I intended to focus on places that have punctuation included as part of their official names. I found two basic categories: those with an apostrophe denoting a possessive; and well, that’s about it. Undeterred, I searched further and eventually found three towns with exclamation points.
Excited in Westward Ho!
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I left the little push-pin on this map so that you could see that the name of this town in Devon is actually Westward Ho! because the map doesn’t show an exclamation point for some unknown reason. Online maps in general don’t know how to deal with strange exceptions and it’s hard to get any more unusual than the only town in Britain with an exclamation point in its official name.
I’d always thought of Westward Ho! as a vintage phrase used in the United States as an expression of manifest destiny akin to "Go West, young man." A lot of good that university degree in History did for me. I discovered later that the origin of that phrase does not even trace to America.
Westward Ho! was the title of a popular 1855 novel by an Englishman, Charles Kingsley. It involved all kinds of adventures on the high seas and in the Caribbean. The book is still widely available and you can even get a copy for your Kindle for a buck (includes reviews and plot summaries). That’s pretty remarkable staying power for something I’d never heard of until this evening.
The novel begins in Bideford, in Devon and that’s the connection. Apparently copyright laws were remarkably lax back then because an entrepreneur, sensing an opportunity to cash in on the popularity of the novel, built a hotel nearby that he named Westward Ho! A village grew around the hotel and it adopted the same name along with the exclamation point. It’s been that way ever since.
Embarrassed to be Excited
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Hamilton, Ohio legally changed its name to Hamilton! in 1986. Like a bad Las Vegas wedding, it may have seemed like the right move at the time but it started to fade once the sun came up. The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper examined the situation fifteen years later:
… today, Hamilton’s famed punctuation mark has a much lower profile. It doesn’t generate much more excitement than an ordinary comma or period. The city’s exclamation point is not on street signs, city office doors, police cruisers or police uniform patches. The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce no longer includes it in its logo. The post office doesn’t use it, and never has. Yet it hasn’t completely dropped from view. It’s still used in the heading on city stationery and appears in some promotional materials…
The article explains that it was intended to generate some attention. That happened for awhile but it passed quickly. Proponents had been influenced by the use of punctuation in the title of the musical, Oklahoma! From what I could discover, the exclamation point may have been abandoned for all practical purposes but it’s never been changed back.
Doubly Excited in Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!
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Things must be truly exceptional in Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Québec to warrant not one but two exclamation points. They provide several explanations for their unusual name on their website in French. Fortunately there are language tools that will translate this page for us automatically. The most plausible explanation, as translated somewhat incoherently by Google, would be:
… according to the Geographical Names Board of Québec, the reality is this. "The haha" in French, is an archaism that identifies a blind alley, a cul-de-sac, an impasse, an unexpected obstacle. Now, 8 km east of the resort, we found the lake Témiscouata makes a sharp curve to the northeast, forming a small bay. Thus, the old passenger were they to make a portage of 80 miles, this cul-de-sac, haha, prohibiting the continuation of a journey by canoe. To do this, they were forced to borrow the territory in which the municipality of Saint-Louis du Ha Ha was implanted.
It didn’t make complete sense to me either so I plugged the same phrase into four different French-to-English translators. The consensus seems to imply that if a person traveling by canoe reached the northeastern end of Lake Témiscouata, they then had to complete an 80-mile portage through land that is now part of Saint-Louis du Ha!Ha! It must be a really really big obstacle to justify two exclamation points!! Maybe our longtime reader Thias in France can provide us with a better translation.
One More Oddball
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This isn’t quite as good because it’s not a geographic designator but I still found it amusing. The State Library of New South Wales, Australia has an interrobang logo. That’s a strange bit of punctuation combining an exclamation point with a question mark. An example of this occurs when my wife asks, "are you going out looking like that?!"
Does anyone know other official place names with unusual punctuation?