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INTERCOURSE, PITY ME,
MORON, HELL!

How would you feel if your address was PITY ME (England), INTERCOURSE (Pennsylvania), HELL (Michigan), or MORON (Cuba)? You would probably dream of moving to PARADISE (California) or, when surfing the internet, SURFERS PARADISE (Australia).

Those genuine places were discovered on the internet as a result of reading several amusing items about proverbial place names in Column 8 of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Herald readers mentioned these imaginary yet familiar places:

Going to Buggery
Drinking in Moderation
Living in Sin
Living in Exile
Living in Poverty
Living in Hope
Taking Care
Taking Umbrage
Dying in Vain
Placed in Jeopardy
Bombing at Random
Escapees at Large

RANDOM HARVEST

Random has its place in history, says Ian Hunt, of Carlingford. After a foggy night during the World War II blitz, he says, the BBC reported that German planes had dropped their bombs at random in south-east Britain. That afternoon, the German propaganda broadcasts proudly boasted that "the town of Random has been heavily bombed". We're reminded, too, that in the 1944 northern Burma campaign around Myitkina, the US forces, having captured the airfield, grandly announced they had captured the town, where the Chindits were still fighting. It's said a message went out that the "the British have taken umbrage". The Americans couldn't find Umbrage on the map. - Sydney Morning Herald.

We emailed the list to two of our friends in the United States who share our interest in unusual place names.

Natty Bumppo, a Kentucky attorney who revels in his legally-adopted name, remarked: "Those living in Sin might enjoy a vacation in Intercourse, Pennsylvania."

Was Natty pulling our leg? Could there possibly be a place called Intercourse? A quick search of the internet yielded this information from The Pennsylvania Dutch Country Welcome Center:

"Intercourse is the hub where the Amish and local folks do their business and host thousands of visitors each year. The beautiful Amish farms surround the Village.... Intercourse is [near] our sister Villages of Bird-In-Hand and Strasburg. The Village stands as a clear reminder of our traditional American heritage as people live by a simpler way of life. Formerly known as Cross Keys from a noted old tavern, this village was founded in 1754."

No one knows for sure how Intercourse acquired its name, says the Center. It cites these theories:

  • The entrance to a racecourse east of the town was known as Entercourse, which gradually evolved into Intercourse, the name given to the town in 1814.
  • Two major roads crossed there. The junction could have led to the town being called Cross Keys or eventually Intercourse.
  • "Old English" language was more common in 1814. Intercourse referred to the "fellowship" or social interaction and friendship which was so much a part of an agricultural village and culture at that time.

So much for Intercourse. Now what about Pity Me? Ian Scott-Parker, webmaster of our favourite photographic site, One Day at a Time told us about it. Now living in Utah (U.S.), he used to reside near that oddly-named English village just north of Durham.

Ian recalled other odd names: "Cockermouth and Great Cockup are always worth a giggle," he said. "The Scottish town of Ecclefechan (birthplace of Thomas Carlyle), not far north of Carlisle, seems to please, though I never figured out why; visitors to Cumbria are amazed to find that Torpenhow is pronounced Trapenna, and the delightful town of Appletreewick in North Yorkshire is pronounced Apptrick."

We found a Reuters article by Gideon Long on a GideonTech website. It begins:

"Pity Me," pleads the signpost welcoming visitors to this northern English village. And as trucks rumble past on the road to Newcastle while a brisk wind whips through the industrial estate, it is difficult not to.

Pity Me, in County Durham, is one of dozens of oddly named villages in northern England -- legacies of the region's rich mix of linguistic influences. Just down the road is the village of No Place, while over the Pennine hills in Cumbria is Great Cockup...

British historian David Simpson says "It has been suggested Pity Me was the site of a small lake or 'mere' and that the name means Petit Mere, Petty Mere or Peaty Mere. A more fanciful suggestion is that St Cuthbert's coffin was dropped here by wandering monks on their way to Durham. The miracle-working saint is said to have pleaded with the monks to be more careful and take pity on him.

"Another suggestion is that Pity Me is the cry of the Peewits (or Lapwings) which inhabit the area. Other Pity Mes can be found in the north of England, including a small place near Barrasford in the North Tyne valley, and a Pity Me near Bradbury in south Durham."

Across the Atlantic, there's a place named Hell (Michigan). "Tucked away as it is amidst the hills, creeks, and rivers, Hell maintains a strange combination of notoriety and attraction," says the hell2u.com website. "People come to visit, to see Hell, to say they've been to Hell and back."

It says there are two theories as to how the town gained its name in the early 1830s.

  • Two German travelers slid out of a curtained stagecoach one sunny summer afternoon, and one said to the other, "So schoene hell." "Hell," in the German language, means bright and beautiful. Those who overheard the visitors' comments had a bit of a laugh and shared the story with the other locals, who [promptly adopted the name for their village].
  • Theory Two. The area in which Hell exists is pretty low and swampy. Traveling through the Hell area would have been wetter, darker, more convoluted, and certainly denser with mosquitoes than other legs of the journey. River traders would have had to portage between the Huron and the Grand River systems near the present location of Hell. You can picture them pulling their canoes, heavy with provisions and beaver pelts, through the underbrush, muttering and swatting bugs as they fought to get to the banks of the next river.

In California, there's a place named Zzyzyx (just the place for a quiet zizz). An internet message page says: "The South Bay Astronomy Society uses two areas in the Mojave Desert; one near Mojave and the other at Zzyzyx (how many people can say that?) also near Las Vegas." The HallScience.com website says "From Abadi Creek to Zzyzyx Spring, thousands of discoveries await the reader of California Place Names."

Other countries have place names which sound strange to English-speaking visitors. Cuba, for instance, has a town called MORON. It has a population of 50,000. Natty Bumppo says "Americans live in America, so what do you call people living in Moron?" Anyway, some of them must read Cuba's national newspaper, and that's named GRANMA. But that's another story.

As mentioned earlier, residents of some of the places described in this article might be tempted to move to PARADISE, California, or SURFERS PARADISE, Australia, so we'll finish on a happy note, with this extract from the Paradise website, signed by the Town Manager, whose name is CHUCK ROUGH:

Paradise is located in Butte County in Northern California. Nestled at about 2.000 ft. elevation in the beautiful foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we are noted for our tall pines trees and blue skies.
The Paradise Ridge was originally inhabited by the Maidu Indians who lived here for perhaps 10,000 years before the arrival of white settlers.
The onset of the Gold Rush brought miners from around the world. The largest gold nugget ever found in California was discovered in the town of Magalia in 1859, which weighed an amazing 54 pounds, of which 49.5 ounces were pure gold.
After the gold rush slowed, the Paradise area continued to thrive as an agricultural area and a stop over for weary stagecoach travelers to Susanville and Nevada. The 1880 census put the population at 301.
Today, the Paradise Ridge is home to over 40,000 people and continues to grow as more visitors discover this beautiful, friendly town with its breathtaking scenery and fresh air.

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Copyright 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted October 2003

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