During our drive toward the North Sea not long ago, we wandered through a lot of small villages. Their names were announced on yellow road signs, and I didn’t take much notice, until I started hearing chuckles from the German speakers. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but Liebling and Chiquito enlightened me.
It turns out that our path led us over the Worry River and through the villages of Disgust, Mockery, and Oh Dear. We passed through the town of Joke Word and into Northern Pile, where we saw signs pointing us to Southern Pile. We also made a wrong turn onto the road for Puke Bull*. There may have been more towns with curious names in the vicinity that I failed to note, but this seems like a good handful to start with.
I know there must be lots of towns with unusual and amusing names in the world: a brief poke-around yields a fine collection: Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania; Dead Women Crossing, Oklahoma; Lost, Scotland; Slaughter, Louisiana; and Useless Loop, Western Australia. On our North-Sea journey it wasn’t only the memorable names but the geographical concentration of them that struck me. It makes me wonder what was going on at the planning board meetings of those hamlets, back in the day.
Except that a village doesn’t really have a planning board unless it’s already a village, and by then it probably has a name. (I wonder if these places have had these curious names since before there even were planning boards?) I don’t picture a lot of support rallying behind a movement to change the village name to Puke Bull, unless whatever it was called before was a lot worse. Or maybe they were threatened at cudgel-point?
Maybe Disgust was the name of a wealthy landowner whose vanity took precedence over good sense in spite of popular outcry. Or what if someone with influence on the county level had a grudge against a resident of a hamlet with some nice, innocuous name, and that person-in-power hit upon a diabolical plan to assail the dignity of the whole dorf by fiddling with the land records and causing that their little corner of the world should forever be known as Mockery? If it comes to that, how likely is it that there are so many places with odd names so close together? There are stories tucked away behind all of this, I’m certain.
It also makes me wonder how very wearying it is for residents to meet people from elsewhere, and to have to go through the same tired conversations, yet again. Yes, that’s my address… (Weak smile.) Ha ha.
I don’t know how many of the inhabitants of the village of Disgust are Shakespeare fans, or whether any of them think about Juliet and her question, “What’s in a name?” They might be willing to try the “by any other name” experiment, and get back to us with their impressions.
*This one, or at least the bull part of the name, is in a local dialect called plattdeutsch, so it’s possible that the name is not quite so strange to you if that’s your native tongue. I’m sure that’s a great disclaimer locals can use anytime they chat about it with a non-plattdeutsch speaker.