Monthly Archives: March 2010


A photo of the welcome sign for Eclectic, AlabamaNow that the Olympics are over, we’ll be going back to some more random names, starting with Eclectic, Alabama.

Eclectic is a small town of just over 1000 people in Elmore County, Alabama. The post office was opened there in 1879 and the town was incorporated in 1907.

So, how did it get its name? According to Wikipedia, there are two theories. The first is that it was named by a local who had taken an “eclectic” course of study at school and apparently named the town after the various surrounding geographic areas, (which I’m guessing are eclectic). The second is that the name was supposed to be “Electric” but somebody messed up somewhere, or the name was otherwise corrupted to Eclectic. In the late 1800s the town appeared on some maps as Electric.. However, since the post office was established in 1879, it may be that “Electric” is the mistake and “Eclectic” is the real name. Who knows.

Edit:It turns out that David knows, and the whole “Electric” thing is a big mistake. See his comment below for clarification, and more about where the name “Eclectic” actually came from.

In the meantime, enjoy a video of some mudbogging in Eclectic:

Olympic Summary

Yesterday I posted the last post, (at least for another four years), in my series on the Fascinating Names of Winter Olympic Host Cities. It was a fun, although sometimes frustrating, exercise, and along the way I learned a bunch, and came across a lot of fascinating names to write about.

Did you know that James Bond, in some form, has appeared in Chamonix, St. Moritz, and Cortina d’Ampezzo? With the way he gets around I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been to some other winter olympic host cities and I just missed him. More trivia: You can follow, (at least in theory – I might not want to try it on an innertube or anything), the Inn river from St. Moritz to Innsbruck, and the Olympic Flame wasn’t part of the winter games until 1952 in Oslo, (although there was a symbolic fire lit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936).

Now that the Olympic exercise is over we, (much like the TV networks), will be going back to our regularly scheduled programming of funny and interesting names. I have a whole whiteboard full. Stay tuned, and follow @fascinames on Twitter.


A nighttime scene of Chamonix, France, at Christmas.

Photo by Sébastien B. (flickr)

Chamonix, France, hosted the very first Winter Olympic Games ever. This small town in a valley beside Mont Blanc, and a bunch of other mountains, (and I mean a bunch – the valley is surrounded), was “discovered” by modern tourists in 1741 when a pair of Englishmen showed up there and published their account of the incredible glaciers they found. However, they were far from the first people to visit the valley. They weren’t even the first to write about it.

Sometime around the year 1090, a Benedictine convent was founded in the Chamouny valley, and in the documents that granted the land for the convent can be found some clues to the origins of the name of the valley. The words used to describe the valley are campus munitus which translate, roughly, to “fortified field.” Since it was incredibly hard to access the valley at the time, (remember the mountains it’s surrounded by? they’re some of the highest in Europe), it appears that the mountains are the fortification, and the valley is the field. A community, albiet a small one, grew in the valley, so when those two Englishmen arrived in 1741 they met people, not just rivers of ice.

There is a second possibility of the origin of the name Chamonix. Placenames of the World says that the name “derives from a pre-Celtic, possibly Ligurian root, kam, meaning “rounded height.” I think that the fortified field may make more sense, but that’s just my opinion. Anyone is free to send me their arguments for the pre-Celtic root. Maybe we can discover history!

I don’t know exactly the city of Chamonix was founded, (the town created around 1090 was called Le Prieuré), but it seems like a fairly direct line from Chamouny to Chamonix. Maybe it’s even a difference between how a valley should be named and how a city should be named that I’m not aware of.

If you’re interested historical maps, here’s a good one of the area from 1881. Also, the origins of the word Chamonouy were quite difficult to find. It’s on Page 407 of the 1811 edition of A Handbook for travellers in Switzerland and hte Alps of Savoy and Piedmont.

St. Moritz

A photo of St. Moritz in the Evening

Photo by ForsterFoto (flickr)

St. Moritz, Switzerland, hosted both the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympic Games. The first record we have of the town is around the years 1137-39 as ad sanctum Mauricium.

St. Moritz is named for Saint Maurice, (Moritz is a form of Maurice), patron saint of, among other things, armies, armorers, clothmakers, dyers, and he is invoked against menstrual cramps.

The city was originally known for its therapeutic springs, in fact, one part of the town is called “Bad,” which is German for “Bath.” Winter tourism didn’t start until 1864 when a hotel owner bet some British tourists that they would love St. Moritz in the winter. They came back to the town that winter around Christmas, (he promised to pay their return if they didn’t enjoy themselves, and their hotel bill if they did, so they couldn’t really lose), and that was the dawn of winter tourism in not only St. Moritz, but the whole Alps.

Here’s a fun bit of trivia: the source of the River Inn is near St. Moritz, so, at least in theory, it would be possible to follow the River Inn from the Olympic City of St. Moritz to the Olympic City of Innsbruck.

Google, Kansas

Artwork promoting Topeka for Google's Think Big project.

Photo by Charlie, (flickr)

Yup, there is now, unofficially, a city called Google in Kansas.

Yesterday, Bill Bunten, the mayor of Topeka, Kansas, issued a proclamation calling for the city to be referred to as Google instead of Topeka for the next month. Topeka is trying to get Google’s, (the company), attention as a possible testing ground for Google’s new super-high-speed internet project.

The city’s name hasn’t been legally changed – it would be too much hassle for only thirty days, but the mayor and city council want everyone to refer to Topeka as Google, KS, for the next month.


Christmas in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Photo by Tania Ho (flickr)

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, host of the 1936 Winter Olympics, used to be two towns, Garmisch and Partenkirchen. This is probably not a surprise when looking at the name of the city. The two towns were combined by Hitler in 1935 in preparation for the 1936 games and have remained together to this day.

We’ll look at each of the two names, (Garmisch and Partenkirchen), separately, starting with Garmisch. One source tells me that Garmisch translates roughly to “Germar’s district,” and another tells me that the first mention of Garmisch is as around 815 AD as “Germaneskau” meaning “German district.” If the second source is correct, then some Germanic people settled in the area. If the first is correct, we should figure out the origins of the name Germar, and that is not easy to do. There are people named Germar, including a famous holocaust denier, but I haven’t been able to find any reference to someone named Germar who ruled the district, and am wondering if perhaps Germar’s district is just another way of saying German District.

Partenkirchen was originally a Roman town called Partanum, founded in 15 AD. I’m not sure when the name got changed to Partenkirchen, but I’ve read that Partenkirchen means “Parthians by the Church.” Assuming that Partanum and Parthians are the same word, this would make sense since the German word for church is Kirche.

I’ve exhausted my resources on this one, so if anyone knows more about the history of either Garmisch or Partenkirchen don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.


A photo of the Opera house in Oslo, Norway

Photo by Kris Taeleman (flickr)

Founded by King Harald Hardraade sometime around the year 1050, Oslo, Norway, was the host of the 1952 Winter Olympic Games. The Oslo Winter Games were the first winter games to feature the Olympic torch that we have become so accustomed to seeing.

The origins of the name Oslo seem to be the source of quite a bit of disagreement. There are several theories. Some people think that it means “Mouth of the lo river” but at least according to Wikipedia, parts of the theory that suggest this naming were probably made up by the guy who originally published it. It is also possible that, since Oslo was once spelled Áslo, and there is a ridge called ås near the city, that the name means “Meadow beneath the ridge” or, since “Ás” may also be a reference to the Æsir, (the group of gods that includes Thor), Oslo may also mean “Meadow of the Gods.” Finally, the “os” part of Oslo may be mean “estuary” or “river mouth” and refer to Oslo’s location at the end of the Oslo fjord, (although, interestingly, no rivers actually enter the fjord at Oslo).

So, basically, there are a bunch of different stories that lead to Oslo being called Oslo, and many of them are believable, but we don’t have a definite answer about which one, if any, is the real story.