It’s all in a name

I have the photo to prove it, a photo of a sign in New Mexico that gives the distance to two towns along State Highway 26. The town on top is the boppin’ little burg of Nutt, 18 miles away. Eight miles from Nutt, you’ll roll into a swingin’ little hellhole called Hatch.

So you got your Nutt, and you got your Hatch, and when you put ’em both together on a highway sign, not only do you have a classic sign worth blowing a photo upon, but you’re once again reminded that whomever was in charge of naming the towns and cities of the Great American West must have been one dull-ass juicer of a dude.

There are a few dependable methods a town can employ to whip upon itself a good name, or at least a name that is a bit more together than Nutt, Weed or Boron.

1. Name the town after a Native American person or word. This strategy almost guarantees that your new outpost won’t be saddled with a handle that will generate images of a bookless, bank-less backwater. Seattle, Chicago and Omaha are good examples. Here in Nevada, this strategy has worked well for Winnemucca and Tonopah, two nicely named towns that are, curiously enough, close to being bookless and bank-less. Native American words often have a natural flow and poetry to them that will work positively for a town name. Compare the exotic sound and image mentally conjured up by Tonopah to the disturbing sound and image generated by towns like Galt and Blanding.

2. Name the town after an attractive geographic feature or characteristic of the area. With this strategy, we see that Oakland is indeed a fine name for a town, as are Klamath Falls, Riverside and Lone Pine. In Nevada, the best example of this approach is Goldfield, a gleaming name with implications of wealth and success. (A name that was accurate 100 years ago, but is now a total misnomer, which you see when you actually drive through this crumbling semi-ghost town that exhibits all the vim and vigor of your Vicodinated grandpa nodding off in front of the television.)

3. Put the word “Saint” in front of your town’s name (or the Spanish equivalents “San” or “Santa”). Many a town/city has been saved from podunkification by this tactic. If a certain burg in the southwestern corner of Utah was simply “George,” you’d probably think “toilet” very quickly. But call it St. George, and you’ve saved yourself from being the butt of a whole bunch of vicious hillbilly jokes. The same with the California city of “Jose.” Who’s gonna stick a paradigm-shifting techno-socio-politico revolution in a town named “Jose”? But attach a “San” to the front, and now you can go ahead and tweak the planet all you want. This approach might have worked nicely for “St. Nutt” or “Santa Rohnert Park.”

Next week—using these rules to fix a few of our poorly named towns (Weed Heights, Fernley … and Reno).