Several places named Hurricane — all found far from a coastline — interested me a few weeks ago. From there I wrote a simple article I called Inland Hurricane. I also wondered if the same peculiarity extended to other weather phenomena so I began to search for more. I found mixed results. Even so I still uncovered some interesting stories so I considered the effort a success.
The Hurricane article mentioned a town in West Virginia. It didn’t surprise me to see a Tornado included within the same state (map). I love West Virginia for its awesome names. Kentucky too. Those two seem to compete with each other for the most outlandishly creative place names.
Tornado ceased to be Tornado for several years. According to the Charleston Gazette Mail, an unnamed local resident complained about the name and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names changed it to Upper Falls in 2010. This referenced a series of small rapids along the Coal River just outside of town. However nobody bothered to check with the rest of the community. They preferred the original Tornado by a wide margin, a name used since 1881. That began a big kerfuffle involving lots of local politicians and the name reverted back to Tornado in 2013.
I never did discover why Tornado became Tornado back in 1881. It could have come from the whirling water of the nearby rapids. Maybe an actual tornado blew through there long ago. Who knows?
Rain am Lech, Germany, at night
Imagine the difficulty of finding information about a German town called Rain (map). Nearly all of my searches ran into stories and photos of actual heavy precipitation in Germany and precious little information about the town sharing the name. Finally I learned through trial and error that I could search for "Rain am Lech" and get decent results. The River Lech ran through Rain just before its confluence with the Danube.
The biggest thing to happen in Rain probably occurred in 1632 during the Thirty Years War. This conflict pitted Protestant against Catholic forces as the Holy Roman Empire crumbled. War raged for more than a decade across central Europe before Swedish general Gustavus Adolphus pushed towards Bavaria and up to the banks of the River Lech. His opponent, Count Johan Tzerclaes of Tilly and the Catholic League occupied the opposite bank in a defensive position. Gustavus Adolphus used withering artillery and superior tactics to breach the river, and pushed into Bavaria to threaten Austria. Tilly died of wounds a few days later. War would continue for many more years.
Unfortunately I didn’t understand German well enough to find the etymology of Rain. I started sensing a pattern with my second failure.
I felt certain however that Saudi Arabia’s Ha’il (%u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644) didn’t get its name from falling ice. Ha’il was both a region and a town (map), with more than a half-million people in its larger area. I thought I’d find a lot more information about a place with so many inhabitants and yet little existed even on Arabic language sites. It had some old castles, lots of wheat fields and a university. The Saudi tourism site included an overview:
When visiting Ha’il you can travel through the countryside in 4x4s, mountain climb in Nafud Al Kabir, or head west of the city to explore the mountaintops of Aja… It is a beautiful setting where visitors can see a variety of wildlife and take memorable photos, climb mountains, take hikes and enjoy nature and animals in a natural environment.
Google Translate suggested that the English equivalent of %u062D%u0627%u0626%u0644 might be something like obstacle or barrier. The town began as a fortress along an important caravan route. Could that have been the origin of its name?
Finally, I found a place with a clear, unambiguous origin. Officially a body of water in southwestern Montana went by the name Earthquake Lake (map). Most people shortened it to Quake Lake. I loved that rhyming name; it had a certain poetic style. An actual, genuine earthquake formed this lake too. According to the US Forest Service,
It was near midnight on August 17th, 1959 when an earthquake near the Madison River triggered a massive landslide… over 80 million tons of rock crashed into the narrow canyon, blocking the Madison River and forming Earthquake Lake. This earth-changing event, known as the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, measured 7.5 on the Richter scale. At the time it was the second largest earthquake to occur in the lower 48 states in the 20th century.
The lake’s formation came with a sad price. Twenty-eight people died during the quake that created it.
My annual long relaxing August weekend in Wisconsin came to an end. I can’t think of any place I’d rather pass the time for a few days than Wisconsin — in the summer. Many people who come to this part of the country end up in Wisconsin Dells. I never thought much about the definition of a dell although for some reason I began to wonder recently. It had to be some kind of rural feature like a hilly field or something. Rather than assume, I went ahead and checked the actual dictionary definition.
Merriam-Webster defined dell as "a secluded hollow or small valley usually covered with trees or turf."
Old English dell "dell, hollow, dale" (perhaps lost and then borrowed in Middle English from cognate Middle Dutch/Middle Low German delle), from Proto-Germanic daljo (source also of German Delle "dent, depression," Gothic ib-dalja "slope of a mountain")
So how about those Wisconsin Dells (map)? They formed rather recently in geological terms. Glaciers hundreds of feet thick extended far into North America in the last Ice Age although they bypassed an area near its southern extreme, in present day Wisconsin and Minnesota. This became the Driftless Area and it looked considerably different than surrounding terrain because of it. A huge lake formed as the ice began to melt around 15,000 years ago, dammed by a glacier. When the glacier inevitably burst, the lake drained in a single massive flood, cutting a gorge through solid rock along the banks of the Wisconsin River. People of European descent who moved into the area in the modern era named this featured the Wisconsin Dells.
I discovered many different towns and villages bearing the Dell designation or variations throughout the United States (e.g., Dell Junction, Dell Rapids, Hazel Dell). Dell City in Texas seemed particularly interesting (map) because of its origin. It didn’t exist until around 1949 when someone discovered a large underground reservoir. Farmers pumped water from this subterranean source to irrigate their fields and a town formed around it. Distinctive green circles resulting from center pivot irrigation appeared all around town, still visible in satellite photos today. According to the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, Dell City thrived for awhile and grew to nearly a thousand residents, before declining to about four hundred by the year 2,000.
Its etymology fascinated me, if true. Texas Escapes tracked down the story and reported,
When we asked who Mr. Dell might have been, Mr. Lutrick asked if we were familiar with the nursery song "The Farmer in the Dell". There was no Mr. Dell – it’s Dell as in "a small, secluded, usually forested valley." Just forget the part about the forest.
I think many of us remembered this singing nursery rhyme from our childhood:
The farmer in the dell
The farmer in the dell
Hi-ho the derry-o
The farmer in the dell
However one of the comments posted on that article claimed that Dell City was named for an early resident, Ardell (Dell) Donathan. We may never know the truth. I’d bet on the comment although I’d hope for the nursery rhyme.
Places named for dells likely existed throughout the world although I didn’t check extensively, halting my search after finding North and South Dell in Scotland (map). They formed adjacent to each other, separated by the Dell River on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. Little information existed although the Galson Estate Trust featured brief entries for both North Dell and South Dell. Many local residents spoke Gaelic as a primary or secondary language, calling the towns Dail bho Tuath (north) and Dail bho Dheas (south). The Butt of Lewis — the northernmost point on the isle — sat nearby with its impressive lighthouse.
"The Dalles" rhymes with "pals", and "gals" and doesn’t rhyme with much of anything else. And yes, "The" is part of our name. File us under the letter "T". The "dalles" was a reference to a series of treacherous rapids once located just upriver from where the community is today. The French speaking Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders and mountain men of the 1800s used the term to describe areas where river water was constricted by rock channels.
Despite the dictionary definition, not every dell featured either forest or fields although they all included a gorge or a valley.
I found myself in familiar territory once again, with an overflowing backlog of article ideas. That signaled time for another round of house cleaning. In the past I’d featured weird place names that I’d encountered while I searched for other topics. Then I focused on More Weird Place Names and finally Even More Weird Place Names. I thought I could build upon that theme while cutting down the pile. Those weird place names just kept coming.
First I decided to take care of some unfinished business left over from the previous effort. Reader "Kiru" said, "Just a suggestion for the next one – there’s a small village near me in Devon, England called Woolfardisworthy. As weird of a name that is, the pronunciation is even worse!"
That sounded intriguing. The next opportunity arrived today so I decided to check it out. Also I couldn’t even imagine how to pronounce it. I considered I’d probably butcher it with my mid-Atlantic American accent even if I knew. Fortunately things like YouTube existed and I found my answer easily enough. Kiru knew the deal. Woolfardisworthy, when spoken through the mouths of local residents came out something similar to Woolsery.
I solved that mystery quicker than I expected although I encountered something more unusual in the process. Two towns with that same strange name existed in Devon. Was the town Kiru referenced located in mid Devon (map) or north Devon (map). They sat about 48 miles (78 kilometres) apart map.
Their history also intertwined. According to Tour Devon, the name came from the Saxon language meaning Wulfheard’s homestead, "denoting the fact that the village was probably originally founded in 680 when the Saxon Abbot Wulfheard of Crediton was granted two manors." I figured the one in north Devon in the Torridge district was probably the right one. It seemed to be the larger of the two manors granted to the awesomely named Wulfheard of Crediton.
The buoyancy on the Neversink River must be amazing. I supposed someone could fall overboard and literally never sink. Nobody needed life jackets. What magical properties existed in the waters of New York? I pondered that notion as I drove across the Neversink on the way to New England recently. The river stretched about 55 miles (89 km), flowing past Port Jervis before joining the Delaware River. It served as one of the important water sources for New York City, dammed to form the Neversink Reservoir in 1950 (map).
The etymology remained uncertain although it most certainly did not come from the English words Never and Sink, sad to say. It likely passed down from the original Native American inhabitants speaking an Algonquin language. The Intertubes offered various theories and translations. Many of them converged on Mad River or Wild River, or variations on that theme. European settlers Anglicized the phrase into something more familiar that they could actually pronounce.
I’d seen Nanty-Glo spelled with a hyphen and Nanty Glo without, so I consulted the Geographic Names Information Center. That hardly cleared up the situation, however. According to the US Geological Survey, the hyphen should be used when referring to the Borough of Nanty-Glo and dropped for the Town of Nanty Glo. Either way, they both designated the same basic area in western Pennsylvania (map). The name intertwined with the history and geology of the underlying terrain. Local mountains contained large coal deposits that people began to mine in the Nineteenth Century. Immigrant from Wales — another area with a rich coal mining tradition — brought much of the mining knowledge and labor. Thus the name came from the Welsh language, Nant Y Glo, meaning a ravine, brook or valley of coal.
A similarly-named town of Nantyglo also existed in Wales (map).
I’ve driven between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin on Interstate 94 more times than I can probably count. I always wondered about the town behind the exit sign for Ixonia (map). Did it reference a fascination with the number nine, from the Roman numeral IX? No, actually it reflected pure happenstance when a dispute arose as the township formed. According to the Town of Ixonia,
To simplify matters it was agreed upon to put the letters of the alphabet on slips of paper and have young Mary Piper draw them until a name could be formed. As the result, "Ixonia" was the name given town 8 on January 21, 1846, and remains the only town bearing this name in the United States.
Thankfully, young Mary Piper selected a random combination that everyone found acceptable. She could have done a whole lot worse as she averted a crises single-handedly. However I still remained skeptical. If Ixonia began life as Town 8 wouldn’t it make sense to name it sequentially the next time, as IX?
Geo-geek conspiracy theory!
I’ve published Twelve Mile Circle on a Sunday morning / Wednesday evening schedule for awhile. I now have a weekly Wednesday evening activity that complicates things so I plan to post on Thursday evenings instead. Don’t panic when nothing appears on Wednesday. 12MC isn’t going away!