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.

11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

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