Translators love language in all its forms and have a high appreciation for its quirks. This knowledge inspired Tomedes to seek out some of the most interesting and quirky place names that the world has to offer.
Place names of unusual length
At the start of the scale is the town of Å. In fact, there are several towns in Norway, along with a village in Sweden and another in Denmark, that are named Å. The unusually short place name is the word for stream or river in the Scandinavian languages.
At the opposite end of the scale is the eastern suburb of Sydney, Australia, known as Woolloomooloo. The name is believed to derive from an Aboriginal word, though which particular word is much debated. Likely candidates include Wallamullah, which means place of plenty, Wallabahmullah, which refers to a young black kangaroo, or Wala-mala, which relates to an Aboriginal burial ground.
Silly place names
Many countries contain place names which sound silly in English, either because there is no direct translation or because geographical or other factors have led to the place being given an unusual moniker.
The perfect example is the municipality of Silly in Belgium. The name is derived from the stream that runs through the area, known as the Sille in French or the Zulle in Dutch. Without a direct translation of the word, it has become known as Silly in English.
A wonderful example of an unusual place name arising for geographical reasons is the Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky, USA. Amusingly, the park is situated between the communities of Beaverlick and Rabbit Hash. Its name is derived partly from its location near the community of Big Bone and partly due to the animal-attracting salt lick deposited around the park’s sulphur springs.
Historical place names
Certain places derive their unusual names from historical events. In Scotland, the Devil’s Beef Tub is a deep depression in the hills to the north of the town of Moffat. The Johnstone clan, known as the Border Reivers, or ‘devils’ when referred to by their enemies, gave the place its name when they used it to hide cattle that they has stolen from other clans.
Historical place names cannot always be trusted for their accuracy, though. This is true of Death Valley in California, USA. One might imagine some great battle took place there, but instead the name is thanks to a party of European-Americans who became stuck while looking for a shortcut to the gold fields in 1849. The valley was named based on their experience there, but in reality only one member of their group actually perished while stuck in the valley.
Amusing place names
A final mention has to go to those places with rude and amusing names, such as the delightful hamlet of Six Mile Bottom, near the city of Cambridge in England, or the Canadian Belcher Islands.
Of course, there is also an infamously named town in Austria, whose name is simply too rude in English to repeat in this article…
What is your favourite unusual place name and why? Let us know via the comment box.