A recent trip to a small Central Texas town got me to thinking (which is not always a good thing). This latest mental disturbance apparently caused neither physical nor personal damage, however, so I'll pass along the fruits of my thought processes, meager though they be.
In my 25 some odd years (some odder than others) of traversing through Rural America, mostly Southern Rural America, I've visited only two towns named for directions. The first was North, South Carolina. The other, and the most recent and the reason for this surge in mental activity, was West, Texas.
I informed my intern (I have an intern this summer trying to pilfer as much knowledge as she can from my rapidly dwindling storehouse of useful information. Good luck on that. Some of you who understand my work habits may wonder how I ever found an intern who could cut bait and run a trolling motor. Simple. Intense research. But I digress.) that we were leaving the next day for West, Texas, and that it would be about a two-hour trip from Denton. She e-mailed back that West Texas was a sight farther away than two hours, so I patiently explained that we were gong to West, Texas, not West Texas and also took advantage of the opportunity to point out the value of the comma, which I apparently had misplaced.
While we were in West (comma) Texas, I should have inquired, possibly at the Wild West Café where we had lunch, as to who named the town and why they named it West. I did not. Some minds are not as inquiring as others. I also never learned who named North (comma) South Carolina, or why they did.
I've visited a passel of towns of peculiar nomenclature over the past two-plus decades and, regrettably, failed to stop and find out why the towns were so named. I picked up a book of Texas town names in an airport bookstore one time and was intrigued for a bit at the process some town founders took to select the perfect moniker for their particular hamlet. My curiosity stopped somewhere short of the $29.95 they were asking for the tome, however, so I just thumbed through it like I was at a lending library and absorbed as much free knowledge as possible. Which wasn't much.
I learned that quite a few Texas towns were named after folks, Austin for instance; some for saints (Angelo and Antonio). Some had Indian names and cities such as Big Spring and Sweet Water apparently indicate good places to get a refreshing drink. Mineral Wells most likely has water that tastes nasty but will cure what ails you.
I assume Apache, Okla., is named after the Native American tribe vilified in cowboy movies. Elk City, Okla., could be the former range for large, antlered omnivores or just the annual meeting place for a fraternal organization.
I never found out why Booger Bottom, Miss., is so named but do recall that a restaurant that once co-existed with the Post Office there offered the best fried chicken this side of my grandmother's wood stove.
A South Carolina town, Pocotaligo, a linguistics professor in college told me, comes from the Gullah dialect and describes what happens when you prod a turtle in the behind.
I have it on good authority, a native Alabaman and my devoted spouse, that Slap Out, Ala., was named because the burg's small general store rarely had what prospective customers wanted and when asked for such items the proprietor would say: “Sorry, we're slap out.”
I used to live close to Between, Ga., and never discovered between what. And why they named a town in South Georgia Enigma continues to puzzle me.
I haven't had time yet to study an atlas and anyone who has ever taken a road trip with me will understand that I rarely ever consult one to find my way anywhere, which is probably why I wind up in weirdly-named towns, but I suspect that somewhere in this great nation one can find towns named South (comma) state name, and East (ditto). I assume also that someone will inform me if they have passed through either East or South. Y'all are good that way.