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15 Places With Strange Names (and How They Got Them)

KEVIN PANG/MCT/Landov
KEVIN PANG/MCT/Landov

What's in a (bizarre) name? Here are some strangely named places and the stories, legends, and theories about their origins.

1. Santa Claus, Indiana

In 1854, a group of pioneers settled in southwest Indiana and established a small town called Santa Fe. But when they applied to get a post office two years later, they were turned down. There was already another Santa Fe, Indiana, with a post office. The new Santa Fe would need a new, distinct name to get one of their own.

Fact and legend blur when it comes to how the town settled on calling itself Santa Claus. The standard version of the story goes like this: the townspeople held several meetings over the next few months to select a new name, but could not agree on one. The last town meeting of the year was held late on Christmas Eve after church services. During the debate, a gust of wind blew open the church doors and everyone heard the ringing of sleigh bells close by. Several children got excited and shouted “Santa Claus!” A light bulb went off in someone’s head and by Christmas morning, the town had a new name.

2. Intercourse, Pennsylvania

intercoursepa1.jpgThe town of Cross Keys, nestled in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, changed its name to Intercourse in 1814. How and why is anybody’s guess. There are a few explanations floating around about the origin of the name, but none with a lot of solid evidence to back them up.

One story ties it to a racetrack that used to exist just east of the town. The entrance to the track had a sign above it that read “Enter Course.” Locals began to refer to the town as “Entercourse,” which eventually evolved into “Intercourse.”

Another proposed origin has to do with an old usage of the word intercourse—everyday social and business connections and interactions.

3. Idiotville, Oregon

Idiotville is a ghost town and former logging community northwest of Portland. Most of its former residents worked at a nearby logging camp called Ryan's Camp. Because of the camp’s remote location, locals said that only an idiot would work and live there. They began referring to the surrounding area as Idiotville. The name was eventually borrowed for a nearby stream, Idiot Creek, and officially applied to the community on maps.

4. Toad Suck, Arkansas

A widely accepted story about Toad Suck’s name dates back to the days of steamboat travel on the Arkansas River. Toad Suck sits along the river and its tavern was a frequent stop for boatmen, who were said to “suck on the bottle until they swelled up like toads.”

Dr. John L. Ferguson, late director of the Arkansas History Commission, proposed an alternate explanation. He thought it was likely that, since the first Europeans to thoroughly explore the area were French, the name was an English corruption of a French word (like how aux Arcs became Ozarks).

This Arkansas travel website runs with Ferguson’s idea and muses at length about the different words and phrases that could have given rise to Toad Suck, including eau d' sucre, chateau d' sucré and coté eau d' sucre.

5. Eighty Eight, Kentucky

Eighty Eight is an unincorporated town in Barren County. According to the New York Times, Dabnie Nunally, the town’s first postmaster, came up with the name. Nunnally didn’t think very highly of his handwriting, and thought that using a number as the town’s name would make legibility on mail less of an issue. To come up with the numbers, he reached into his pocket and counted his change. He had 88 cents.

An alternate explanation sometimes floated around is that Eighty Eight is located eight miles from each of its neighboring towns—Glasgow to the west and Summer Shade to the east. (According to Google Maps, however, Summer Shade is actually about five miles away.)

6. Eighty Four, Pennsylvania

Eighty Four is a small unincorporated community southwest of Pittsburgh. It was originally named Smithville, but Pennsylvania already had a Smithville (also a New Smithville), so the USPS required a name change to avoid postal confusion. The true origin of the name is unknown, but it's been suggested that the number comes from the town’s place along the 84th mile of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line, or the year the post office was built.

7. Ding Dong, Texas

The fact that Ding Dong is in central Texas’ Bell County is a funny coincidence. The county was named for Governor Peter Bell, and the town for resident and businessman Zulis Bell and his nephew Bert (no relation to the governor).

The Bells ran a general store and hired a local painter named C.C. Hoover to make a sign for their business. Hoover supposedly illustrated the sign with two bells inscribed with the Bells’ names, and then wrote “Ding Dong” coming out the bottom of the bells. As a rural community grew around the area, the words stuck as a name for the place.

8. Cut and Shoot, Texas

In the early 1900s, trouble was brewing in a small, unnamed community a little north of Houston. Different versions of a local legend say that the townspeople were fighting over either the new steeple for the town's church; the matter of which denominations could use the building (and when); or the land claims of church members.

Whatever the reason, the townspeople had gathered near the church and were on the brink of violence. A boy at the scene supposedly declared to his family that he was going to take up a tactical position and “cut around the corner and shoot through the bushes.”

The matter was eventually taken before the court. When the judge asked one witness where the confrontation had taken place, he didn’t know what to call it, since the town didn’t have a name. He told the judge, “I suppose you could call it the place where they had the cutting and shooting scrape,” and the name stuck.

9. Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Quebec

The municipality of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! in Quebec has a name that makes perfect sense -in French. Sort of. The Ha! Ha! is officially traced back to an archaic French term, "The haha," which means an unexpected obstacle or dead end. This would refer to Lake Témiscouata, which came into view suddenly for early French explorers. The citizens of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! are proud to say that it is the only city name in the world that features two exclamation points.

See Also: The Origins of the 8 Strangest Place Names in Canada

10. Hot Coffee, Mississippi

In the early 1800s, travelers on their way to Mobile often stopped at an inn in southern Mississippi, where owner Levi Davis greeted them with ginger cookies and a pot of piping hot coffee. The inn took on the name of its signature beverage, and eventually so did the surrounding area. Today, it’s not really a town so much as a scattering of farms, homes and businesses along Hot Coffee Road.

11. Knockemstiff, Ohio

Knockemstiff is a small rural town in south central Ohio. Several legends give different explanations for the name. One says that in the 1800s, a traveling preacher entering town came across two women fighting over a man. The preacher doubted the man was worth the trouble and said that someone should “knock him stiff.”

Another similar story has it that a woman went to a preacher to complain that her husband was cheating on her. The preacher’s straightforward advice became a motto around town, and eventually its name. Yet another explanation is that the name is slang for the moonshine or homemade liquor that many of the locals manufactured.

12. Two Egg, Florida

This little burg got its name during the Great Depression. The story goes that in the town’s general store, two lads often came in on errands for their mom, regularly trading two eggs for a package of sugar. Locals began referring to the place as the “two egg store,” and the name stuck for the town as well. Strange fact: On the town’s website, there is news about sightings of a Bigfoot-type creature called the Two Egg Stump Jumper.

13. Rabbit Hash, Kentucky

According to popular legend, a flood in the 1840s drove hundreds of rabbits from the riverbank, and right into the stew pots of hungry settlers. Described by the general store clerk as “a little slice of American pie,” Rabbit Hash consists of “eight buildings and an official population of one.”

14. Cookietown, Oklahoma

This place supposedly got its name in the early 1900s, after general store owner Marvin Cornelius gave a cookie to a young boy, who exclaimed, “I don’t want to leave Cookietown.” Despite its yummy name, Cookietown is more of a ghost town today—just a few residents and a church.

15. Glen Campbell, Pennsylvania

This small (pop. 306 as of the 2000 census) borough in Western PA isn’t named after the Glen Campbell famous for "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Wichita Lineman." Instead, it’s named in honor of Cornelius Campbell, the first superintendent of the Glenwood Coal Company, which operated the mines in the area. The Glen in the name comes from the Scottish word for a valley.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
iStock

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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