If you grew up in a town with a unique name, there are likely many stories about how the name came to be. Also, you know the struggles of trying to explain them. If your town is small, few folks have heard of it and they have no idea where it is.
"What's the name of the town, again?"
"How do you spell that?"
"Where is it located?"
Editor's Note: This column was originally published on Sept. 26, 2021
I grew up in southwest Arkansas in a town called Ashdown. It's a decent size by Arkansas standards. The population has hovered around 5,000 for most of my life, with the last census coming in at 4,781. Prior to being named Ashdown, it was called Turkey Flats and Keller.
It's obvious why Turkey Flats didn't stick, but Keller also didn't hang around; mainly because a Judge who lost a mill to a fire decided to change the town's name to Ashdown because of it going, 'down in ashes.'
Or, so that's the story. At least one of them.
Most people think I am saying, 'Ash Town.' They then ask what the name means. Honestly, no one has ever provided me with a satisfactory answer to that question. The mill story makes sense, but to my knowledge it has never been verified.
Other than the judge losing his mill in a fire, the most common explanation relates to the railroad. Allegedly, when the railroad was plowing through the country in the late 1800s, railroad personnel referred to the site where Ashdown now sits as the place where they had taken a large "ash down" to make room for the tracks.
It sounded plausible, so lots of townsfolk embraced the story. The only problem I have with it is that in that neck of the woods (pun intended) there are mostly pine trees.
According to Gardening Know How, there are 18 varieties of ash in the US. Most grow in the northeastern part of the country and in Canada. Some grow in Arkansas and east Texas, but as a kid I don't recall seeing an ash tree.
It's worth noting that Ashdown is in fact, a name. As in someone's last name. It is a surname that, according to the surname database, is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a regional surname in Berkshire and Sussex.
Maybe someone with the railroad was named Ashdown. If you have any solid information, drop me a line. I'd appreciate it.
What about where you grew up? Was it large enough that people knew where it was, or did you have to find the next largest town or city and give directions from there?
"Ashdown is just north of Texarkana," I always say.
Most people have heard of Texarkana. It's named for the three states the city borders - Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. But it straddles two of them - Arkansas and Texas.
There's an Arkansas side and Texas side of the city, complete with two separate mayors, city councils, police and fire departments, and so on.
After you read some of the other Arkansas town names, Ashdown and Texarkana are going to sound quite normal.
They include: Frog Level, Fouke (the Natural State's hometown for Bigfoot), Tollette, Blue Ball, Bald Knob, Possum Grape, Toad Suck, Monkey Run, Goobertown, Greasy Corner, Stinking Bay, Weiner, and Romance.
(Insert your own Arkansas joke here)
But before you make too many trailer park or cousin jokes, let's also take a look at unusual town names in Texas and Louisiana.
When I moved to Texas in 1987 and shared some of my state's unusual town names, I was informed that Texas has: Bigfoot, Cut N Shoot, Ding Dong, Jot 'em Down, Paris, Uncertain, Nameless, Oatmeal, Bacon, Noodle, Muleshoe, Notrees, Elmo, and Kermit.
Just for the record, the Fouke Monster is from Arkansas, not Texas. Charles B. Pearce even made the movie, The Legend of Boggy Creek to prove it. So, Texas can name a town Bigfoot, but Arkansas has dibs on the region's Sasquatch.
There also seems to be some hesitation on commitment when it comes to naming Uncertain and Nameless, Texas. And as for Elmo and Kermit, there's no word yet on when the rest of Sesame Street's characters will have a town in the Lone Star State named after them.
And then there's Louisiana. After spending a day in Gross Tete, you can motor on over to Bunkie, Shongaloo, Dry Prong, Many (which has a population of only 2,662), Cut Off, Plain Dealing, Iota, and Frogmore.
Instead of making fun of all of these town names, we should try to bring everyone together and arrange a big gathering.
I bet the folks from Frog Level, Possum Grape, Weiner, Ding Dong, Oatmeal, Bacon, Noodle, and Frogmore, could put on a heckuva cookout.
Fouke and Bigfoot could provide an outing in the woods, with Muleshoe handling the transportation. There should be a renaming contest for Uncertain and Nameless. And Elmo and Kermit could watch the kids.
There'll be plenty of Plain Dealing, and we could find a Greasy Corner for Romance.
If the get together doesn't work out, we'll always have Paris.
John's latest book, "Puns for Groan People," and volumes 1 and 2 of his series "Write of Passage: A Southerner's View of Then and Now" are available on his website, TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.