Cities that have changed their names
December 29, 2005 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Have any U.S. cities (or cities elsewhere) ever changed their name out of embarrassment?

If so, what were the reasons?
posted by interrobang to Society & Culture (41 answers total)
Perhaps not out of embarrassment, the city of Berlin, Ontario in Canada changed its name to Kitchener shortly after the outbreak of WWI.
posted by mhum at 6:01 PM on December 29, 2005

Well, Hot Springs, NM changed its name to Truth or Consequences. They may have been unclear on the whole embarrassment thing, though.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:02 PM on December 29, 2005

It doesn't say why, but there must be a reason Gay Head, MA changed its name ten years ago...
posted by Gator at 6:05 PM on December 29, 2005

Also after the outbreak of World War I, Germantown CA changed its name to Artois. My grandmother, who grew up in the town, tells the story of a train full of soldiers stopping in the town on their way to shipping out. When they learned the name of the town, a couple of intrepid GIs bought some white paint at my grandmother's family's general store, asked my great-grandfather what was near the town, and when he told them there were a lot of artisian wells around, they named the town Artois. It stuck. Pretty cool, huh?
posted by incessant at 6:06 PM on December 29, 2005

Hardly a city, but the town of Lobethal in South Australia (German for "Valley of Praise") changed it's name to Tweedvale, once again at the outbreak of World War I. It changed it's name back again later. Actually there are a whole pile of German South Australian towns that changed their name during the war:

Hahndorf became Ambleside
Blumberg became Birdwood (and still is)

Aah bugger it, I could go on, but here's a list of lots of places all over the world that have changed names - go down to the Places section.
posted by Jimbob at 6:24 PM on December 29, 2005

A town near here (Dallas) voted to NOT change it's name from White Settlement to West Settlement. Not embarassed enough I guess.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2005

Not a town, but a college:
Arcadia University was founded as a school in Beaver, Pennsylvania in 1853. By 1872 it had attained collegiate status, under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was named Beaver College. In 1925, the college moved completely across the state of Pennsylvania from Beaver to Glenside, Pennsylvania, where it was rapidly able to expand both its campus and student population.

In July 2001, Beaver College changed its name to Arcadia University. It was thought that a new name would emphasize the school's position as one of the top small institutions of higher-learning on the East Coast, and would cement its change in designation from "college" to "university." The decision was also made in part to shed its association with the former commonly derided name. As then-president Landman noted:

"[The name] too often elicits ridicule in the form of derogatory remarks pertaining to the rodent, the TV show 'Leave It to Beaver' and the vulgar reference to the female anatomy."

posted by filmgeek at 7:02 PM on December 29, 2005

IIRC, there was a This American Life about Jim Thorpe, PA wherein it was stated that residents were considering changing their town's name BACK because the name change to Jim Thorpe was a dismal failure (the tourists didn't come)
posted by jewzilla at 7:19 PM on December 29, 2005

Was just reading about this a couple days ago. Surrattsville MD changed their name to Clinton MD after Mary Surratt was convicted and executed for her involvement* in the assassination of President Lincoln.

* may not have actually been involved, may have instead been accused as bait to draw her son out of hiding; he stayed hidden and she went to the gallows
posted by intermod at 7:25 PM on December 29, 2005

During WWII, the Ontario provincial government wanted to change the name of the small town of Swastika, for obvious reasons.

The townspeople, however, refused, as they had the name before the Nazis co-opted the symbol (although apparently UK Hitler chum Unity Mitford was born there, in an odd coincidence).
posted by jtron at 7:39 PM on December 29, 2005

You could do a study on this subject in Russia ➛ Soviet Union ➛ CIS ➛ Russia alone. Two obvious examples:
- Tsaritsyn ("tsar's son") since its 16th-c. founding became Stalingrad ("Stalintown") in 1925, and finally Volgograd since 1961.
- St. Petersburg's name was Russified (and deconsecrated) to Petrograd in 1914, then became Leningrad to honor you-know-who in 1924. It reverted to its original name in 1991.
posted by rob511 at 8:01 PM on December 29, 2005

East Paterson, New Jersey, changed its name in 1972 and is now known as Elmwood Park.
posted by oaf at 8:16 PM on December 29, 2005

But Dildo, Newfoundland has never changed its name. God, I love that province.
posted by maudlin at 8:26 PM on December 29, 2005

Actually, White Settlement just had a vote on a name change recently, not out of embarrassment really, more like racial sensitivity. I always wondered if I was the only person kind of put off by the name, but no.

They voted against changing the name, btw.
posted by puke & cry at 8:42 PM on December 29, 2005

damn you rustybrooks.
posted by puke & cry at 8:48 PM on December 29, 2005

I'd be pretty upset if I had to live in Bushtown, Tennesee or Cheney, Kansas.
posted by camworld at 8:48 PM on December 29, 2005

puke & cry: I only beat you by a few hours ;)
posted by RustyBrooks at 9:25 PM on December 29, 2005

List of city name changes in the United States
Most mentioned already, none notably embarrassing.

And for rob511: List of city name changes in Russia and Soviet Union.
Many are simply listings of current vs. historical names.

The US has numerous name changes for numerous reasons. My hometown here was first named "Blackhawk", but the Post Office said that there was already a Blackhawk in Wisconsin Territory (what is now Iowa, actually), so they went with the storekeeper/postmaster, Henry Janes, becoming Janesville. Just down the river, Beloit -- probably named after the town in Ohio, but uncertain -- was originally named Turtle Village, after the shape of some famed Indian mounds and the nearby Turtle Creek. North of us, Madison, WI was first dubbed Four Lakes, but was given the name of the president when platted as the state capital. This sort of story is really very, very common.

As for established cities that have changed their names, probably the largest example today is Cleveland, which was named Cleaveland -- until a newspaper started that couldn't fit the extra A on its masthead. There are numerous examples of commemorative name changes, such as Lincoln, Nebraska (né Lancaster).

New York, of course, was named New Amsterdam before the British took over.
posted by dhartung at 9:32 PM on December 29, 2005

I love that Regina, Saskatchwan used to be called Pile O' Bones.
posted by camworld at 9:59 PM on December 29, 2005

I think this little fuss between us will bring focus to the dallas area, so i'm okay.
posted by puke & cry at 10:05 PM on December 29, 2005

Oh, I should mention some Chicago-area flaps.

The oldest involved a group of tony suburbs named N Barrington became alarmed when a nearby less-tony burb (I've forgotten which one) decided it wanted to be a Barrington, too, to help property values. The extant Barringtons banded together to sue the interloper, which backed down.

Nearby, the two tony towns of West Dundee and East Dundee are adjoined by the less-tony Carpentersville, which not only has a tradesman name, but a reputation as a Hispanic enclave. Carpentersville briefly considered changing its name to "Dundee", but was discouraged.

Another example was in the south suburbs; Park Forest South renamed itself University Park, when the state built a university there in the 1960s; allegedly, the heavily black population was concerned about being seen as the black "suburb" of whiter Park Forest.
posted by dhartung at 10:17 PM on December 29, 2005

Sing Sing changed their name to Ossining

"As the prison became notorious, the village tried to distance itself from the prison’s [Sing Sing Correctional Facility] harsh reputation and changed its name to Ossining on March 25, 1901."
Ossining (village), New York,

(and yet, Boring, Oregon lives on)
posted by blueberry at 11:29 PM on December 29, 2005

I've heard from time to time that they now want to change the name of the prison to "Ossining Correctional Facility" or something along those lines.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:38 PM on December 29, 2005

There's a city near me named Varina. I'd love to see that one change.

Also, to slow growth, I've been suggesting to friends that we rename our neighborhood (to) Purgatory, Virginia. Nobody else is onboard, but I think it'd work well.
posted by Alt F4 at 11:45 PM on December 29, 2005

And Love Canal—not a city, but a neighborhood in Niagra Falls, New York—had it's name changed to Black Creek Village after the toxic waste thing had pretty much Gillooly'ed the old name.
posted by blueberry at 11:51 PM on December 29, 2005

Another prison-locale story: MCI (Massachusetts Correctional Institution) Cedar Junction used to be known as MCI Walpole, or, more commonly, just Walpole. The residents of Walpole who happened to live outside the walls tired of it, and got the legislature to change the name of the prison.

So now the prison has a nicer-sounding name than the town. Most of us still call it Walpole. Other towns that have one of these prisons, like Concord, don't seem to be bothered by having the prison named after the town.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:29 AM on December 30, 2005

The slogan for Tisdale, Saskatchewan is "Land of Rape and Honey", and despite the occasional flap over it, the town remains under this banner.

(rape in this case referring to rapeseed aka canola)
posted by raedyn at 5:24 AM on December 30, 2005

North Tarrytown New York changed its name to Sleepy Hollow. Don't know how embarrassing Tarrytown is. I assume it was to draw tourists.
The original Sleepy Hollow cemetery of Ichabod Crane is in Tarrytown, but at least Washington Irving is buried in North Tarrytown, er Sleepy Hollow.
posted by xetere at 5:56 AM on December 30, 2005

I don't understand why Mianus, NY doesn't change its name.
posted by widdershins at 5:57 AM on December 30, 2005

I'm told that Augusta, Maine was originally named Harrington, but the folks in Hallowell, the next town down the river, made fun of the Harringtonians by calling the city "Herringtown." So they changed it.
posted by JanetLand at 6:10 AM on December 30, 2005

Sexmoan in the Philippines changed itself to Sasmuan, sadly. I heard reporters during Vietnam would go out of their way to file from there.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:36 AM on December 30, 2005

Zwannandael, Delaware became Lewes, out of simplicity, I suppose.
posted by moonbird at 8:21 AM on December 30, 2005

There's a section of Bill Bryson's book, "Made in the USA", that talks about name changes due to embarrassment and other reasons..
posted by sic at 8:33 AM on December 30, 2005

Eugene Oregon (nammed after the first white resident of the area Eugene Skinner) originally was called "Skinner's Mud Hole" before it changed to Eugene.
posted by pwb503 at 9:51 AM on December 30, 2005

In 1861 the town of Breckenridge, Colorado, changed the spelling if its name from Breckinridge to Breckenridge, after John C. Breckinridge, after whom the town had been named, went to fight for the Confederacy.
posted by wsg at 9:59 AM on December 30, 2005

posted by evilcolonel at 10:29 AM on December 30, 2005

St. Paul, Minnesota was once called Pig's Eye
posted by marsha56 at 10:56 AM on December 30, 2005

Placerville, California is a town founded during the gold rush. It used to be named Hangtown.
posted by Daddio at 12:19 PM on December 30, 2005

Back when I was a teen, I always wondered why Gaylord, Michigan never changed its name.

"Reserve Your Gaylord Room Online!" indeed.

/not that there's anything wrong with that.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:57 AM on October 27, 2006

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