Here it is, just a few weeks before the darkest day of the year (and only six more months of winter) and not much is happening on the coast of Maine. I like to occupy my spare time with genealogical research when I can’t get outside for reasons of nasty weather. I just discovered that one of my ancestral lines came from Butcombe, Somerset, UK and that had me in stitches for a while. There’s even a Butcombe brewery. No wonder people left England! Then I started thinking, are there places as funny in Maine?
Most newcomers quickly catch onto the tendency of Maine towns to be named for someplace far away. Here’s a photo of one famous road sign. Missing from this photo are Calais (pronounced “callous”), Madrid (MAD-rid) and Belfast. Does this tendency reflect Mainers’ need to escape to some exotic corner of the world, or is it a leftover from when Maine’s primary focus was shipbuilding and trade? Beats me!
But we were talking about funny place names, and for that we need a little help from Native Americans. Here are a few:
Then there’s Garrison Keillor’s (A Prairie Home Companion) fictitious Maine town, Piscataquaddymoggin, not all that far from the realm of possibility. Mooselookmeguntic, in addition to being fun to say, has, at 17 letters, the distinction of being tied for first place with Kleinfeltersville, PA as the longest single-word, unhyphenated place name in the United States recognized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Piscataquaddymoggin would be even longer as is Chemquasabamticook. Someone should inform the Board.
Still, it would seem that Mainers were fairly sober when concocting place names. There was probably no attempt at humor even with Meddybemps, though we giggle about it today. There are many place names which show lack of imagination. Someone would name a town Liberty, the next community over would be Freedom, then came Union, Unity and Hope. Crossroads in between would grow into communities named East Union, South Hope and so on. Boring!
Only when naming islands would Mainers allow their funny side out. You need a chart of the Gulf of Maine to find more lighthearted names: Bartender, Birthday, Blubber, Bombazine, Brown Cow, Bumpkin, Burnt Porcupine, Cat-Sized, Chain Link, Crotch (7 of them!), Crumple, Cubby Hole, Dog’s Head, Double Shot (5 of those!), Dumplings, Featherbed, French House, Gallows, Gay’s, Georges Head, Grog, Hamloaf, Hardhead, Hell’s Half Acre, Hen Cackle, High Sheriff, Hungry, Hypocrites Ledges, Ile D’amour, Irony, Junk Of Pork, Kemps Folly, Lazy Gut, Mistake, Nightcap, No Man’s Land, Old Soaker, Pollypod, Pound Of Tea, Powder Hole, Scabby, Scotch, Screeching Gull, Shivers, Smuttynose, Sow and Pigs, Suicide, Tea Kettle, The Downfall, Thomas Little Toes, Toothacher, Tumbledown Dick and Virgin’s Breast. These are all among the 3166 Maine coastal islands, and I only wish the fishermen who named them had had a chance to name some towns. I wouldn’t want to live in one though, it would make for some awkward high school fight songs.
The UK still takes the cake for funny and rude place names. Butcombe is a mild example and doesn’t even make the list. Just try to get a pizza delivered to Crapstone, Devonshire. Read about it here.