By Sandy Myhre
It started as a Facebook thread when someone asked if anyone knew any silly place names. In came a flood of ‘em from the stupid, the downright vulgar, the idiotic and the totally unpronounceable, to the somewhat amusing and at times hilarious place names from around the world.
It could be wondered what grey-suited bureaucrat at an obscure council office gave permission to officially sanction some of these and whether he should have been slapped because of it.
Some place names could have been the result of a drunken amusement with a back-story; some represent a complete lack of understanding of the semantics of language; some were throw-away one-liners at the time and have stuck. Some – particularly those in countries where the native language is not English – sound, shall we say, somewhat unusual to our English ears.
Australia has a generous crop of amusing nomenclatures of towns, villages or isolated outposts (or what Kiwis would call the Wop Wops). Tasmania, for instance, is liberally sprinkled with the strange, the amusing and the downright whacky.
Whiskey Dick Flat, Runt Mountain, Shite Creek, SlickPoo Road and Lovely Bottom are all within cooee (Aussie translation: manageable proportions of distance) to each other. These unlikely topographical monikers probably arose during the gold rush or other mining days, or after a booze-ridden night around the camp fire near a billabong, or during the great exploration of the huge outdoors somewhere around the middle of the 19th century, or all of those.
Mind you, New South Wales doesn’t do too badly in this department, think Woodenbong and Upper Duck Creek. Neither does Queensland escape the bizarre with Bald Knob (Ribald Knob might have been better) and Banana (which states the obvious). Neither is Victoria immune if you’re heading up Upwey way. And in case you thought we’d forgotten about South Australia, no, we have not.
New Zealand isn’t without a few place name curiosities of its own. One is Waikikamukau (pronounced: Why Kick A Moo Cow) is actually a fictional town in the Wop Wops and an amusing play on Maori language. What Aotearoa (Maori name for NZ) does have, however, is one of the longest place names in the world.
Near Porangahau in Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand is an unassuming hill known as “Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu”, which translates into English as “the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as ‘landeater’, played his flute to his loved one.” Locals simply and sensibly call it Taumata Hill. That’s “toe-mata” not “tomato”.
In the South Island one town is called Gore, the other Clinton, and some local wag tagged the juxtaposition the “Presidential Highway”.
Further north, if you thought the capital of Thailand was Bangkok, think again. In Thai, it is often called Krung Thep Maka Nakhon, or just Krung Thep. Roughly translated it means City of Angeles (like Los Angeles).
However, the full name is: “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit”.
It is the world’s longest place-name according to the Guinness Book of Records and you can see why locals truncate it. The name apparently means “The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (unlike Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.”
This beats the arguably more famous town in Wales by quite a bit.
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – is the longest place name in Europe and originally the town had a shorter, easier to pronounce, name – Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. We’ll take their word for it but couldn’t they have stuck with that and saved themselves expensive sign-writing bills?
England has no shortage of towns suffering the curious place name syndrome. From a cast of hundreds, take Shitterton on the Piddle – please.
In Ireland there is Muff (from the Irish: Magh) in Country Donegal, near the mouth of the River Foyle. One town near Cashel is Poulmucka while one near Kilkenny is Poulacappal which translate to “The Pigs Hole” and “The Horses Hole” respectively.
While Americans have been known to distort the Queen’s English very well indeed (what with ‘erbs’ ‘dove’ ‘acclimated’ and so on) they share with England easily pronounced but rather odd place names. Consider Intercourse, Pennsylvania; Uncertain in Texas; Slapout, Oklahoma; Hell For Certain in eastern Kentucky which is near Hazard and, rounding them off, Kuntzville. West Virginia.
Meanwhile, Germany and Austria can be downright embarrassing to an English-speaker. Without going into detail, because this is a family show, let a map do the talking.