Thursday, February 23, 2012


On the way across the desert last week I passed through a town called Iron Knob. Because I’ve made the drive a few times I forgot, until the place was disappearing in the driving mirror, that people who don’t live in Australia find the name somewhat amusing.

Iron Knob - Kesab Tidy Town 2008 Best Outback Regional Town Winner

But then we have a lot of strange sounding place names in Australia. Tasmania has some of the cosiest; like Flowerpot, Eggs and Bacon Bay and Nowhere Else. There is nowhere else in Australia called Nowhere Else; but how did they know that?

There’s places like Humpty Doo near Darwin, (originally Umdidu, an English corruption of the local aboriginal word meaning ‘resting place’) and Cockburn. I lived in Cockburn for a while. If you’re wondering, we are polite and well bred over here, and we don’t say cock we say co. It’s Co-burn

Humpty Doo - photograph: Stuart Edwards

But living in Co-burn made me realize how difficult it can be having an address that everyone else thinks is hilarious. I wouldn’t, for example, particularly want to live in Toad Suck Arkansas, though I’m sure it’s very nice. Or Horneytown, North Carolina. Wild horses couldn’t drag me to Looneyville, Texas though I’m equally sure that storekeeper John Looney, after whom the town was named, thoroughly earned the honour from the local nomenclature committee. 

Great Britain has cornered the market on ridiculously twee place names; Abington Pigotts, Auchenshuggle, Booby Dingle, Burton-le-Coggles, Buttock, Cocklick End, Compton Pauncefoot, Hen Poo, Lickham Bottom, Mudford Sock, Nempnett Thrubwell, Newtown Unthank, Ryme Intrinseca, Sandy Balls, Scratchy Bottom, Splott, The Bastard, Tongue of Gangsta, (Yes, it’s on the isle of Orkney, near Holm and no, I didn’t make any of these up) Ulceby Skitter and Zeal Monachorum.

I’d choose Looneyville or Toadsuck over Lickham Bottom, but it could still be worse; imagine being raised in Butt Hole Road in Conisborough, Doncaster. The street was named after a communal water hole or ‘butt’ in the local dialect.  After a photograph of the street sign appeared on the internet, tour buses started showing up in huge numbers so tourists could have their pictures taken in front of it, sometimes in very undignified poses. Pizza delivery drivers and taxis routinely refused pick-ups and deliveries because they thought the address was a prank.

photograph: David Locke

Residents eventually changed the name to Archer Way and each threw in £75 to contribute to the new street sign.

Some towns crave the kind of attention that the residents of ... Archer Way ... got for free. In the 1860’s, in one of the earliest examples of a publicity stunt, locals created the longest name of any railway station in Britain; Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a village on the island of Angelsey in Wales. The name means: Mary's Church (Llanfair) in the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) and the church of Saint Tysilio (llantysilio) with a red cave (g ogo goch).

 Thousands of visitors go here to be photographed next to the station sign, or to have their passports 'stamped' at a local shop. 

It is more commonly known as Llanfair PG

There have been several attempts to steal the village's record. A place called Llanfynydd unofficially adopted the name: Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole in 2004 in protest at plans to erect a wind farm nearby (the name means "a quiet beautiful village; a historic place with rare kite under threat from wretched blades") but it was never officially adopted.

But LlanfairPG is not the longest place name in the world. That honour goes to Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, a 300 metre high hill in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

It translates roughly as "The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one". 

The name is shortened to Taumata by the locals for ease of conversation. 

Some towns have figured that LlanfairPG’s publicity stunt has value; after all, a rose by any other name ... 

There was a town called Clarke in Denton County, Texas that, in November 2005, accepted an offer to rename itself "DISH" as part of a commercial agreement with a satellite television company. In exchange all the residents received free basic television service for ten years and a free DVR.

Halfway, a town in Baker County, Oregon took its name from the location of its post office, half way between Pine and Cornucopia. The population of 350 enterprising people agreed, in December 1999, to rename itself for a year, in exchange for $110,000, and twenty computers for the school from a company called ... 

Iron Knob: photograph:Tnorm

I thought about this while I was driving across the desert to my new home. It gave me an idea.

So if you want to write to me about this post, please do. You can contact me at 38 Amex Platinum Crescent, Rolex Oyster County, BMW 3 Series.