Utah’s history is an interesting mix of Old West and Mormon heritage. The state was inhabited by several Native American tribes long before Mormon pioneers arrived. Trappers, fur traders, explorers and outlaws roamed the land as well. Some of Utah’s strangest town names reflect the rich history of its people.
Pronounced doo-shane, the name may have two potential origins. French fur trapper Du Chasne worked in the area in the 1830s. The Ute word “doo shane” means Dark Canyon.
This tiny town of only about 800 people is next door to the Grand Staircase National Monument. It’s named for a Franciscan missionary, Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, who was part of an expedition to Southern Utah in 1776.
Tucked near the base of the Uinta mountains, the small town of Kamas got its name from a Native American word for an edible plant that grew in the area.
The Southern Utah town of Kanab is also nicknamed, “Little Hollywood,” because of all the movies filmed in the area. There’s nothing glitzy about its real name though -- it’s a Piute word for “place of willows,” many of which grow along the banks of the creek.
Chief Kanosh of the Ute tribe started a small farm in the area in the mid 1800s. He was friendly to Mormon settlers and invited them to form a small town there. He later converted to the Mormon church.
Koosharem is a truly tiny town of around 250 people, located just a few miles from Fish Lake. Its name originated from the Piute word for a clover that grows in the meadows there.
7) La Verkin
Situated on the banks of the Virgin River, the origins of this town’s name is a real mystery. One theory is that La Verkin is derived from the Spanish “la virgen.” It’s also thought that the name comes from a Native American word for “Beautiful Valley.” Finally, some people think that the name originated due to poor spelling on the maps trappers made of the valley, noting it as “LeaverSkin,” which eventually got pronounced “La Verkin.”
This town, in the northern part of Utah County, was settled in 1850. It was named for a prophet in the Book of Mormon (pronounced lee-high). If you’re Mormon, the name isn’t strange at all, but to non-mormons with no context, it’s unfamiliar.
Mormon church leader Brigham Young gave this town its name in the 1860s, but no one quite knows why. Some say that Young had a sense of humor and, because the town is right in the middle of the state, named it “navel” backwards. Others think it might originate from a French, Latin or Ute.
Manti was settled by Mormon pioneers in 1849. It’s named for a city in the Book of Mormon and hosts the annual Mormon Miracle Pageant.
Moab was established in 1879 and got its name from the bible -- Moab was a desert valley east of the Dead Sea.
This town in San Pete county is named for another prophet in the Book of Mormon.
Named for a prophet in the Book of Mormon. Are you sensing a theme here?
The town of Ophir is named after the biblical place in the bible where King Solomon took his hoard of gold. It’s apt, since gold was discovered in Ophir in 1860.
The name for this town probably derived from a Native American word that means lake and fish.
Another town with a Native American name. This one is Piute and means “marshland.”
This little town of about 2,800 residents sits on the South-western border of the state. It’s name is also Native american and means, “evil water.”
Santaquin sits on some prime real estate, with views of both Utah Lake and Mount Timpanogos. When Mormon settlers tried to found their town in the early 1850s, not all the local Native Americans were thrilled with the idea. Chief Guffich was friendly, however. He acted as a liaison with other local natives. Mormon founders offered to name the town after him. He declined, and asked that it be named after his son, Santaquin, instead.
Lawyers are often the butt of bad jokes -- not the inspiration for the names of towns. But Scipio, a tiny town of 300 people, honored Scipio Kenner by naming the town after him. He was a Mormon attorney who helped the pioneers gain legal title to the land in 1859. Scipio probably got his name from the Roman general.
Settled in 1874 by pioneers of Danish origin, the town was named for the mythological Norse hero, Sigurd.
Tabiona is surely one of Utah’s tiny towns with only about 170 residents. It got its name from yet another friendly Ute Chief: Tava, or “Tabby.”
It’s always fun to watch new television news anchors try to pronounce this city’s name. For the uninitiated, it’s too-ill-ah. Everyone agrees how to pronounce the name, but few agree where it came from. Some say it’s named after Goshute Chief Tuilla. Others say it’s just a made-up name. It was settled in 1849, though, so whoever chose the name is long gone.
This town, near Zion National Park, got its name from Piute Chief Toquer.
One of the few towns in Utah not settled by Mormon pioneers, this town was given its name by the U.S. Postal Department. The name probably originated from the latin word “vernalis,” which means spring. The area was designated as a Uintah Indian Reservation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Now it’s an oil town and a popular tourist destination due to its dinosaur quarry.