F.U.N. Friday: Unusual Place Names

FUN  While reading and researching I come across all kinds of unusual names, both people and places.  I just finished reading a delightful book, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills (look for a book review soon).  Nelle Harper Lee still resides in Alabama and throughout the book are interesting bits of Alabama, Deep South history and fun facts.

Two places near Nelle’s home in Monroeville are Burnt Corn (which I wrote about in a recent Military History Monday article – check it out here) and Scratch Ankle.  The leading theory for the name Scratch Ankle seems to be related to dog-borne fleas biting the folks’ ankles which brought on an aggravating itch – for sure one of the more annoying insect bites.  Here are few more quirky Alabama place names:

Frog Eye

As with Burnt Corn and Scratch Ankle, theories abound as to how this locale got its name.  One local historian believes it originated during Prohibition.  During that time one saloon sold both legal and illegal liquor.  A ceramic frog in the saloon’s window was used to signal whether it was safe to request the illegal variety.  When one frog eye was closed, that meant the state inspectors were hanging around.  If both eyes were open, it was “come on in and buy all the illegal liquor you want.”

Smut Eye

This area in Bullock County came by its name because the men of the town would gather at the local blacksmith’s shop where he brewed his own hooch.  While the men stood around the fire and talked, their faces became blackened with smoke (smut).  The womenfolk knew their husbands had been drinking the “devil’s brew” – smut eye was what they called the blacksmith shop and later the community.


This town was named after an attorney of German descent, Henry Opp.  After Henry successfully defended the L&N Railroad in 1901, the community which benefited from the win decided to establish a town and name it after Opp.  Taking advantage of its unusual name, the town calls itself the “City of Opportunity.”  For over fifty years it has also been the home to the Rattlesnake Rodeo after J.P. Jones helped establish it in conjunction with the local Jaycees.  It’s family-friendly fun with snake shows, beauty pageants, snake races, the Rattlin’ 100 car race, music and more.

I know in my own state of Texas there are scores of unusual and unique names – I refer to them as “tiny towns in Texas”.  One that came to mind was Quitaque (pronounced “kitty-quay”).  The story goes that Charles Goodnight introduced the name in 1880, believing it was the Indian word for “end of the trail.”  Two other legends offer a different take on the name – one is that it was named after two nearby buttes that resembled piles of horse manure (said to be the real meaning of the word) and another that it was derived from the Quitaca Indians which white settlers translated, perhaps as a result of their experiences with Indians, as “whatever one steals.”  The town was incorporated in 1927 and its first mayor was P.P. Rumph.

Every state has its own list of unique and unusual place names.  I’d love to hear about them, so feel free to comment below.  If it has a history, I’ll research and write about it (and have fun doing it!).

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


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