Monday, November 5, 2007

It's A Pretty Little Town

In Richard Brautigan’s novel ”The Hawkline Monster,” the characters pass through a county in eastern Oregon in which the two principal towns are named Brooks and Billy. Brooks and Billy were founded by two brothers who’d had a falling out, and the towns continued the bitter rivalry long after the brothers were gone. Indeed, the citizens of Brooks went so far as to erect huge signs that straddled either end of their town’s main street. Approaching town, the signs read “Welcome to Brooks.” Leaving town, they said “Fuck Billy.” [Edit: The signs? Not in the book. I had embellished the story in my own mind, I guess. ]

I’ve always been fascinated by place names.

This fall, my son started college in a small town in Iowa. The long drive down there has opened new possibilities for guesswork, speculation, and daydreaming.

Here is a list of place names we encountered on recent trips, along with some commentary. Kind of like Mystery Science Theatre 3000 – some of it might be amusing.

Raymond: The Chamber of Commerce needn’t spend any time on a slogan because, well, everybody loves Raymond.

Carbon: The fundamental basis for life forms on this planet. In fact, we should stop calling Earth Earth and just call it Carbon. A local entrepreneur started an Internet dating service. She called it Carbon Dating and couldn't understand why so many paleontologists were contacting her.

Manley: Even the girls’ teams at the high school are called Men.

Rembrandt: The choices had been narrowed to two: Rembrandt or Bosch. Idiots.

Lytton: My middle name! Really!

Everly: Everybody in Everly has a brother.

Royal: Just across the creek from Plebian.

Balltown: Not as good as Ball Club, MN, but close

What Cheer: Is this someone’s idea of a joke?

Swisher: The candy store is called Swisher Sweets. So is the tobacco store. Confusing even to the natives.

Persia: No rational or even fanciful explanation. Persia?

Clinton Falls: yes, he does
Nora Springs: yes, she does
Lost Nation: yes, it is


Rob Hardy said...

Did you, by any chance, pass through Van Meter, Iowa, the birthplace of the Cleveland Indians' greatest pitcher, Bob Feller?

If you want great place names, visit England. We had to make a special trip into Yorkshire so the boys could be photographed standing next to the sign for the village of Wetwang.

Jim H. said...

I've heard there is a small museum in Van Meter devoted to Mr. Feller. At the opening of the museum, he told the newspaper there how pleased he was to be so honored and the newspaper used this headline over the interview: "A Most Happy Feller." The editor was summarily dismissed.

Greg said...

There are so many wonderful place names in this country! Thanks for sharing a few. I've always loved Smackover, Arkansas. the name is supposedly a corruption of the French phrase chemin couvert (covered road).

I've added a link from my blog to yours, Jim. Thanks again for the kind comments!

Jim H. said...


I wonder what the road was covered with? Perhaps the settlers who came after the French knew what the words meant and said something like "Covered? I'll say it's covered. It's covered smack over with mud half the year!"