp.'s satellite TV system in 2005. As part of the deal, DISH's 125 residents were promised free satellite television for a decade. Clark mayor Bill Merritt courted EchoStar after defeating Landis Clark, the man for whom the town was originally named, in the 2005 mayoral election. "We really look at this as kind of a rebirth for our community," Merritt told reporters. "We want everybody to come here." So, did they? DISH's population was 201 in 2010, according to the United States Census Bureau.
5. half.com, Oregon
In 2000, officials in Halfway, Oregon, agreed to change the town's name to half.com for one year in exchange for 20 computers and other financial perks. "We literally put the brand on the map," said half.com's vice president and marketer Mark Hughes. Shortly after the town of 300 unveiled signs promoting the Internet startup's name, eBay purchased half.com for $300 million.
6. SecretSanta.com, Idaho
Hughes helped orchestrate another match between a dot-com and an aptly named town in 2005. The Water and Sewer District in Santa, Idaho, voted to change its name to SecretSanta.com for one year and erected signs promoting the online gift exchange manager in return for at least $20,000. The town post office, which fields letters from children every Christmas, was allowed to keep its name.
7. Sleepy Hollow, New York
In 1996, the residents of North Tarrytown, New York, voted to change the town's name to Sleepy Hollow. Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was set in Tarry Town, and Irving is buried in the town's cemetery.
8. Bikinis, Texas
In 2012, business owner Doug Guller purchased parts of the abandoned ghost town of Bakersmith, announcing his plans to name it for his Bikinis Sports Bar and Grill Chain where—not surprisingly—waitresses wear two-piece bathing suits. An opening day event hosted by Baywatch alumna Carmen Electra drew massive crowds—and also upset residents of the neighboring Fredericksburg. In order to preserve Bikinis' relationship with Fredericksburgers, Guller reverted to the town's original moniker in June.
9. Hill Valley, Kansas
In celebration of the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future, for 24 hour-period starting on July 3, the town of Augusta, Kansas became Hill Valley by proclamation of Mayor Matt Childers. "Hill Valley" also hosted a day-long festival—complete with a cookout, a screening of all three films, and, naturally, a Marty McFly-lookalike contest.
4 Towns That Kept Their Original Names
1. Ferrysburg, Michigan
Tired of being the brunt of jokes about their town's name, officials in Ferrysburg, Michigan, proposed a name change in 1986. "When someone says, "˜I'm from Ferrysburg,' it causes chuckles," mayor Leon Stille told reporters. "Some people even refer to the mayor and council as the leading fairies. It does become an irritant." As part of a routine that likely wouldn't fly today, comedian Bob Hope mocked the town's name during a 1981 visit to nearby Grand Rapids for the opening of the Gerald R. Ford Museum, saying it was the only place in America where you can be halfway between Ferrysburg and Fruitport. But residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of keeping Ferrysburg, which was named after the brothers who first mapped the area in 1857.
2. Sharer, Kentucky
Hoping to capitalize on the same sort of publicity that half.com garnered five years earlier, PokerShare.com reportedly offered the town of Sharer, Kentucky, $100,000 to change its name in 2000. Sharer officials declined. "When you talk about poker and gambling, we're not for that in our county," a Butler County official said. "It's very conservative."
3. White Settlement, Texas
In 2005, the mayor and members of the chamber of commerce of White Settlement, Texas, asked voters to approve a name change to something less controversial in an effort to lure more businesses to the town of 15,000. The proposal angered many in the town near Ft. Worth, and the measure was defeated by a 9-to-1 margin. "Why don't they go ahead and change the name of the White House to the West House?" former White Settlement councilman Alan Price said. "It's all a bunch of poppycock," Wendell Sowards, 72, told The New York Times. "We don't have any racial problems; we just like our name." Some residents were so opposed to the proposal that they attempted to oust the mayor through a recall process. According to the town's website, White Settlement traces its name to the 1840s, when a community of white settlers occupied an area surrounded by several Native American villages.
4. Strasburg, Virginia
During the week leading up to Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg's major league debut in 2010, news of a proposed resolution to change the name of the small Virginia town of Strasburg to Stephen Strasburg was widely circulated. While the specifics of the proposed name change varied, the town council ultimately decided against a permanent change. Rather, the town of 4,000 agreed to honor the pitcher with a single Stephen Strasburg Day should he come visit.