Jewish World Review June 22, 2000 / 19 Sivan, 5760
The name game
LOW, Utah -- When I passed through Low -- on Interstate 80, about halfway between Salt Lake City and the Nevada border -- I didn't even know it.
It's a place too small to be included on most maps. During my travels I'm always looking for weird datelines; if you read a column here about people who live in the Pee Dee part of South Carolina, you know what I'm talking about. Usually, I find the cities while I'm on the road working on one story or another.
But it turns out that there's a guy who looks for datelines not because they're the site of any news story, but just because he's amused by the datelines themselves, and feels a need to find out about them. His name is Frank K. Gallant; he's the author of a book called "A Place Called Peculiar," and it's just that -- a book full of real places in the United States that are enough to make you smile.
So, courtesy of Mr. Gallant, here are a few of them, along with the explanations:
BETWEEN, Ga. -- In the early 1850s, the area midway between Monroe and Loganville became populous enough to support its own post office. No one could decide what to call the town, and finally the postmistress' husband got so sick of the discussion that he decided to go with the obvious.
UMPIRE, Ark. -- Named in honor of Billy Faulkner, who umpired a baseball game between two small Arkansas villages whose citizens didn't really understand the rules.
INK, Mo. -- In 1886, in Shannon County, the citizens were looking for a name for their town. They met in a one-room school, but couldn't agree; the discussion dragged on, and someone inadvertently spilled a bottle of ink. That became the name.
GENE AUTRY, Okla. -- The singing cowboy came here once, and the citizens were so excited that they changed the name of the town, which used to be called Berwyn.
HAPPY CORNER, N.H. -- Named for a store where local men had a good time telling jokes and playing cards.
UNCERTAIN, Texas -- No one is really certain.
DOT, Va. -- It's just a dot on the map -- "One of those places that has 'Welcome to' and 'Come back' on the same sign."
DUSTY, Wash. -- The town's first postmaster, Homer Allen, wanted the little crossroads village named for himself, and wrote "Allen" on the application for a post office. But his wife and a schoolteacher friend made him cross out "Allen" and write in "Dusty" because they wanted everyone to know how gritty their frontier lives were.
ORDINARY, Ky. -- The modest townspeople, in looking for a name for their post office in 1884, admitted to themselves that they lived in a pretty ordinary place. So that's what they went with.
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CHECKERBOARD, Mont. -- According to local resident Dale McAfee, when he left home to live in New York City in 1943 the place was called Delphine. When he returned in 1985 it was called Checkerboard. He blames the U.S. Forest Service for the name change, saying that it probably was done on a whim, to honor a stream known as Checkerboard Creek, which in turn was probably named because of someone once playing checkers on its banks.
GRAVITY, Iowa -- The residents felt that their village -- because the Washington Center School was located there -- was the center of gravity of Washington Township.
GRINDSTONE, Maine -- Lumberjacks reportedly came here to sharpen their axes.
CORRECT, Ind. -- The name is an error. Early in the 19th century, the postmaster of nearby Versailles filled out an application requesting that the new post office to the south be called "Comet." He had bad handwriting; "Comet" looked like "Correct" to national postal officials, and that was the name assigned to the town.
ENIGMA, Ga. -- The townspeople just couldn't come up with a name. So many were proposed and rejected that "it just turned into an enigma," according to a local historian.
DINNER STATION, Nev. -- Stage coach passengers used to stop here to eat on their way to ranches and mines in northern Elko County.
TELEPHONE, Texas -- The postmaster had the only telephone in town.
TEA, S.D. -- In 1902, postal officials in Washington were instructing all applicants for new post offices to choose short names, because maps of the U.S. were filled with long, confusing names. After failing to come up with something they liked, the citizens' group paused for tea. They had their answer.
And so do we, thanks to Mr. Gallant, who seems to have a good time doing his research. See you down the road, in Pie Town, N.M. Banana cream, I fervently
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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