26 Things You Might Not Know Were Named After Places

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You know the names. You might not know where they came from.

1. Cheddar Cheese
This ubiquitous cheese gets its name from the town of Cheddar in southwest England. Unlike other cheeses named for their town of origin, like Gorgonzola and Parmesan, Cheddar is not covered by a Protected Designation of Origin, which means no matter where it is produced it can still legally be called Cheddar cheese.

2. Duffel Bags
While the phrase duffel bag now stands for a particular style of bag, they were originally named for the thick Duffel cloth they were made out of, which was produced in the town of Duffel, Belgium. Duffle coats are named for the same cloth.

3. Lyme Disease
While this disease has been present for thousands of years, it wasn’t until a large outbreak of cases in the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut, during the 1970s that the full syndrome was recognized.

4. Chihuahuas
These popular tiny dogs get their name from the state of Chihuahua in Mexico, where excavations of pottery bearing their likeness prove the breed was in the area more than 1,400 years before the first Europeans arrived.

5. The Rosetta Stone
This invaluable stone, which led to the understanding of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, was rediscovered by Napoleon’s forces in the Egyptian town of Rashid, or as the French called it, Rosette (Rosetta.)

6. Rugby
According to legend, this sport was invented when a pupil at Rugby School in England picked up the ball and ran with it during a soccer game. What is certain is that the first written rules for the game originated at the school in 1845.

7. Turquoise
This semi-precious stone was originally mined in Persia, but got its name from the French word for the Turkish merchants who first sold it in Europe. Turkeys (the birds) originated in America but get their name for the same reason.

8. Jalapeños
While known in its native Mexico as huachinango or chile gordo, to the rest of the world Jalapeños get their name from the town of Xalapa or Jalapa.

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9. Shetland Ponies
These small ponies are native to the Shetland Islands located northeast of mainland Scotland. Their stocky build made them perfect for the harsh climate of the subarctic islands, where their ancestors have been kept and bred since the Bronze Age.

10. The Tuxedo
We owe the popularity of this formal dinner jacket to King Edward VII, but the name is all American. When an American friend of the then-Prince of Wales wore the new style to the Tuxedo Park Club in New York, the style caught on among the members, and the jacket became synonymous with the club.

11. Sherry
This fortified wine is named for the Anglican version of its town of origin, Jerez (or Xeres) de la Frontera in Spain. Like champagne, sherry is a Protected Designation of Origin, and only wine from that area of Spain can be labeled sherry in Europe.

12. Paisley
The distinctive paisley pattern is originally from India or Persia, and has been in use in the Middle East and Asia since around 200 AD. When its European popularity boomed and imports couldn’t keep up with the demand, various cities produced their own, including the town of Paisley in Scotland.

13. Chantilly Lace
Famous in popular culture for the Big Bopper’s hit of the same name in 1958, this style of lace-making dates to the 1600s. While the majority of the lace was actually produced elsewhere, it gets its name from the town of Chantilly in France.

14. Marathons
The name for the 26.2 mile race famously comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek runner who supposedly ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to announce that they had defeated the Persians in battle.

15. Rottweilers
These large dogs are named for the town they originated in, Rottweil in Germany, where they were used to herd livestock and pull carts.

16. Hamburgers
Minced beef originated in Europe in the 1400s. When immigrants from Germany came to America, they brought the popular “Hamburg steak,” cheap patties mixed with spices made famous by that seaside town.

17. Lesbianism
The term lesbian was first used to describe gay women in the 1890s, for the Greek island of Lesbos. That's where the ancient poet Sappho lived with, and wrote about her love for, a group of women. In 2008, inhabitants of the island tried to “reclaim” the name in court, insisting that only people from Lesbos fit the term.

18. The Ebola virus
This deadly disease was named in 1976 for the Ebola River in Zaire, which was near where the first outbreak occurred.

Pilsner image via Shutterstock

19. Pilsner Beer
This pale lager was created in response to the dissatisfaction with the quality of beer in the present-day Czech Republic during the early 1800s. In 1842, a brewer in the town of Pilsen created a new style of beer that was a big hit.

20. Balaclavas
The favorite headgear of skiers and robbers alike, the balaclava was worn by English troops unaccustomed to the bitter cold Russian weather during the Crimean War. Despite not being called balaclavas until almost 30 years later, the name comes from the town of the same name in present-day Ukraine where an important battle was fought.

21. Varnish
The resin from ancient forests was first used to make varnish in Berenice, Libya, which eventually became Vernix in Latin, from which we get the modern word.

22. Ascot/Cravat
The must-have neckband of the well-to-do in the 1800s, the ascot is a type of cravat named for its pervasive presence at the Ascot Racecourse in England. The cravat itself is named for the French word for Croatia, natives of which popularized the style at the court of Louis XIII.

23. Uranium
Despite having nothing to do with Uranus, in 1789 German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth named this newly discovered element after the seventh planet, which had itself been discovered only eight years before.

24. Denim
The popular fabric was originally a variation on a serge fabric made by the André family in Nîmes, France. The name “serge de Nîmes” was eventually shortened to denim.

25. The Charleston
One of the biggest dance crazes of all time, the Charleston was popularized in a song of the same name in the 1923 Broadway show Runnin' Wild. While the choreography for the show was most likely original, the style came from the Juba dance moves that originated among slaves on plantations, variations of which remained popular with African-Americans in southern cities like Charleston, South Carolina.

26. Limousine

Limo image via Shutterstock

The first limos, built in 1902, got their name from the French region Limousin, either because people thought the cloth covering on the back of the cars resembled the distinctive hoods worn by the shepherds there, or because limousine drivers wore similar cloaks to protect themselves from the elements.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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December 3, 2013 - 8:20pm
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