How Monkey's Eyebrow, Ky., Got Its Name

Whether it's Monkey's Eyebrow, Toad Suck, Bad Axe or Embarrass, guaranteed someone calls it home in America. Mark Usler has collected odd town names and the stories behind them in his book, Hometown Revelations.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

So what do you call home? Monkey's Eyebrow? Maybe Tightwad or Gnaw Bone. These are all real town names. Monkey's Eyebrow is in Kentucky, and while we're in the neighborhood. Tightwad is in Missouri. Gnaw Bone in Indiana.

Mark Usler has collected these and many other memorable town names for his new book, "Hometown Revelations." He joins us from member station KCUR in ordinary old Kansas City, Missouri.

Welcome, Mr. Usler.

Mr. MARK USLER (Author, "Hometown Revelations"): Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: There are lots and lots of funny town names in your book but I'd like to start with the ones that I just mentioned. Monkey's Eyebrow?

Mr. USLER: The legend says if you stand on the top of the hill and look down on the town, the town looks like it's in the shape of a monkey's eyebrow. The only problem with that explanation - does anybody know what a monkey's eyebrow looks like?

WERTHEIMER: How does Tightwad get its name? Was that a tribute to a town father perhaps?

Mr. USLER: Tightwad is not too far away from Kansas City. There's a general store owner that cheated somebody out of 25 cents back in the 1900s, and word got around at that area that he was really a tightwad and to watch him, and the whole area became known as Tightwad.

WERTHEIMER: As it became built up around the store?

Mr. USLER: Yes.

WERTHEIMER: What about Gnaw Bone?

Mr. USLER: It's kind of an interesting story. It's named after a French town by the name of Narbonne, but when the English settlers came in to the town, slang and their dialects changed the word to Gnaw Bone.

WERTHEIMER: So instead of N-A-R-B-O-N-N-E after the town in France...

Mr. USLER: Yes.

WERTHEIMER: ...it becomes G-N-A-W-B-O-N-E.

Mr. USLER: I know. It took years of translation to do that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: So do you have a personal favorite or town that you would like to tell people that you're from just to see the look on their face?

Mr. USLER: I'm next to Peculiar, Missouri, which was always an interesting name. The story behind Peculiar, Missouri, was back then the post office decided the names of this town. So this postmaster kept sending in names of towns and the post office would reject them because there's too many duplicates. He was so frustrated, the government said, well, you really need to choose a name that was strange or peculiar. So he actually sent in Peculiar as a name and the U.S. Post Office accepted it.

WERTHEIMER: Now how the heck did Hell, Michigan, get its name?

Mr. USLER: This is a true story. There is a citizan that started the town...

WERTHEIMER: I'm relieved to hear that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. USLER: I know. His name was George Reeves. And back in 1838, George had a still in his backyard and all the husbands used to come up to George's place to have a good time, and when the people asked the wives where their husbands were, the wives threw up their hands and said they went to hell. They're up at George's place. And actually, in 1841, the state of Michigan contacted George and said you have to name your town, George. And George said, just call it Hell. Everybody else does.

WERTHEIMER: I have to go there.

Mr. USLER: Me, too.

WERTHEIMER: Mark Usler is the author of "Hometown Revelations." Thanks very much.

Mr. USLER: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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