10 Most Peculiar Small Town Names

A trip through America’s idiosyncratic small towns, from Accident, Maryland to Rough and Ready, California.

Water Tower
The water tower in the town of What Cheer, Iowa, as viewed from S. Barnes Street. (Photo by Tony Webster)

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A community’s moniker can be a source of pride and a manifestation of its heritage, but sometimes it’s just a fluke. These American towns stand out on the map due to their unusual names, and behind each one is a story.

1. Nothing, Arizona

It should come as no surprise that Nothing, Arizona is a ghost town. In 1977, Nothing was founded in the form of a convenience store for motorists travelling from Phoenix to Las Vegas on U.S. Route 93. The site was abandoned in 2005, but other entrepreneurs have taken interest in the desert property. In 2016, Century 21 launched a campaign to lease out the property as a Father’s Day gift for — you guessed it — free, so that sons and daughters could give the gift of “Nothing” to their wise-cracking dads.

2. Experiment, Georgia


The small Spalding County town of Experiment, Georgia was named after the Georgia Experiment Station, a state agricultural project launched in 1888 for testing crop varieties and growing practices. The lab pioneered methods for growing oats and cotton, feeding livestock, and controlling pests in the warm Georgia climate. The University of Georgia now runs the experiment station, studying agriculture as well as water quality and genetics.

3. Rough and Ready, California

The small gold mining town was named after President Zachary “Rough and Ready” Taylor when it was founded in 1849. Ironically, the next year, Rough and Ready, California voted to secede from the Union to become “The Great Republic of Rough and Ready” because of taxes on gold mining. The town reportedly rescinded its decision after three months when nearby towns refused to sell the “foreigners” liquor.

4. What Cheer, Iowa

Stone sign reading "Welcome to What Cheer"The unique town of What Cheer, Iowa was originally called Petersburg. The town post office rejected the hasty, derivative name, however, and in 1879 a new one was needed for the bustling coal community. The old English greeting “What cheer with you?” was most likely the basis of the new name, put forth by a local businessman. Another theory is that a miner exclaimed “What cheer!” when discovering coal in the area. What Cheer’s population has shrunk significantly since the decline of coal mines in the area at the turn of the century, but its historic opera house remains.

5. Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky

Monkeys aren’t native to Kentucky, but someone looked down on this rural area of western Kentucky and thought the Ohio River carved it into a topographical depiction of a monkey’s profile. Monkey’s Eyebrow, unsurprisingly, sits where that feature would be. Citizens of Paducah should consider themselves lucky to have dodged the name “Monkey’s Hunch.”

6. Accident, Maryland

Right before the American Revolution, two surveyors were working in western Maryland under the direction of Lord Baltimore to measure tracts of land. When they found themselves surveying the same area, they heartily agreed to call it the “Accident Tract.” Since land was plentiful, it wasn’t worth fighting over, and the land wasn’t used anyway until after the war. The “Accident Tract” later became the town of Accident, now home to about 300 people.

7. Embarrass, Minnesota

French fur traders settled the region of present-day Embarrass, and they found the Rivière d’Embarras (River of Obstacles) to be a difficult one for canoes. The Finnish immigrants who came along at the turn of the century named a town after the river with little regard to the language implications, and the community of Embarrass was born. There is certainly no shame in calling Embarrass, Minnesota home, since one would have to brave the 50 degrees-below-Fahrenheit temperatures to do so.

8. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Highway sign reading "Truth or Consequences"

The town of Hot Springs, New Mexico wanted a catchier title to attract tourists to its bath houses and hot mineral springs. It received its chance when Ralph Edwards, the producer of the radio quiz show Truth or Consequencesset out on a publicity stunt to find a town that would change its name in honor of the program. After the citizens of Hot Springs voted 1,294 to 295 in favor of the new name in 1950, Edwards and the crew travelled to the newly-dubbed Truth or Consequences, New Mexico to tape an episode the very next day.

9. Intercourse, Pennsylvania

Despite its seemingly suggestive name, Intercourse, Pennsylvania is a quiet Amish hamlet. They take advantage of their sexy handle to attract tourists, but no one is sure about the origin of the name. It could have come from “Entercourse,” the entrance to an old racetrack nearby, or the named might have stemmed from the “intersection” of Old Kings Highway and the Wilmington-Erie route. Another possibility is the use of “intercourse” to refer to fellowship and community. Whatever the reasoning might have been, the town found a mate in 1840 in Intercourse, Alabama.

10. Cut and Shoot, Texas

It doesn’t take a Texan to figure out that Cut and Shoot probably wasn’t named after moviemaking. In 1912 the tiny community was divided over whether or not to let Apostolics use their Baptist- and Methodist-built community center. The dispute came to a head one day, and, amidst knife-wielding and gun-toting members of both sides, a young boy cried out, “I’m scared! I’m going to cut around the corner and shoot through the bushes in a minute!” Despite the high tensions, the violence was avoided by a compromise: the Apostolics preached outside on the lawn.

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