Monthly Archives: February 2010


Photo of a decorated manhole cover in Nagano

Photo by jpellgen (flickr)

Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano, Japan has a name that’s tough to track down. According to both Placenames Of The World and namelab it is derived from the Japanese words naga meaning “long” and no meaning “field.” I haven’t been to Nagano, but a quick Google Image Search reveals that the city itself does seem to be in a flat area.

Salt Lake City

Continuing continuing on with the names of winter olympic cities today we’re featuring Salt Lake City, Utah. There are no surprises here. Salt Lake City was originally called “Great Salt Lake City” after Great Salt Lake the nearby salty lake. Over time the name was shortened to Salt Lake City, and that’s what we have today.

So, how did Great Salt Lake get its name? Well, it’s big, (great), and salty, I can’t find any other mention of how it got its name, so I assume the most obvious answer is the right one.


The Coat of Arms of Turin

The Coat of Arms of Turin

While the Winter Olympics are on in Vancouver, we’ll be exploring the origins of the names of former host cities of the winter olympic games, working more or less in reverse chronological order. Today we’re looking at Turin, Italy.

Turin, (Torino in Italian), was originally founded as Taurasia byt the Taurini Gauls around 300 BC. It was destroyed by Hannibal around 218 BC but didn’t get completely wiped off of the map. Rome rebuilt Taurasia as Augusta Taurinorum in 28 BC. After the collapse of the Roman Empire Turin was occupied by various groups, then finally became part of the Duchy of Savoy at the end of the thirteenth century, when its existence became relatively peaceful.

You might be thinking that “that’s all very nice, but where did the name come from?” I was thinking that after reading a bunch of history articles. There isn’t a lot of information out there about the Taurini Gauls who founded Turin, but it appears that the is either derived from the Taurini word “thor” which means “to mount” or is named after a bull because the river Po, which Turin lies on the bank of, looked like a bull with golden horns to the first inhabitants of the area. Apparently the modern Italian name of the city, “Torino” translates roughly to “little bull,” and the symbol of the city is a bull, which lends some weight to the bull story.


A used Vancouver 2010 Torch

Photo by s.yume (flickr)

Today is the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, and to honour the occasion I’m digging into the name Vancouver.

The we know that city of Vancouver was named after George Vancouver, the British explorer who discovered and charted it, as well as most of the North American northwest coast, but what kind of a name is Vancouver? Let’s look deeper.

According to the Vancouver Sun, Wikipedia, and the name Vancouver is of Dutch origin. You see, there’s a town called Coevorden in the Netherlands, and in 1315 a man named Reinolt was made Viscount of the city, so his name became Reinolt van Coeverden, (apparently the city name was spelled Coeverden back then). Reinolt had children, and they had children, and so on, until eventually one of his descendants, a guy named Reint Wolter van Coeverden, married an Englishwoman named Johanna Lillingston. Then, it appears, that Reint and Johanna’s son went over to England, where he continued the family line, although the family name became anglicized to “Vancouver” It appears that the son’s son, (Johanna and Reint’s grandson), may be George Vancouver, or there may be a few extra generations in there, we’re not 100% sure. So, that’s how George Vancouver got his name, but what does Coevorden mean?

It turns out that Coevorden means “cow ford” or a place where cows cross the river. Pretty simple! Interestingly enough, some other van Coeverdens that moved to England may have changed their name to Oxford, (where oxes cross the river). I’ll have to look in detail at that another time.

There is another theory, at least according to Wikipedia, that Vancouver may be an anglicized version of “van Couwen” but that’s the only reference that I’ve found, and the van Coeverden story seems to be the more accepted story. Let the games begin!

Westward Ho!

A photo of a mural in Westward Ho!

Photo by Chris Dymond, (flickr)

Westward Ho! is a village on the sea in Devon, England. Like Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! the exclamation point is, in fact, part of the town’s name.

Westward Ho! was named after the novel Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley. The village was developed starting about ten years after the 1855 publication of the novel.

Since it’s a seaside town, there are some great beaches in Westward Ho! and its neighbouring towns, and, as a bit of extra trivia, Rudyard Kipling lived there for a while

Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!

Some people posing with a Welcome to Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! sign.

Photo by Robert Y (flickr)

St-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Québec has one of the oddest names that I’ve seen. Not because it sounds like something else, but because it’s just so fun to say and because it’s the only town in the world with two exclamation points in its name!!

So, how does a town come to be called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!? According to a “haha” is an old French word for something blocking your way. In this case probably part of lake Témiscouata that is not passable by canoe, forcing early travellers to take an 80 kilometer portage around the haha. As for the St-Louis part, Québec’s strong catholic roots mean that the names of most cities in the province have a saint involved, and I believe that this is just another one of those, although the St-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! Wikipedia entry has a few suggestions about the Louis honoured in the town’s name.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

A lady standing below an image of a falling buffalo.

Photo by Eric, (flickr)

Here is a place with a fitting name. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a cliff in southern Alberta where the natives hunted buffalo by driving entire herds over the cliff starting about five thousand years ago. It would make sense, then, that the place would be called Head-Smashed-In, after all, the buffalo’s heads were probably smashed in, right?

Wrong. Apparently, the name comes from a young man who wanted to watch the buffalo going over the cliff from below. There was a larger-than-expected herd that year and when they pulled him out from under the buffalo it was his head was smashed in.

Head-Smashed-In is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s near Fort Macleod, Alberta, and there’s a museum & interpretive centre there where you can learn more.

Hell's Gate

The water at Hell's Gate, BC

The rapids from the airtram. Photo by Gregory Melle, (flickr)

Hell’s Gate is a narrowing in the Fraser River, in British Columbia. The Fraser is a very large river, and by the time it reaches Hell’s Gate, a few hundred kilometers from its mouth, there is a lot of water flowing through the river, 200 million gallons per minute at high water. With all of this water flowing through the river, the Fraser Canyon narrows so that the river is only 110 feet, (35 meters), wide, creating an incredible whitewater attraction that is nearly impassable by water.

It was first discovered by Simon Fraser who wrote in his journal “surely this is the gate of hell” hence the name Hell’s Gate. Today you can ride an airtram out over Hell’s Gate and see the power of the water for yourself.

Punkin Center

The roadsign indicating Punkin Center, Colorado

Having a little déja vu? Nope. Today I’m talking about Punkin Center, Colorado, not Pumpkin Center, OK, or in any of the other 14 states where there’s a Pumpkin Center.

The name of Punkin Center, CO, did in fact come from the word Pumpkin, but Mildred Stevens said Punkin, so that’s what the town’s called. You see, around the year 1930, Mildred’s dad, Sears M. Stevens, built a store and filling station at the crossroads of what is now Highway 71 and Highway 94 in Lincoln County, Colorado. The new store was painted bright orange, and little Mildred said “It looks just like a big punkin!” The store was advertised as the Orange Front Filling Station but the Stevens family referred to it as the “Punkin Center” and the name stuck.

There is also a Punkin Center in Arizona but I haven’t been able to find much about it. As always, feel free to get in touch if you have any information.

Pumpkin Center

A sign for Pumpkin Center, CA

The exit sign on the I-5 for Pumpkin Center, California, (Photo by Raymond Yu)

So, I don’t actually have a story to about why Pumpkin Center is called Pumpkin Center, but I do have some interesting, random, Pumpkin Center facts.

I was looking for information on Pumpkin Center, MO, (where Kay Barnes‘ mother was born), to continue the Missouri theme, and found that since the highway was put in there isn’t much left of that town, except for maybe a couple of buildings and a photo by the road.

However, while looking for Pumpkin Center information, I discovered that there are no less than 23 towns called Pumpkin Center in the USA. There are Pumpkin Centers in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia. Some states, such as Oklahoma, have several towns called Pumpkin Center. Also, in Colorado there’s a town called Punkin Center, Population 9.

So, if anyone knows why there are so many places called Pumpkin Center, or has a story about why any of the Pumpkin Centers is called Pumpkin Center, I would love to hear them.