How 50 Texas Cities Got Their Names

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1. HOUSTON

The state’s largest city takes its name from Sam Houston, who led the army that defeated Mexican troops during the Texas Revolution in 1836. That year, the Allen brothers decided to establish a town on the site of a beautiful bayou and name it after him.  

2. SAN ANTONIO

In 1691, a group of Spanish settlers—including Domingo Terán de los Ríos, the first governor of Spanish Texas—entered the territory to establish missions and regain control of the area from the French, Apache, and Comanche. On June 13, 1691, the party camped next to a stream. It happened to be the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, and so they renamed the river San Antonio, which later lent its name to the city.

3. DALLAS

Likely the surname of a historic figure, the precise origin of Dallas’s name is unknown. It could come from George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States under James K. Polk, or his brother, Commodore Alexander J. Dallas of the United States Navy, or Joseph Dallas, who settled near the new town in 1843.

4. AUSTIN

Austin’s namesake is Stephen F. Austin, the “founder of Anglo-American Texas.” The city was established as the capital in 1839, when the Republic of Texas was just three years old.

5. FORT WORTH

General William Jenkins Worth was a military hero in the Mexican War who was serving as the Commander of the Department of Texas when he died of cholera in May 1849, about a month before Major Ripley Arnold established the fort.

6. EL PASO

Paso comes from “El Paso del Norte,” or “Pass of the North.” Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate gave the location that name in 1598 because it sits in the pass between two mountain ranges, the Sierra de Juárez and the Franklin Mountains.

7. ARLINGTON

Founded in 1876, Arlington was renamed in 1877 after Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House in Arlington, Virginia. 

8. CORPUS CHRISTI

Spanish explorer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda is responsible for naming this southern Texas city. The name, which means “body of Christ,” comes from the Catholic feast day on which he explored and claimed the area in 1519.

9. LAREDO

A Spanish military officer named José de Escandón was commissioned to settle the area and named it Laredo, after a town in the Santander province of Spain. 

10. LUBBOCK

Thomas Saltus Lubbock was a soldier in the Texas Revolution and served as a Texas Ranger in support of the Confederacy during the Civil War. He was also the brother of the ninth governor of Texas, Francis R. Lubbock, who served from 1857 to 1859. 

11. GARLAND

Former Arkansas governor and U.S. senator Augustus H. Garland was the sitting attorney general when the city was established in 1887. He served under President Grover Cleveland.

12. IRVING

The city of Irving is most likely named for a Yankee—Washington Irving. Irving was the favorite author of Onetta Barcus Brown, the wife of the town’s co-founder, Otis Brown.

13. AMARILLO

The Spanish word for “yellow” suits this city well thanks to the yellow wildflowers and yellow soil along the banks of the creek of the same name. Charles F. Rudolph, editor of the Tascosa Pioneer, shamed the Forth Worth and Denver Railway employees for their incorrect pronunciation for the Spanish word. In 1888, he correctly predicted the future when he said, "Never again will it be Ah-mah-ree-yoh."

14. GRAND PRAIRIE

This name reflects the land on which the city was built—glorious, expansive grasslands. It was originally called Dechman after its founder, but the town’s name was later changed to match that of the local railroad station.

15. BROWNSVILLE

Major Jacob Brown was a soldier in the Mexican-American War. He served as commander of Fort Texas, where died during a Mexican attack, and posthumously gave this city its name. 

16. PASADENA

It’s no coincidence that Pasadena, Texas shares a name with a town in California. Founder John H. Burnett wanted to depict his area as lush with vegetation and fertile for agriculture, just like the SoCal region.

17. McKINNEY

Collin McKinney was among the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. He also served as a land surveyor, legislator, and religious leader.

18. MESQUITE

A nearby creek of the same name was dubbed before the city was founded in 1873, presumably after the mesquite trees native to the area. 

19. KILLEEN

Settled in 1872, Killeen was established by the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway, which named the settlement for Frank P. Killeen, assistant general manager of the railroad. Before taking on Killeen’s name, the area was called Palo Alto.

20. FRISCO

Originally named Emerson, the city was renamed in 1904 for the St. Louis, San Francisco & Texas Railway, referred to as the “Frisco system,” which ran through the area.

21. McALLEN

John McAllen was an early settler in the area who joined with his son, James McAllen, to donate land for the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway to cross in order to establish a town along the rail line. 

22. WACO

Waco is named for the Waco tribe, whose village once rested on the land that now bears its name.

23. CARROLLTON

The name most likely comes from Carrollton, Illinois, the previous hometown of many of the city’s early residents. It is also possible that the name comes from Daniel Joseph Carroll, a settler from the 1841 William S. Peters colony.

24. MIDLAND

Midland began in 1881 as Midway Station, a section house located halfway between two stations on the Texas and Pacific Railway. Because Texas already had towns called Midway, the name was changed in 1884—as many do—to facilitate establishing a post office.

25. DENTON

John B. Denton was a lawyer, Methodist minister, and captain in the Republic of Texas army. The city was founded in 1857.

26. ABILENE

When the town was founded in 1881, C.W. Merchant took the name from Abilene, Kans. in the hope that its Texas counterpart could become as important as its sister in the cattle ranching business.

27. BEAUMONT

Henry Millard and his partners purchased fifty acres to establish a town in 1835. The Beaumont moniker likely came from Millard’s wife’s maiden name.

28. ODESSA

Russian railroad workers likely named this city for its resemblance to the landscape of Odessa, Ukraine. 

29. ROUND ROCK

Two fishing buddies and early residents found inspiration in the large limestone rock in Brushy Creek where the pair liked to drop their lines.

30. THE WOODLANDS

While not technically an incorporated city (it’s a census designated place), The Woodlands boasts a robust population (around 108,000) that earns it a spot on this list. George P. Mitchell founded the planned community in 1974, and the name was likely picked as a way to market the development as a pastoral, nature-filled alternative to nearby Houston.

31. WICHITA FALLS

Wichita County and the Wichita River both existed before the city and were named for the local Wichita tribe, though that word wasn’t the tribe’s name for themselves, but rather a Choctaw word meaning “big arbor,” a reference to their thatched huts. The “falls” was a five-foot-high waterfall that washed away in the late 1800s. 

32. RICHARDSON

A couple of Richardsons could have given their name to this city. The name most likely comes from E. H. Richardson, a contractor who built the Houston and Texas Central Railroad from Dallas to Denton, but it could also be a reference to A. S. Richardson, a secretary for the railroad. The town of Richardson was intentionally founded on the railroad tracks, which makes both sensible candidates.

33. LEWISVILLE

Lewisville was once known as Holford Prairie after its previous owners, but in the 1850s, B.W. Lewis bought the land and renamed it after himself.

34. TYLER

The city was named for President John Tyler as a show of gratitude for his supporting Texas’s admission to the union.

35. PEARLAND

The city was aptly named for the abundance of pear trees in the area, with the moniker also helping attract settlers by advertising the fertile land. The area was originally called Mark Belt, so a change of any kind of was probably a good idea.

36. COLLEGE STATION

You need only know that College Station is home to Texas A&M to understand this name. The city began as a railroad stop for the university. 

37. SAN ANGELO

The town’s founder, Bart J. DeWitt, decided on the name Santa Angela to honor either his deceased wife, Caroline Angela, or his sister-in-law, Angelina, who was a nun. By the time the town applied for a post office in 1883, the name had transformed into San Angela, which is grammatically nonsensical in Spanish. The postal service rejected that construction but approved the grammatically consistent San Angelo. 

38. ALLEN

Ebenezer Allen, a native of Maine who moved to Texas in the 1830s, served as attorney general and secretary of state of the Republic of Texas and was later a promoter for the Houston and Texas Central Railway. In 1880, Denton outlaw Sam Bass committed what is said to be Texas’s first train robbery in Allen.

39. LEAGUE CITY

When John C. League acquired the land that is now League City in 1893, it was called Butler’s Ranch. League bought the land from a man named Muldoon who gave up the property rights upon entering the priesthood.

40. SUGAR LAND

Sugar Land was once home to a large sugarcane plantation, a raw-sugar mill, and a sugar refinery, as well as the Sugar Land Railroad. In other words, the name was as sure as sugar.  

41. LONGVIEW

The impressive views of the area surrounding the town inspired this name. The view from the house of Ossamus Hitch Methvin, from whom the land was purchased in order to extend the Southern Pacific Railroad track, was particularly breathtaking. 

42. MISSION

Mission was founded on 17,000 acres of land purchased from priests of the French Catholic order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who maintained the nearby La Lomita Mission. Founders John J. Conway and James W. Holt took a cue from the former owners when naming the city in 1907.

43. EDINBURG

Only an “h” separates this city and the Scottish one for which it was named. The name is an homage to John Young, a 19th century landowner of the Rio Grande Valley who was born in Edinburgh. 

44. BRYAN

William Joel Bryan donated the land for the townsite, enabling the expansion of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad. He was also a nephew of Stephen F. Austin.

45. BAYTOWN

The city grew up around a refinery that was built in 1919 in order to process oil from the Goose Creek Oil Field, which sits on Tabbs Bay.

46. PHARR

Henry N. Pharr was a Louisiana sugarcane grower who purchased the land that would become the town in 1909 along with John C. Kelly, who generously named the town for his partner.

47. TEMPLE

Established by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway as a construction camp, Temple was named for their chief engineer, Bernard Moore Temple.

48. MISSOURI CITY

Named in 1893 by W.R. McElroy, a land developer who hoped it would attract people from the St. Louis area to settle in Texas.

49. FLOWER MOUND

The name comes from the 50-foot, 12-acre hill located at what is now the southeast side of the city, which was covered in a local wildflower called Indian paintbrush. 

50. NORTH RICHLAND HILLS

Clarence Jones developed his 268-acre dairy farm in 1952 and named it North Richland Hills in imitation of Richland Hills, a nearby development into which North Richland hoped to be annexed.

11 Weird Place Names From Around the World

The sign on the train station platform helps you pronounce this 58-letter-long Welsh town name.
The sign on the train station platform helps you pronounce this 58-letter-long Welsh town name.
hipproductions/iStock via Getty Images

Shakespeare wasn’t wrong when he said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But if these places had any other names, they probably wouldn’t have made this list (or international headlines, in a couple of cases). Read on to discover the fascinating details behind Tasmania’s Eggs and Bacon Bay, French Polynesia’s Disappointment Islands, and other strangely named locales from all corners of the globe.

1. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

At 58 characters, this tiny Welsh village on the isle of Anglesey has the longest place name in Europe. Translated to English, it’s a phrase that describes the town’s location: Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave. According to Atlas Obscura, the town has existed in some form for thousands of years, but in 1880 a publicity-oriented tailor changed its name from Llanfairpwll to its current moniker in an attempt to attract tourists. Luckily for us, Llanfairpwll is still an acceptable nickname, as is Llanfair PG. Listen to weather reporter Liam Dutton pronounce it like a pro here.

2. Batman, Turkey

Both a Turkish province and its capital city are named Batman for the nearby Batman River. Batman itself could have come from the ancient unit of measurement (equal to 16.96 pounds), or it could be a shortening of the name of the nearby Bati Raman mountains. Either way, the city became the source of scandal in 2008 when its then-mayor, Huseyin Kalkan, threatened to sue Warner Bros. and director Christopher Nolan over their use of the term in the Dark Knight trilogy. (No lawsuit was ever actually filed.) There are also plenty of people who want to reinforce the connection between the place name and superhero—over 26,000 have signed a petition to change the province’s borders to look like the bat symbol.

3. Eggs and Bacon Bay, Tasmania

eggs and bacon flower
KarenHBlack/iStock via Getty Images

Tasmania’s Eggs and Bacon Bay is named after a regional wildflower commonly known as eggs and bacon, whose petals are a mixture of the sunny yellow of egg yolks and the deep red of bacon. The bay made national news in 2016 when PETA petitioned unsuccessfully to change its name to a more animal-friendly “Apple and Cherry Bay.” It doesn’t look like the idea ever made it to a vote at the local council, and officials didn’t seem keen on it. Huon Valley deputy mayor Ian Paul told The Guardian that the idea was “ludicrous,” adding “I feel pretty strongly about it. This is our heritage, it is our history.”

4. Wonowon, British Columbia

It’s not a coincidence that this Canadian town, pronounced “one-oh-one,” is located on Alaska Highway’s Mile 101, where the U.S. Army operated a 24-hour checkpoint during World War II. The town was originally named Blueberry after the nearby Blueberry River, but was eventually changed to Wonowon to prevent people from confusing it for another Blueberry in the southeastern Kootenay region. It’s not clear when the name officially changed to Wonowon, but according to a mention in a 1956 issue of the Northern Sentinel, the Post Office recognized it as Wonowon, while the residents still called it Blueberry. Why Blueberry in the first place, you ask? Possibly because British Columbia produces 96 percent of Canada’s cultivated blueberries.

5. Spa, Belgium

fountain in Spa, Belgium
Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Spa, Belgium, sounds relaxing, and for good reason. The word spa comes from this eastern Belgian town, whose curative mineral springs have been visited since the 16th century and were even mentioned by Pliny the Elder. Spa itself could be derived from espa, the Walloon word for "spring" or “fountain,” or the Latin word spagere, meaning “to scatter, sprinkle, moisten.” Or it could be an acronym for the Latin phrase sanitas per aquas, which fittingly means “health through water.”

6. Westward Ho!, England

book cover of Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley
Frederick Warne & Co, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1855, Charles Kingsley published a book called Westward Ho!, in which a young man leaves his home in Bideford, England, to pursue a seafaring life of adventure under the tutelage of famed explorer Sir Francis Drake. The book became a bestseller, and some enterprising folks formed the Northam Burrows Hotel and Villa Building Company in 1863 with the intention of capitalizing on the attention. They started by building the Westward Ho! Hotel, and continued to develop the area by constructing terraces, lodges, bath houses, stables, and a golf club. As development progressed, the village that sprung up around the hotel became known as Westward Ho! also.

7. The Office Girls, Antarctica

The Office Girls are two glacial islands, also called nunataks, about seven miles away from Welcome Mountain near the Southern Ocean coast of Antarctica. There are so many tiny pieces of land to map in Antarctica that the U.S. has an Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names to name them all—and in 1970 they chose “The Office Girls” as a tribute to all of the personnel who assisted with the administrative side of the missions from home in the continental U.S.

8. Punkeydoodles Corners, Ontario

The origin of the name of this tiny hamlet has been debated for decades. Some people say it’s the product of a German tavern owner’s slurred rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” while others say Punkeydoodle was an insult thrown at resident pumpkin-grower John Burbrigg by a vexed neighbor, and from then on his plot of land was called “Punkeydoodle’s Corners.” The charming Canadian town was once home to a somewhat charming Canadian crime: Mischief-makers often stole the town’s sign, until Canada Day in 1982, when community members replaced it with a concrete monument that weighs almost a ton.

9. Malpelo Island, Colombia

Sunset over Malpelo Island
Janos/iStock via Getty Images

The Spanish words mal pelo translate to “bad hair” in English, implying that this island is in some way a nightmare for bouffants, beehives, and blowouts. It’s more likely the result of a metaphorical game of telephone that spanned half the globe and several centuries. It could be derived from the Latin malveolus, meaning “inhospitable” or “spiteful,” which might’ve become malbolo and later mal pelo [PDF]. It’s also on a world map from 1550 as ye mallabry, which probably means malabrigo, a word for “shelterless” that Spanish cartographers used to mark some islands and bays. Malabrigo sort of sounds like mal pelo, at least if you’re shouting it to someone on the opposite side of the island.

10. Hotazel, South Africa

Welcome to Hotazel, where it’s hot as hell—or at least it was on the day in 1915 when a group of land surveyors assessed a farm in South Africa and named the whole place “Hot As Hell,” now spelled “Hotazel.” The climate is actually pretty reasonable, with summer temperatures sometimes reaching the 90s (in Fahrenheit) and winter temperatures sometimes dipping into the 30s.

11. Disappointment Islands, French Polynesia

In 1765, Lord Byron’s grandfather John Byron was sailing around the tip of South America when he chanced upon a tiny island in the distance. To him and his scurvy-ridden crew, it looked like paradise, but he soon realized the high surf and coral reefs prevented safe anchorage. That, in addition to the spear-wielding natives stationed along the shore, dashed their hopes so severely that Byron named the island (and its nearby sister landmass) the Islands of Disappointment. This may have shielded the islands from centuries of follow-up explorers, but it also literally gives them a bad name. In reality, says BBC Travel’s Andrew Evans, they’re "timeless."

6 Weird Things Embedded in City Streets

A Toynbee tile near the White House in 1995
A Toynbee tile near the White House in 1995
Elvert Barnes, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Most of us spend our days walking around with our eyes pointed straight ahead or looking around, seeing the rest of the world mostly at eye-level. But there are advantages to looking down, and not just because it helps you avoid stepping on other people’s feet. Strange, wondrous, and occasionally terrible things have been found stuck to the surface of city streets—just take a look at the examples below.

1. Toynbee Tiles

If you have a revolutionary idea to share with the masses, you could write an op-ed in a major paper, talk to a local member of congress, start an activist organization, or pay for a PR campaign. Or, you could carve the message into a square of gummy linoleum and stick it in the street. Whatever floats your boat!

The linoleum method is the one employed by the mysterious creator of the Toynbee Tiles—lettered rectangular plaques that have appeared in dozens of major U.S. cities since the 1980s, as well as in several South American locations. Most of the tiles contain some version of the following message:

TOYNBEE IDEA
IN KUBRICK'S 2001
RESURRECT DEAD
ON PLANET JUPITER

Tile-followers, and there are a few, generally interpret Toynbee as a reference to 20th century British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, although some think it could refer to the Ray Bradbury short story "The Toynbee Convector." The 2001 is, of course, a reference to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which depicts a voyage to Jupiter.

No one knows who's behind the tiles, and it may not be a single individual. For years, many tile enthusiasts believed they were the work of James Morasco, a Philadelphia carpenter who communicated with the Philadelphia Inquirer in the early 1980s about the idea of resurrecting the dead on the planet Jupiter. But the tiles have continued to appear long after Morasco's death in 2003, and his widow claims he never had anything to do with them.

The story gets much, much weirder. David Mamet claims the idea for the tiles came from one of his plays; many of the tiles contain screeds against the mafia, media, and the Jews; Larry King is somehow involved. For those who are intrigued, the excellent 2011 documentary Resurrect Dead delves deeper into the mystery.

2. The Paris Central Guillotine

It’s been called “the most awful spot in Paris.” These five rectangular indents near the Pére-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris look ordinary enough, but they have a grisly tale to tell. They’re actually slabs that once formed the foundation for the Paris guillotine, which sliced off 69 heads—in public—between 1851 and 1899. (France continued sending people to the guillotine until 1977, but not here.) The guillotine stood at the entrance to the now-demolished Prison de la Roquette, and shut down when the prison itself ended its dark days.

3. The Hess Triangle

The Hess Triangle in NYC
The Hess Triangle in NYC
Nan Palmero, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It may be the ultimate New York-style "screw you, buddy," at least as far as the city's streets are concerned. Where 7th Avenue and Christopher Street cross in Manhattan's West Village, there's a mosaic triangle that takes up about 500 square inches. Its black letters spell out an oddly aggressive message: "Property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes."

The message, and the triangle, are a remnant of a very minor early 20th century property battle, in which New York City used eminent domain to seize a nearby apartment building when expanding the IRT subway in the late 1910s. The apartment building was owned by Philadelphia landlord David Hess, whose family later noticed that the city’s seizing had left them this one tiny triangle. City authorities asked the family to donate the triangle, but they refused, installing this defiant mosaic instead, in 1922. It’s a little outdated, however: in 1938, the family finally gave up and sold the plot to the owners of Village Cigars for $1000, or $2 per square inch.

4. Jewish Tombstones

During World War II and for decades afterwards, Jewish tombstones in Poland were treated as construction material, plundered from cemeteries to pave streets, courtyards, and passageways, and used to repair walls and curbs. In 2014, the city of Warsaw agreed to return 1000 Jewish tombstones, known as matzevot, that had been used to build a pergola and stairs inside a city park.

Polish photographer Łukasz Baksik spent several years documenting the tombstones’ appropriation as paving material and masonry, with the results published in a book called Matzevot for Everyday Use. Meanwhile, a nonprofit called From the Depths runs the Matzeva Project, which aims to find and restore some of the millions of gravestones still hidden in Poland, as well as the often-forgotten Jewish cemeteries from which the stones were stolen.

5. Potholes Crying out for Help

Potholes are the mosquito of urban infrastructure problems: minor but persistently irritating. Over the past few years, several people have been trying new approaches to getting them repaired. In Panama City, the TV show Telemetro Reporta launched a project in 2015 installing motion-sensitive detectors in the city’s potholes. When a car ran over the sensor, the device automatically sent a tweet to the Ministry of Public Works. In Chicago, artist Jim Bachor took a more delicious approach, creating mosaics of popsicles and other items inside potholes both in Chicago and Jyväskylä, Finland. The crudest—but potentially most effective—technique comes from Manchester, where a man who identified himself to the BBC only as “Wanksy” drew penis shapes around potholes. “They [potholes] don't get filled. They'll be there for months,” Wanksy said. “Suddenly you draw something amusing around it, everyone sees it and it either gets reported or fixed." The local city council spokesperson called the drawings “incredibly insulting.”

6. Tourist-friendly QR codes

It’s not as weird as the other entries on the list, but possibly more useful. Rio is known for its stunning beaches, spectacular Carnival, and the black-and-white sidewalk mosaics around the city known as Portuguese pavement. In 2013, the city began installing QR codes using the same black-and-white stone used to create decorative images of fish, waves, and vegetation. The city installed about 30 of the codes at beaches, scenic hotspots and historic sites, and tourists can use the codes alongside a smartphone app to get background information in Portuguese, Spanish, and English.

This list first appeared in 2016 and was republished in 2019.

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