How Did They Name That Town?

Fact: There are 28 Springfields in the United States, according to the United States Census Bureau--and that's not even the most-recurring place name in the country. But for every uninspired destination name, there's one that's so wacky, you might wonder whether some town official from way-back-when named it on a dare.

In some cases, that's not far from the truth. But family names, language gaps and indigenous species have more to do with the far-fetched place names of middle America. Get your trivia fix right here.

Animal-Inspired The Town of Duck in North Carolina started off as an Outer Banks waterfowl hunting haven, and now is a charming beach destination that caters to families. Ironically, Duck has only been an official town for 10 years, so the namesake activity had long since disappeared before its inception…replaced by summer concerts in the amphitheater and family outings to Duck's Beach.

The town of Chinchilla, Pa., on the other hand, was named after an animal that never lived there in any quantity. According to a published report in the Northeast Pennsylvania Newsletter, Chinchilla was named by a woman sometime between 1880 and 1890. It might have been a postwoman or a postman's wife, but either way, it was someone who felt the original name—Leach's Flats—had to go. You Wouldn't Want to Visit the Originals There are varying accounts of how Hell, Mich., comes to have its name. The most popular is that George Reeves, the most notable of the first settlers and owner of the general store, told Michigan state officials who inquired what to name it, "You can name it Hell for all I care."

That was in 1841, and well into its second century, the tiny community of Hell has come to not only accept, but love its name. Businesses include Hell in a Handbasket and Hell's Kitchen—and on the semi-official website, you can buy the honorary title "Mayor of Hell" for a day, for $100.

Nobody is sure how the borough of Mars, Pa., got its name. The best guess from local historians is, it's a shortened version of Samuel Marshall, the forefather who helped bring in a post office. Regardless, town kitsch plays up the interplanetary. There's a flying saucer that moves to different locations around the town—and in case visitors can't find it, a flying saucer stencil on the welcome sign coming into town.

Happy Holidays Valentine is barely a blip on the vast landscape of West Texas—except for a few weeks out of the year, when the post office gets inundated with requests to stamp love letters from Valentine. According to multiple sources, it was named by railroad workers after the day they founded it: February 14.

Not only festively named, the town of Santa Claus, Ind., is also cheerily Christmas-themed, with one tag line being "Celebrate Christmas every day of the year." According to the official community website, a child suggested the name during a Christmas Eve town hall meeting in 1852. It would take 80 years before anyone started establishing Christmas-themed shops and attractions to go along with the name, but today, there's Santa Claus Land of Lights, Santa's Candy Castle and the Santa Claus Museum as well as the official Santa Claus Post Office.

Apparently Christmas Eve is a popular time to name towns: Moravian missionaries named Bethlehem, Pa., based on their German patron's Christmas Eve sermon in the year it was settled (1741, according to East Pennsylvania historians).

Misleading Monikers

Were it in any of 49 states, the town of Unalaska would make perfect sense. But there's nothing unalaskan about this town since it's in Alaska. If this seems like an oxymoron, stop thinking in Latin-based languages and look to the language of the indigenous Aleut. They named it Ounalashka ("near the peninsula") and in the 1700s, incoming Russian settlers Westernized it to the current spelling.

Don't go to Happy, Texas, looking for mood enhancement. It got its name because of nearby Happy Draw, a waterway serving cowboys in the mid-1800s. At the turn of the century, there were signs that Happy might boom. It got a post office…but not a railway stop. And thus it remained a small farm town, with a population hovering well below 700. There's not much to see there besides a grain silo and a welcome sign…but the slogan remains, optimistically, "The Town Without a Frown."

And finally, there's Truth or Consequences, a town name that sounds like a game show…or possibly a Western romance title. Actually it's the latter. The New Mexico town voted to name itself that in 1950, after radio host Ralph Edwards publicly wished that someone would name their town after his program. Edwards came and broadcast his show live there the same year…and according to the Chamber of Commerce, he returned every year for 50 years.

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