What do Oklahoma, California, Indiana, Houston, Dallas, Boston, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Washington, New Castle, Armagh, Paris, and Mars have in common?

Long-time readers have probably already answered correctly that they are all places in western Pennsylvania.

We have not even ventured into the eastern half of the state, where we also find Dublin and Belfast and Bangor, and Lancaster and Reading and York and Shrewsbury, and Hanover and Hamburg and Heidelberg, and Bethlehem and Nazareth and Emmaus, and even the New Jerusalem.

Also in the east we find a Wyoming Valley. And it may surprise Westerners to discover that the state of Wyoming—this is absolutely true, and you can look it up for yourself—was named for the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, because their new home reminded the early settlers so much of Scranton. (It is an even more remarkable fact that the populations of the two Wyomings, the state in the West and the Scranton metropolitan area, are nearly identical, and you can look that up, too.)

This subject came up the other day when one of Dr. Boli’s frequent readers was remarking on the names of places in Pennsylvania. Her hypothesis was that the name of any conceivable place can also be found somewhere in Pennsylvania.

So far Dr. Boli has had a hard time disproving this hypothesis.

This is true in spite of Pennsylvania’s well-known habit of recycling names for townships. You must give the name of its county with the name of the township, so that when you mention Elizabeth Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, nobody thinks you mean Elizabeth Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There is also no rule against recycling names in city neighborhoods, so there is an Allentown in the eastern part of the state and an Allentown in Pittsburgh, and yes it does cause confusion every day.

It is also true in spite of the fact that Pennsylvania is notorious for names that occur nowhere else, and could not occur to a sane mind, from Acmetonia to Zelienople. A little education is a dangerous thing in a town founder. What shall we call our new oil boomtown? think the fathers of a new settlement. There is already an Oil City in the Pennsylvania oil country—but there is no Oleopolis. Well, there is now! And now that those two names are both taken, well, there’s always Petrolia.

And it is also true in spite of the Pennsylvanian predilection for abstract concepts as names of towns. Industry, Economy, Prosperity, Amity, Freedom, Harmony, Pleasant Unity—all these abstractions are also places in western Pennsylvania.

In spite of all these things, Pennsylvania is stuffed with familiar names in unfamiliar contexts. The graduates of California University and Indiana University will tell you that they always have some explaining to do. When Pennsylvanians want to make distinctions, they have to be very specific: for example, Pittsburghers will refer to Washington, Pennsylvania, as “Little Worshington” to distinguish it from the District of Columbia. (On the other hand, once you get close enough to Little Worshington, then it is just Worshington, and the District of Columbia is Big Worshington.)

This seems like a good project to turn the readers loose on. Get out your maps. Which famous cities and places can you not find in Pennsylvania? And which names pop up that you didn’t expect to find there? And finally, what is your favorite unlikely Pennsylvania name, and can you do better than “Punxsutawney”?


  1. von Hindenburg says:

    WashPa is also common to describe the city of Washington that is the principle city of the county of Washington (which has North, West, and East Bethlehem (but no South) Townships).

    Some of the best must be Versailles and North Versailles, which both could not be more different than their palatial namesake and are proudly pronounced ‘Ver-sales’. (It’s likely that they got the name at a discount.)

    Monessen gets its name from being an industrial town (reminiscent of Essen, Germany) on the Monongahela River.

    For name duplication, my favorite has to be the three indistinguishable municipalities of Greensburg, South Greensburg, and Southwest Greensburg. All are independent bodies with their own mayors, councils, codes, police, and maintenance organizations, because what other possible alternative is there?

  2. von Hindenburg says:

    Connoquenessing Borough (on the Connoquenessing Creek) is a good contender for the Most Unlikely.

    The borough even has a poetic lament (from 1906) on its web page decrying the refusal of people from nearby towns to use its proper name.


  3. Ye Olde Statistician says:

    A friend of mine, John Barnes, co-authered a novel with Buzz Aldrin, and once, when Buzz visited him when he lived in Pittsburgh, they went for a drive. At one point, Buzz exclained, “Stop the car@” and he asked John to take his picture standing beside a mileage sign. One pointer showed Moon Twp in one direction and right below it a pointer showed Mars in the other.

    My favorite twin townships are Hanover Twp. Lehigh County, and Hanover Twp, Northampton County. They are adjacent.

    We also have in our county, Catasauqua, North Catasauqua, West Catasauqua, and South Catasauqua. There is also Hokendauqua and Tamaqua.

    For unique PA names likely found nowhere elae, Nockamixon Twp, Bucks Co.

    You noted that Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Emmaus are hereabouts, but there is also Egypt and farther afield, Ephrata. Down by the Dutch Country, we find Intercourse and Paradise, of which it is locally said that one must go through the former to reach the latter. There is also Virginville, Berks Co., Bird-in-Hand and Blue Ball, Lancaster Co.and Pleasureville, York Co.

    Also King of Prussia. Montgomery Co.
    Jersey Shore, Lycoming Co.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      After all Dr. Boli said about curing the spam-blocker of its nasty habit of dumping legitimate comments, this comment ended up in the trash. After a little investigation, Dr. Boli discovered that the blacklist is duplicated in the spam-blocking plugin, and it is necessary to empty both lists. That has now been done. (You can tell that Dr. Boli usually leaves editing plugin code to more qualified people, but a more qualified person is not always to be found when he needs one.) Meanwhile, apologies for the late appearance of this comment.

  4. William Stetz says:

    Being from PA, my favorites are Shy Beaver, Pleasant Gap, Sugar Notch, Honey Hole, Muff, Nook, Desire, Maiden Creek, Kissamee, Lickingville, Fertility, Climax, Blue Ball; all leading to…Intercourse!

  5. Bill Clendineng says:

    Indiana has a different problem – apparently people could not create enough names. Before I moved to Plainfield, Indiana I checked Google Maps. Google asked “Which Plainfield?”.There are two. After moving here I discovered a plethora of Hamiltons and combinations with Hamilton. There is Green, Greenfield, Greencastle and Greenwood. And of course Gasburg and Gasport. And my favorites, two towns named after me – Billville and Billtown.

  6. von Hindenburg says:

    My wife nominated my home ‘town’ of Eighty Four for Most Unlikely. It’s really fun to give directions to people not from the area to get to.

    “Just take the 84 exit.”

    “Exit 84. Got it.”

    “No.. That’s literally the name of the town.”

  7. How has King of Prussia not been mentioned yet?

    Does PA have it’s own version of Chicagoland’s two suburbs named Forest Park and Park Forest?

    • Dr. Boli says:

      Well, we have Mount Oliver, an independent borough entirely surrounded by the city of Pittsburgh, and Mount Oliver, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh, which is across Otilla Street from Mount Oliver borough. The street signs at the one major intersection in Mount Oliver the neighborhood (“major” being a relative term in a neighborhood made up entirely of back streets) identify it as “Mt Oliver Neigh,” the only bilingual English and Equine signs in the city of Pittsburgh.

  8. von Hindenburg says:

    Because I was curious and wanted to avoid real work: Each of the 10 counties in SWPA has at least one township sharing a name with one of the other counties. Of 17 instances, ‘Washington’ is unsurprisingly the most common with a total of 6 townships named after it in this part of the state.

  9. GP says:

    I cannot find 北京, 평양시, or 仙台 in Pennsylvania.

  10. Richard A says:

    The borough of New Baltimore (not exotic, I know) is located right between Breastwork and Mann’s Choice.

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