My favorite place name is still Hole in the Day, MN. Ball Club, MN, always draws a smile (it showed up in one of W.P. Kinsella’s books). Gnawbone and Bean Blossom, IN, are quintessential small town names.
Yesterday, I drove past Nowthen, MN. Where did that name come from?
Round Lake, Long Lake, Diamond Lake – prosaic names, dull in their accuracy. But Battle Lake, Hazard Lake, Lac Qui Parle (Lake that speaks) – there’s some history to be discovered. Or invented.
Nodine and Bombay are little towns in southeastern Minnesota. There is in fact a restaurant in Nodine. And an abattoir just outside Bombay. People in Nodine no doubt dine on beef slaughtered in Bombay, proving that there are no sacred cows in Minnesota place names.
A college friend grew up near Trevlac, Indiana. He claimed that the town’s founders wanted to name it Calvert, but there already was a Calvert, IN, so they just reversed the spelling and that was that. I’ve never bothered to check the veracity of this tale. Truth or fiction, it’s a good story.
Often, places are named for their position relative to other places. East Saint Louis, IL is in fact east of St. Louis, MO. Tom Waits’ definition of nowhere is “east of East St. Louis.” (from the song "Time" on the album called Rain Dogs: "...and you're east of East Saint Louis and the wind is making speeches / and the rain sounds like a round of applause.")
East Chicago, IN is as much south of Chicago as it is east, but that’s out of geographic necessity, unlike Upper Sandusky OH, which is in truth below Sandusky. And there’s Upper Arlington, OH, which may have absorbed its namesake, because there is no Arlington for it to be upper to.