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.


Photo of Lillehammer in winter.
Photo by Carey Akin, (flickr)

Host of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, Lillehammer, Norway, has a much easier name to track down than Nagano, Japan. According to Wikipedia Lillehammer was named after the old Hamar farm that was already there when the town was established on January 1, 1838. There was a slight problem, though, there was another town called Hamar close by, so the town became known as Lilþlæ Hamar or Litlihamarr, which means “little hamar,” and eventually that was shortened and modernized to Lillehammer.

The Lillehammer Coat of ArmsInterestingly, Lillehammer has the only coat of arms, (pictured here), with the image of a skier on it.


Photo by Patricia Drury

Hell is not only a biblical place, it is also an unincorporated town in Michigan.

There are a couple of stories about how Hell, MI, came to be named hell, the first is that some German travellers got out of their wagon and said So schön hell!, which means “So Beautifully Bright” and the name stuck. The second is that after Michigan became a state George Reeves, the founder of Hell, was asked what he thought the town should be named, and his answer was “I don’t care, you can name it Hell for all I care.”

Although the mailing address of hell is actually Pinckney, MI, (three miles away), there is a post office in the back of the general store where you can send stuff from Hell each year from May through September.

There are some other towns called Hell in the world. One was Hell, California, but it only had one family of residents and now there is a highway where it used to be. Another is Hell, Norway, and while the name is interesting in English, in Norwegian the name stems from the word for “overhang” or “cliff cave” and can also mean “luck.”