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Texas place names, real and imagined

Posted by mcm0704 on June 10, 2015 |

Please welcome Anna Castle as today’s Wednesday’s Guest. She is sharing an interesting piece on some of the unusual names of Texas cities and sites. She writes two mystery series and last Sunday I reviewed Death By Disputation, one of the titles in her Frances Bacon series.

Today I am over at The Blood-Red Pencil blog talking a bit about Glenda Gibberish and her reluctance to tell anyone she is a writer. That ties in to the difficulty most writers have with self-promotion.

It is blistering hot here in Texas, so let’s have something cool and decadent while we enjoy Anna’s post. eclair

Texas prides itself on its eccentrics and its eccentricities. That pride extends to making lists of our oddest and funniest place names. That’s lucky for me, since I needed to make up some places for the setting of my mystery series. It’s a comic series, so I wanted a funny name for the main town, but humor is tricky; go over the top, and you lose credibility. It has to ring true.

We have our share of ordinary names. Some come from the founders or other famous person, like Jacksonville and Houston. Others identify a major feature of the landscape, like Big Spring and Sweetwater. Every place on earth has names like this.

We come by some of our more unusual names honestly; they were left by the many people who have made the great state of Texas their home at one time or another. Native American names like Anahuac, named after a chief or perhaps a word meaning ‘high plains water’; Nacogdoches, named for the Nacogdoche (Caddoan) Indians; Tahoka, meaning ‘fresh water.’

The Spanish named everything they saw in addition to their own habitations, like San Antonio, Rio Grande, and Llano. The Germans named the towns they lived in: New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, and Boerne. Even the French left a few names, mostly on the eastern side: Beaumont, La Salle, and Fayette County.

So much for the respectable names; let’s get on to the whimsical ones. Cowboys left the funniest names, or I assume they were cowboys. We have small towns named after humble meals, like Oatmeal, Frijole, and Noodle. Some names celebrate a state of mind, like Happy, Loco, and Eden. Others are just odd words, like Thrall, Grit, Wink, and Yard. Whoever named those places didn’t really have his or her mind on the task.

There’s even a book about Texas place names, if you want to dig further: Muleshoe and More: The Remarkable Stories Behind the Naming of Texas Towns, by Bill Bradfield and Clare Bradfield

I had plenty of examples when inventing the names for my Texas mystery series. My first try was Pocket, meant as an Anglicization of the Spanish word poquito. (I’m a linguist; naturally my first thoughts turn toward the etymologies resulting from language contact.) Then I realized that since my town is a county seat, it can’t be that tiny. Pocket is now a very small town on the western fringe of the county.

That county needed a name. I looked up Texas counties and learned that there are 254 of them and not one of them was named for a woman! Naturally I had to right that ancient wrong. So my people live in Long County, named for Jane Long, the Mother of Texas. (She’s the first Anglo woman known to have given birth inside the boundaries of the emerging state in 1821.)

Last, but far from least, I needed a name for the river, because all your better Texas towns have rivers running through them. Most of our rivers have Spanish names, like Nueces, Frio, and Bosque. I wanted something pretty and non-saintly, so I chose Mariposa, ‘butterfly.’

Now I needed a name for the county seat where most of my stories take place. Following the example of Muleshoe (a town I drive through four times a year going to and from my parents’ place in New Mexico), I invented Lost Hat. The story is that Muleshoe was founded when the founder’s mule lost a shoe. I find humor in that serendipity. Being more than a little obsessive about such things, I wrote a whole history. The town was founded by Ezekiel Burwell in 1851 on the site from which his beloved Gladys Duffy was stolen by the Comanches, leaving only her fine new hat.

That’s not really all that funny, now that I think of it, but I still like the name. Let’s imagine that Gladys fell in love with her handsome captor and lived a long, happy life, becoming a gifted weaver and poet in the Comanche language. Ezekiel got over it, eventually, marrying again and prospering. I’ve always suspected that he moved that tattered bonnet closer to the Mariposa before starting in with the weepin’ and the wailin’.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~anna castle

Anna Castle writes the Francis Bacon mysteries and the Lost Hat, Texas mysteries. She’s earned a series of degrees — BA Classics, MS Computer Science, and Ph.D Linguistics — and has had a corresponding series of careers — waitressing, software engineering, assistant professor, and archivist. Writing fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning. Find out more at her WEBSITE

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