Monday, 22 November 2010

What's in a name?

Browsing through a road map of my homeland at the weekend, I came to the conclusion that there are some place names you could ONLY find in England.

It all started when a TV programme we were watching (imported from the BBC) mentioned a picturesque village in East Sussex called Diddling. Yes, Diddling - as in diddling the books, or perhaps even your neighbour’s wife if you’re very naughty. (Actually, it sounds like the sort of place the late, lamented Bambi Fancipants might have settled down if it hadn’t been for that unfortunate flying ice-ball incident this summer… but that’s another story.)

As I tried to explain to dear hubby, it’s nothing unusual. But he was not convinced. As Greek place names are almost always descriptive in a definable and identifiable way, he refuses to believe that certain place names from my homeland are anything more than yet more evidence of the incurable eccentricity of the English. Thinking about it, I'll admit that he may have a point.

Within just a couple of hours’ drive of where I grew up, you can visit such wonderful places as: Dorking (the ideal place to be a dork, I guess); Small Dole (where they admit that unemployment benefit is peanuts); Climping (how you walk when your new shoes have given you blisters); Crawley (as in creepy-?); Havant (as in ‘…got a clue’); Hog’s Back; Goring (think bulls); Gravesend; Foulness Island (the place where it’s cool to be foul); Braintree (which summons up a particularly gory mental image); Wittering (as in ‘stop wittering, Mandi’); Sway; Wallop (imagine being able to tell people you meet at parties ‘I’m from Wallop’?) and more than my measly road atlas can reveal…

But the truth is that we cannot hold a candle to some of the more 'out there' place names to be found across the United States. While the names of towns and villages in the UK are usually dictated by their history, the pilgrims who fled Europe and settled in America a couple of centuries ago had the luxury of picking their own place names.

In the spirit of those pious times, it was not unusual for a socially-ambitious Puritan to change his name from (say) 'John' to something far more impressive like 'Righteousness In The Face Of Adversity' Smith. So, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that the Founding Fathers came up with some (divinely?) inspired names for the towns and cities where they settled.

Perhaps the best-known - and certainly one of my favourites - is Truth or Consequences somewhere in Nevada, but there are many others great ones including Redemption, Submission or Limbo (imagine living in Limbo?).

One of these days, I really must get my act together and do that road trip across The States. Realistically, I’ll probably be in my dotage by the time I get round to it, but maybe being a loopy old dear will be well in keeping with my mission to collect the best and most eccentric place names I came across along the way.

And, after all, a country that boasts such deliciously existential road signs as “Gusty winds may exist” must have entire treasure-troves of surrealism to offer, eh?


  1. There is a place called Ecclefechan in Scotland, always makes me laugh.

  2. Great post, I used to live in Gravesend, and there is a road in it called Thong Lane.

    I also used to live near to a town called Locks Bottom, which is good but not as good as the nearby Pratts Bottom!

  3. Funny! I have a friend from Climax, Minnesota. And Climax is located in Fertile Valley. Seriously.