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How 10 Utah places got their bizarre names

By Robert J. DeBry & Associates | Posted - May 18, 2020 at 8:00 a.m.



It’s a land where Rykers, Anbres and Kaiges roam free and creative baby names could be considered a fine art. In fact, Utah’s penchant for strange baby names has received national attention, but that shouldn’t be surprising considering Utah’s geographical naming conventions.

Utah is rife with creative names—from Piute Reservoir to shining Panguich. Here are a few of the weirdest-named places in the Beehive State.

Tooele

Too-whata? If you’ve never heard the name of this Utah town spoken aloud, chances are you’ll mispronounce it from the get-go. But when first settled, Tooele was much more phonetically friendly. Originally named Tuilla — pronounced just like it sounds — the town marks one of the state’s first settlements, tracing its roots to 1853.

Today, the city of 30,000 remains a colorful community, although the origins of its name remains disputed, according to Tooele City. The Tooele County website reports many believe the word stems from a Native American word, as the Goshutes Indian tribe once lived in the area. Whatever the case, the pronunciation of Tooele is a sure way to tell who is — and more surely, who isn’t — from Utah.

Bicknell

Changing the weird name of a town to another weird name seems to be one of Utah’s favorite pastimes. Like Tooele, the south-central Utah town of Bicknell was once called something equally strange: Thurber. Thurber was originally named for the first person to build a house in the area, A.K. Thurber in 1879. In 1897 the town moved in search of better water and soil but kept its name until 1914, according to capitolreef.org.

That’s when things got a little funny in Thurber. A wealthy gentleman, Thomas Bicknell, offered a library with 1,000 books to any town that would change its name to his — Bicknell. Thurber wasn’t the only willing candidate. Grayson, Utah, also wanted the naming rights — or more likely, the library — and in the end, the two towns shared the library and Grayson took Mrs. Bicknell’s maiden name, Blanding, while Thurber officially became Bicknell. Confused yet?

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Mexican Hat

Not to be confused with sombrero, Mexican Hat is a small village in southeastern Utah near the Arizona border. The town’s funny name has a less-funny (and less creative) story behind it — it’s named for the rock formation nearby that looks much like south-of-the-border headgear.

The 60-foot, sombrero-shaped rock sits just northeast of the town and is a sure sign that rafting aficionados have reached their destination.

La Verkin

And yes, that’s two words. La Verkin, a small town in Washington County, was home to nearly 4,000 in 2018 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But ask any of those residents the origin of their town’s unique name and you might get nearly 4,000 different explanations. That’s because La Verkin’s naming story, like that of so many weird-named places in Utah, is largely unknown — and highly speculated.

According to the town’s website, there are a few more popular theories. One is that La Verkin was derived (sort of) from a Spanish phrase meaning The Virgin. Others conclude the name is Native American for Beautiful Valley. And there’s also evidence to suggest the town may have once been called Beaver Skin Creek, only to deteriorate over the years to LeaverSkin to Lavinskind and finally to La Verkin. Any other guesses?

Duchesne

Go ahead and call it "doo-chez-nee" if you want everyone to know you’re not from Duchesne, which is actually pronounced "doo-shane." Of course, the northeastern Utah town has seen its share of name changes throughout the years (and it still settled on the difficult-to-pronounce Duchesne).

The town’s naming history includes Dora, named for the daughter of an early settler. Later, the name was changed again to Theodore, after President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1910, the town settled on Duchesne, although many still called it Theodore. The name stuck in 1913 when Duchesne was officially incorporated.

Moab

The name likely makes you think of red rock and recreation, but the town’s fame doesn’t make its name any less unique. While the state’s southern hub for all things outdoors might be quintessentially Utah, its name may be much more eastern —as in middle eastern.

According to a community website, the most accepted theory surrounding its name is biblical in nature. In the Bible, Moab is referenced as a dry and mountainous area near Jerusalem. Of course, Utah’s early religious settlers would have known this reference and may have used the name Moab to contrast the dry, red-rocked landscape of Southern Utah from the rest of the Beehive State.

Paragonah

Originally known as Red Creek (which was arguably much easier to say and spell), this Iron County town became Paragoonah before finally and officially settling as Paragonah in the late 19th Century. If that’s not confusing enough, the town was settled by residents of the nearby town of Parowan.

The name Paragonah is a Paiute Native American word, thought to mean red water, warm water or many waters — at any rate, it probably has something to do with water. Of course, that was also the case with Red Creek.

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Kanab

The name Little Hollywood arguably has a more appealing ring to it than Kanab, but you can’t fight history. The town, nicknamed Little Hollywood because of the number of movies filmed there was named Kanab, a Paiute word meaning "place of the willows."

According to the town’s website, Kanab was settled in 1864 when Fort Kanab was built on the banks of Kanab Creek. Today, it’s not just a popular filming locale, it’s also a great spot to settle in when visiting Zion, Bryce or Grand Canyon National Parks.

Amalga

There’s a little bit of sugar in Amalga, Utah — literally. In fact, the name of this small town, nestled just three miles west of Smithfield, comes from the sweet plant itself — sort of. The settlement was originally an agricultural community and home to the Amalgamated Sugar Company, for which the town was named, according to a University of Utah publication.

Unfortunately, a sugar beet blight ran the sugar operations in Amalga out of business, but the town – which now has a population of around 500 – continued the sweet life, complete with a central green space known as Sugar Park.

Eggnog

While some Utah town names are hard to pronounce and shrouded with mystery, the origins of others are painfully obvious. Such is the case with Eggnog, an unincorporated community in Garfield County. According to the highly limited information on the World Wide Web regarding this merry, yet mysterious little place, Eggnog was likely named for — wait for it — egg nog.

Utah may be famous for its oddly named geography, but unique names just add to the endless charm of the Beehive State. After all, no one wants to be ordinary — especially in Utah.

Robert J. DeBry & Associates

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