Some people collect stamps; others collect coins. I collect place names.
There are some odd ones out there, such as Odd, West Virginia, and some normal ones, like Normal, Illinois.
In my retirement from the newspaper business, my wife and I moved to North Carolina, which is a bonanza for the goofy gazetteer.
When we lived in the Blue Ridge for the first time, many years ago, we lived in Meat Camp, just north of Boone, so, I’m not casting stones here. This is just my hobby.
But North Carolina can claim: Bloat Springs Landing; Chuckle; Lizard Lick; Canal Gut; Sandy Mush. There is Whynot, Stumpy Point, Frying Pan Landing and the ever-popular Forks of the Pigeon.
Among the state’s watery ways are Greasy Creek, Cuckold’s Creek, Bawdy Swamp, Stinking Quarter Creek and Pinchgut Creek. Cudda Bum is a stream named for an old geezer nicknamed Cudda whose favorite expletive was “Bum.”
There is Bachelor’s Delight Swamp, Heartsease, Honeypot Swamp.
Short names that come spitting out of the mouth are among my favorites. North Carolina has Brief, Emit, Few, Alert, Askew, Aho, and Duck.
If you are a nervous sort, you can take your vacation at Boring Creek. If money is a problem, you can go to Budget Falls.
The state offers, too, Easy Street, Frog Level, Hairy Bear, Hanging Dog, Graphiteville, Airbellows, Cane Bottom, Brittle Ordinary (and its cousin, Burnt Ordinary). There is Cash Corner No. 2, but not No. 1. There is Radical, Gobble Creek and Kill Quick.
But names all across the country speak eloquently for the spirit of America: Accident, Md.; Bivalve, N.J.; Coupon, Pa.; Dwarf, Ky.; Oblong, Ill.; and Waterproof, La.
Then, there’s Looneyville, Mud, and Sod, W.Va.; Oiltrough, Ark.; Peculiar, Mo.; Bad Axe, Mich. Can you imagine what the good ol’ boys are like in Cat Mash, Miss.? Or in Frogmore, La.?
Texas has a few, like Cut and Shoot, X-Ray and Goodnight, but isn’t Damsite better?
Texas is big enough for both a Frog and a Frognot.
Numbers are surprisingly popular: Eighty-Eight, Ky.; Eighty-Four, Pa.; Ninety-Six, S.C. But Arkansas wins with both Fifty-Six and Forty-Four. A high-school sportscaster’s nightmare: “And here is a late score, Forty-Four over Fifty- Six, 75 to 68.”
The numbers can add up, too. Starting with Zero, Miss., and climbing the ladder through One Horse Store, Ark., and Double Run, Ga.
Three Lakes and The Four Seasons are both in Washington; Five Corners and Sixes are in Oregon. There are Seven Devils in North Carolina and Octavia in Nebraska. Nine Mile Corner in Colorado and Tenville, Iowa.
Leavenworth, Kan., comes next, followed by Twelve Corners, Wis.
But the inflation gets going after that, with Centennial, Wyo., Gross, Neb., Thousand Oaks, Calif., Four K’s Estate, N.D., and Million, Ky.
Somewhat more modest is the ambiguous Many, La.
You can plot these names thematically. Start with food, for instance: Spuds, Fla.; Cookietown, Okla.; Noodle, Texas; Celeryville, Ohio. There are dozens more.
A whole subsection can be given over to our favorite steaming beverage: There are Coffee counties in three states. Also: Coffeeville, Miss.; Coffeyville, Kan.; and Java, S.D. If you can’t get enough of the Hot Coffee, Miss., go to Coffee Springs, Ala., where it must flow from the ground. And if you have problems sleeping after all that Coffeen, Ill., try a little soothing Cocoa, Fla., instead.
There are towns out of place. Manhattan shouldn’t be in Kansas; Philadelphia shouldn’t be in Mississippi; Madrid shouldn’t be in New Mexico. And what is Mexico doing in Maine? Probably the same thing that Jersey Shore is doing in the middle of the Pennsylvania mountains.
Miami is in at least six states; Dallas in eight, not counting Dallastown, Pa., and Dallas City, Ill.
You can drive from Saginaw to Reno to Omaha to Nome, and take side trips to Detroit and Barstow and never leave Texas.
There are Minneapolis, Kan.; Atlanta, Mich.; Duluth, Ga.; Boston, Pa.; Baltimore, Ohio; and Taos, Mo. Phoenix shows up in Phoenixville, Pa., Phenix City, Ala., Phenix Mountain, N.C., and Phoenix, Ill., N.Y., and Ore.
Even whole states get misplaced.
There are Florida, N.Y.; Vermont, Ill.; Ohio, Ky.; Mississippi, Mo.; Dakota, Neb.; and Wisconsin, Pa. Nevada and California each show up in four states; Delaware shows up in six. The champ is Wyoming, which you can find in 10 states and the Canadian province of Ontario.
There are Nevada, Ohio, and Ohio, W.Va. There are Wyoming, Del.; Delaware, Ind.; and Indiana, Pa. There are Colorado County, Texas; Texas, Okla.; and Oklahoma, Pa.
To say nothing of Owyhee, Idaho.
Before I get down to unveiling my Top 10 list, I want to say a few words about some very special places. I haven’t been to all of them, but I have at least passed through a good many of them.
They all have names that make you sit up and take notice. Places such as Whynot, N.C.; Humptulips, Wash.; Box Springs, Calif.; Nameless, Tenn.; and Scarce Grease, Ala.
Americans have shown an amazing inventiveness for naming the places where they live. You wonder just how much civic pride there can be in Bummerville, Calif., or Worstville, Ohio, but you have to wonder even more why such names were chosen.
I’m sure each name has an interesting history, if you have the time and inclination for the research.
Take Toad Suck. Please.
There are people who don’t believe Toad Suck, Ark., is real.
Well, I’ve been to Toad Suck. It is a lovely little place, stuck on the tree-lined sides of the Arkansas River about 8 miles west of Conway.
There isn’t much there, it is true, but there is a state park, a convenience store and gas station, the Toad Suck Embroidery Shop and a big sign on the local real estate office that says, in big, friendly letters, ”Welcome to Toad Suck.”
The reason the town is there is also the reason it was named: There was a ferry here that was once the only way across the river between Memphis, Tenn., and Hot Springs, Ark. The mail had to go through, so in 1823, the Toad Suck Ferry started operation. It was a skiff just large enough for the ferryman and a horse and rider. It was poled from shore to shore.
Among the notable people we have records of crossing the Toad Suck Ferry are Sam Houston, Washington Irving, Zachary Taylor and Jefferson Davis.
The location also became a wood stop for the steamboats that ran up and down the river, and sometime before 1850, a tavern opened up to irrigate the steamboat crews.
There is no certifiable explanation for the name of the ferry and the town that grew around it, but the official version goes thus:
The drinking was so heavy at the tavern that a traveler remarked on seeing it that ”those fellows suck at a bottle till they swell up like toads!” And the name stuck.
Well, I’ve been reading place-name origins long enough to recognize a folk etymology when I see it. I don’t believe it at all, but I have no alternative.
There is also the Toad Suck One-Stop, a convenience store and gas station where you can buy a T-shirt emblazoned with the town name for $14.99 or a ballcap with the same for $8.95.
The most I can tell you about the people who live there comes from Glenn Peters, who was selling watermelons off the back of his pickup truck. It was nearly 100 degrees in July, with humidity nearly 100 percent. Peters sat in the shade of the One-Stop sign behind the truck.
He’s a meatcutter by trade. I know because that was one of the first things he told me. He also said he keeps his hand in a little farming. He’s not from Toad Suck, he said, but from about 40 miles north. This year, he thought he’d try some pumpkins and watermelons. He had hoped to have them ripe in time for the Fourth of July, but the wet season slowed their maturity, so he is hawking them instead two weeks later.
And why did he drive his watermelons all the way to Toad Suck to sit in the awful heat of midday?
”There’s a lot of melon-eating people around here.”
But it isn’t the perfectly reasonable explanations for the names that interest me, rather, it is the names themselves. Correctionville, Iowa. Jot ‘Em Down, Texas. Yelling Settlement, Ala.
All of which brings us to the list:
My Top 10 most peculiar place names in the United States (not counting Peculiar, Mo.)
10. Waterproof, La.
9. Cheesequake, N.J.
8. Oblong, Ill.
7. Humansville, Mo.
6. Odd, W.Va.
5. Imalone, Wis.
4. Monkeys Eyebrow, Ky.
3. Toad Suck, Ark.
2. Chicken Bristle, Ill.
And the No. 1 Most Peculiar Place name: Brittle Ordinary, N.C.