Virginia is full of little towns, and even some big ones, with names that will make you stop and look twice… and then wonder, “WHAT were they thinking?” Many of the town names in Virginia come from Native American words, family names or sometimes even an incident that happened in the town. So while these names often make sense in the end, you always have to wonder what, exactly, got lost in translation. Here are 17 of the more unusual Virginia town names and the REAL stories behind their existence…
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1. Tight Squeeze, Pittsylvania County
This community near Danville got its name when two merchants both decided to build their shops on the road’s edge, but directly across from one another. The idea was that ladies wouldn’t have to get their dresses dirty when going from shop to carriage. The result was that the carriages couldn’t pass between the two shops without slowing down and maneuvering just right. Good thought. Poor execution.
2. Climax (just down the road from Tight Squeeze, of course), Pittsylvania County
It’s kind of hard not to giggle like a 6th grade boy at this one, but the origins of Climax are actually pretty simple – and innocent. According to Victorian Villa, soon after the Civil War, an Episcopalian minister, Chiswell Dabney, began opening community schools in Pittsylvania County. One of the schools near Chatham proved difficult to get going. Once his mission was finally accomplished, Dabney announced the school to the community as the “…climax of [our efforts].” The school became the “Climax” school and eventually, the community took the name, as well.
3. Cuckoo, Louisa County
With a history dating back to the Revolutionary War, the community of Cuckoo is more than just a funny name. The Cuckoo Tavern, from which the town was named, was where Jack Jouett began his ride to warn the colonists of British cavalry’s arrival in 1781. The tavern got its name from a cuckoo clock, reported to be one of the first in Virginia, that hung on the wall. In 1819, the Pendleton family built a house (pictured here) in the community and named it Cuckoo, as well.
4. Goose Pimple Junction, Washington County
When you live in a small town, you know that your private business usually isn’t so private. And in Goose Pimple Junction this proved to be more true than most places. Apparently this community got its name because the domestic disputes of a particular couple in town were so loud that they gave the neighbors “goose pimples.” Having a town named after your arguments? That should teach you to get along.
5. Sumerduck, Fauquier County
This small village in southern Fauquier County had long been known for the large flocks of wood ducks, known as summer ducks, that land every spring. In fact, as far back as 1759, the Maryland Family built a plantation and manor home in the area named “Summer Duck,” for which the village was eventually named. Over time, the words were combined and an “m” was dropped to make Sumerduck. Fittingly, Sumerduck contains a large portion of C.F.Phelps Wildlife Management Area.
6. Frog Level, Caroline County
Located near Bowling Green in Caroline County, the small community of Frog Level might have a strange name, but the residents certainly don’t seem to mind. Named for the low-lying areas that are a prolific breeding ground for frogs, the town takes pride in the name and even the fire department has frogs painted on the sides of their trucks.
7. Frog Level, Tazewell County
If one Frog Level wasn’t enough for you, have no fear – we have another! The second community to enjoy a froggy moniker is in Southwest Virginia in a small corner of Tazewell County. As the story goes, the town got its name in the 1930s when local schoolteacher, Jack Witten, was fishing on Plum Creek. He mentioned to a cartographer friend, Bill McCorkle, that the fog that day was at “Frog Level.” Soon after, McCorkle mapped out the area of “Frog Level” – and that’s the name that stuck.
8. Studley, Hanover County
The village of Studley, of which not much remains, was named for Patrick Henry’s birthplace of the same name in Hanover County. It is said that the home “Studley” was named by Henry’s father, a Scottish immigrant, after a small hamlet in Scotland. And if irony counts for anything, the Henrys were known for breeding horses. The above picture shows a house off of Studley Road in Hanover.
9. Body Camp, Bedford County
While it might sound like a redundantly named cemetery, Body Camp in Bedford County actually got its name when it was a major trade route for Franklin County tobacco farmers on their way to Lynchburg. According to local lore, farmers would ask, “Can a body camp here?” as they were passing through. It seems that the answer was “yes” …and so the community was named.
10. Onemo, Mathews County
Although its pronounced “oh-knee-mo,” Onemo, a small community in Mathews County is said to have started with a more literal pronunciation. According to local legend, the town needed another post office, or “one more.” And thus, one mo' or “Onemo” was born.
11. Onancock, Accomack County
Like many towns in Virginia with slightly…um… "more unusual" names, Onancock comes from a Native American word. This pretty little town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore was once the home of the Accomac Indians when the first colonists came to Virginia. The name, Onancock, comes from the native word "auwannaku" or "foggy place."
12. Mule Hell, Wythe County
In a far corner of Wythe County is the small community of Mule Hell. The story goes that in days long past, pack mules were used to move loads to and from the local lead mines. The particular patch where Mule Hell now sits was particularly rocky and must have been “hell” on the mules. It actually makes a lot of sense once you know the story.
13. Screamersville, Chesterfield County
This small all-black community in Chesterfield is now all but gone. With only a handful gravestones in a family cemetery and some stories to mark its existence, the town began disappearing in the 1980s when I-295 cut through. As for how it got its name, there are 4 main theories:
1. There were no telephones, so residents would just shout news to one another from their front porches.
2. The people of Screamersville liked a good party and tended to be noisy.
3. Screams would come from the local cemetery, assumed to be souls calling out from the grave.
4. It took its name from the Civil War hospital at Point of Rocks where amputations were performed without anesthetics.
Regardless of the origins, Screamersville is quite a name – and its a shame that only stories remain. Today, the Rivermont Station luxury apartments sit on much of what was once the town.
14. Dragonville, King and Queen County
You can’t blame me for wanting to move here JUST so I can tell people I am from a town called “Dragonville.” (And maybe pretend I’m Daenerys from Game of Thrones. Don’t judge.) However, as exciting as the name might be, this small community in King and Queen County was simply named after an English hamlet of the same name in County Durham. Oh well.
15. Horse Pasture, Henry County
I have to admit, the story behind Horse Pasture is a little more along the lines of what I was hoping for in Dragonville. That being said, in the 1830s, Northern travelers came through Henry County riding very thin horses, obviously overridden and underfed. They traded their horses in a 2-for-1 fashion for fresh horses. When they returned to the area in the fall, the horses they had traded at a bargain were now healthy and happily feeding on the fertile pastures of the area. They concluded that this little part of Henry County must be the best horse pasture they’d ever seen – and so Horse Pasture came to be.
16. Bumpass, Louisa County
I know, I know. I didn’t name it though. This community in Louisa County actually got its name from the Bumpass Family, prominent citizens in the 1800s. Their name comes from the MUCH more elegant French “bon pas,” meaning “good step.”
17. Ben Hur, Lee County
Like Dragonville, Ben Hur evokes images of adventure and excitement…or at the very least, local chariot races. But Ben Hur was actually named by Colonel Auburn Pridemore of Jonesville after his friend and “Ben Hur” author, Henry Lewis Wallace. The post office, shown here, was founded in 1921.
There are plenty of towns in the state with crazy names and, of course, we can’t list them all here. But if you have some funny names to add to the list – and better yet, the story behind them, we would love to hear about them in the comments below!