What’s in a name?

Names are important. It’s why expectant parents mull, brainstorm, and fret over them. It’s why athletic, educational, and civic buildings choose to honor influential people with them. Or more often, businesses spend millions of dollars to have their name put on them.

Toponymy is the study of place names, like communities, bodies of water, and mountains. Researchers study names as a way to examine the culture of the people residing there.

Some places are named after local or national heroes while many others are references to local geography.

Despite the numerous conventional ways to name a place, there are a handful of communities around the world for which the reasons are bit more mystifying.

Take Truth or Consequences, N.M. for example. Until 1950, this county seat along the Rio Grande was known as Hot Springs. This was an appropriate name because of the multitude of hot springs in the area. At the mid-century mark, Ralph Edward, host of the television show Truth or Consequences promised to air his show from the first community to change its name to the show’s title. Hot Springs, N.M. won, if you consider that winning.

1770 in Queensland, Australia was once known as Round Hill, as it sits on the Round Hill Creek. In May 1770, the HMS Endeavour, a British Royal Navy ship led by Lieutenant James Cook, became the first vessel to reach the east coast of Australia. In 1970, the community of Round Hill, which holds a 1770 Festival to commemorate Cook’s voyage each May, changed its name to 1770 to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary.

Though a bit gimmicky, those two place names are understandable and fun. But there are several place names around the world that just make you shake your head. Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg , nestled in Webster, Mass., is the longest place name in America. The name arose from the Algonquin people prevalent in the area hundreds of years ago. It has seen several variations through the years, but locals today tend to refer to the body of water as Lake Webster. Easier to pronounce. And spell.

As I just mentioned, that lake is only the longest place in the United States. The Guinness World Record-holder for the longest place name belongs to Bangkok, or rather Krungthep Mahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathani Burirom-udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiya Witsanu Kamprasit . That’s right. That is the full ceremonial name of the city of Bangkok. It translates to the “The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of 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.” I’ll just stick to Bangkok.

Given the propensity of celebrities to continue to push the envelope of baby-naming, I wonder when someone will christen their child with some lengthy moniker. Imagine being the baker who has to use icing to write “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg” or some other similar name on a birthday cake.

I think I’d cite religious freedom and refuse.


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