If you ever drive from LA to Las Vegas, you'll encounter Zzyzx Road just outside of Baker, CA.
Many people wonder about the origin of this name. It came about, indirectly, because of the invention of the telephone, which led to the publication of phone directories, which then led people to want to have either the first or last name in the directory.
Entrepreneur Curtis Springer decided he wanted to be the last name in the directory, so when he opened a health spa at a natural springs in the Mojave Desert he called it Zzyzx Springs, so he could promote it as "the last word in health." By 1965 he had convinced the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to rename the road running to the springs Zzyzx Road. (It used to be Soda Road).
However, it turned out that Springer didn't own the land on which he built his health spa. He was squatting there illegally. And after 30 years of legal action, the Bureau of Land Management finally succeeded in kicking him off it. Since then, the land around there has been managed by California State University, which uses it as a Desert Studies Center.
It's been noted elsewhere on WU
that several movies have been named after Zzyzx Road, including the record-holder for the lowest-grossing Hollywood movie ever.
More info: wikipedia
Los Angeles Times - Nov 20, 1945
Springer wasn't the only person who used the name Zzyzx to be last in the directory. There was also a Jack Zzyzx in Albuquerque, and Isadore Zzyzzx in Madison, Wisconsin. Vladamir Zzyzz took last position in the Pittsburgh directory.
I think that the Internet has made it less popular to invent z-themed last names, since not many people use phone directories any more. Sometimes one will be dropped on my front door step, and I just throw it in the trash.
Albuquerque Journal - Dec 3, 1988
After relocating the Boston Patriots from Boston to Foxborough (a half-hour south), team owner Billy Sullivan decided he needed to rename the team. So they became the Bay State Patriots.
A month later he changed the name again, to the New England Patriots. The reason this time: a radio announcer had referred to the team as the "BS Patriots." Sullivan explained, "We didn't think that abbreviation would reflect well on either the team or the league."
The Palm Beach Post - Mar 23, 1971
In its July 5, 1943 issue, Time
magazine noted the marriage in Pryor, Montana of Owen Smells and Mary Knows.
The marriage only lasted three years, but in that time they had a daughter, Theresa, who eventually married Joseph Rock Above and became Theresa Smells Rock Above
Findagrave.com lists a grave for Owen Smells
which may or may not be the same Owen that married Mary. I'm not sure. But the dates seem about right.
Helena Independent Record - Oct 1, 1946
, a Melbourne-based chain of hamburger restaurants, recently offered to give "free burgers for life"
to anyone who would legally change their last name to "Burger." They specified that this meant seven burgers a week, for as long as the person maintained the name Burger. However, anyone whose last name already was Burger, was disqualified from getting the award.
But then the restaurant heard from the Government Solicitor's office (the agency responsible for processing name-change applications), informing them that it would not process any applications
for people changing their name to "Burger" for the purpose of winning burgers, because such applications "are not in the spirit of the name-change process." So the competition was canned.
At least, that's the story Mr Burger is telling everyone. Perhaps the restaurant actually got cold feet, realizing too many people might have taken them up on their offer.
As far as last names go, Burger really isn't that bad. I might have done it, except I'm not interested in eating burgers every day for the rest of my life.
The story goes that Eleva, Wisconsin got its name due to an unfinished painting job. The town, founded in 1880, was originally called New Chicago. But in 1899 workmen partially painted the word "elevator" on the side of a new grain elevator by the railway track, but stopped because it got too cold, leaving just "Eleva." Railroad passengers assumed that was what the town was called, and eventually the name stuck.
Eleva's wikipedia page
repeats the paint job story as the official history of the name, but in the references there's also a link to a 1908 reference book — A History of the Origin of the Place Names Connected with the Chicago & North Western and Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railways
— and here we find a different history of the name:
Eleva, Trempeleau County, Wisconsin. This town was started in 1880 and was named by R.P. Goddard of Mondovi, Wisconsin, on the suggestion of Mr. Gates who formerly lived here. The origin of the name is unknown to Mr. Goddard, but he thinks Mr. Gates found a place of that name in France.
So I guess you can take your pick of which story you like better.
Mt. Vernon Register-News - Jan 21, 1964
Upon becoming a U.S. citizen, Turkish-born Haroutioun A. Aprahamian changed his name to Haroutioun A. Abrahamian.
I know this got reported as weird news in the 1950s because it seemed like an odd twist on the phenomenon of immigrants Americanizing their names, but this guy probably just wanted to correct the spelling of his name which perhaps had been misspelled by an immigration official.
When my dad moved to the States from Germany in the 40s, our last name Böse got written as Boese, making it unpronounceable. My sister was smart enough to start spelling it as "Bose" from an early age (actually, whenever possible she insists it be spelled "Böse"), but I never did, so now I'm stuck with the unpronounceable spelling.
The Wilmington News Journal - July 11, 1959
Warren Times-Mirror and Observer - Jan 15, 1973
ARMY ORIGINALITY — To boost morale, the Army Materiel Command recently held a contest to name its new national headquarters. More than 524 names were suggested, and the AMC's official Contest Committee to Name the New Building solemnly studied the offerings. At last, Maj. Gen. Charles T. Horner, the AMC chief of staff, announced with pride: "The name of the new AMC building is the AMC BUILDING." The lucky winner, Francis Sikorski, received $100 in appropriated monies for his shrewd suggestion.
The AMC Building - 5001 Eisenhower Ave. via Flickr.
I first encountered the story of how the AMC Building got its name in Chuck's 1989 News of the Weird
book. Later, I also noticed it in National Lampoon's True Facts
. So because I'm amusing myself over at about.com
by telling the story of some classic weird news stories in more depth, I recently decided to try to find out if there were any more details to the AMC story. For instance, what other names were submitted in the contest? Were all the other entries so bad that the committee decided it had to choose the most obvious name possible? Or was this really just "army originality" at work.
But after a lot of digging, I've come up empty.
The story of the name-choosing contest is mentioned in the Army Materiel Command's own official history
(pdf), published in 2013. So I contacted the AMC and asked them if they knew of any more details to the story. Their pr rep contacted the historians, who returned the answer that, no, that's all there is to the story. No other details survive. So we'll never know exactly why the "AMC Building" was the winning entry in the "Name the new AMC Building" contest.
But I can report that the AMC Building no longer houses the headquarters of the AMC. The AMC moved out of the Eisenhower Ave. building in 2002, relocating its headquarters first to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and later to Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, where it currently can be found.
[Click to enlarge text]
Wikipedia page here.
Right in the middle of charming little St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin (population 2000), Geoff Gorres and his business partners opened a gun store. Their choice of name: F-Bomb Ordnance.
Local residents aren't too happy about it, thinking it lowers the standards of the community to have the f-bomb "displayed prominently" on Main Street.
In response to the controversy, the owner says he may be willing to consider other options for signage, but he's definitely keeping the f-bomb name. More info: CBS (WCCO)
; The Sun
The FRED Society
was founded in 1984, and still appears to be going strong. It's a kind of support group for people (mostly men) named Fred, designed to address the negative connotations associated with the name. That is, when people hear the name Fred, they tend to think of characters such as Fred Mertz (the bumbling neighbor on 'I Love Lucy') or Fred Flintstone. The Fred Society would like us to think of Fred Astaire instead.