Published November 20, 2023

5 min read

America’s town names often venerate famous historical figures and benefactors, or borrow place names from the country where settlers originated.

Yet dozens of locales across the United States have monikers that match animal names. Take Bat Cave, North Carolina. After the movie Batman was released in 1989, mail to this tiny town in North Carolina surged. Movie fans were apparently eager to get a bat postmark returned from the rural locale, which is named after local bat caves.

In the area’s Bluerock Mountain caves, five bat species once hibernated, “but now we only find eastern small-footed, tricolored, and big brown bats due to severe population declines related to white-nose syndrome,” says Katherine Etchison, a wildlife biologist at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The caves, which are owned by The Nature Conservancy, are not open to the public, she says. But the area’s bats are represented on every piece of mail.

Beyond Bat Cave, here’s the surprising, quirky history behind some of our other favorite animal-themed town names across the U.S.

Roach, Missouri

Five kinds of roaches can be found in Missouri homes, but this unincorporated town in central Missouri is not named after the resilient bugs. Instead, it’s named after a family of early settlers of that same name.

Hippo, Kentucky

Hippo was once a slang term for a hypochondriac, and this town in Kentucky was named in the early 1900s after resident Bee Madison Craft, who was known for being an epic complainer, according to Robert Rennick’s 1987 book Kentucky Place Names.

Gibbon, Nebraska, and Gibbon, Minnesota

Civil War General John Gibbon, now buried at Arlington National Cemetery, led the famous Iron Brigade of Union troops even though much of his family joined the Confederate Army, including three of his brothers. Communities in central Nebraska and Minnesota subsequently chose to honor him. The Nebraska town’s first colonists arrived in April 1871 and lived in railroad box cars while building their homes. Its Minnesota counterpart, settled in 1865, had a population of 545 by 1900, though today its numbers have climbed to around 800.

Beagle, Oregon

Although a number of U.S. states have official state dogs—beginning with Maryland in 1964, when the legislature voted to choose the Chesapeake Bay retriever—it does not appear that Oregon has a particular love for beagles. Postmaster William Beagle, who likely lived in the mid-1800s, was the inspiration for this unincorporated town’s name, according to Oregon Geographic Namespenned by father-son team Lewis A. McArthur and Lewis L. McArthur. This town’s post office was established in November 1885 but discontinued in April 1941.

Worms, Nebraska

Though an invasive species of quickly reproducing earthworm called the Asian jumping worm has invaded the state in recent years, the Nebraska locale by this name was not giving a nod to the array of worms that aerate the ground. Rather, an influx of German immigrants settled this area in the 1800s and likely named the place after Worms, Germany, according to Nebraska’s The Grand Island Independent.  The German city’s name comes from the Latin word Vormatia—meaning “settlement in a watery area,” with “v” pronounced as a “w” in English.

Pigeon, Pennsylvania

In the 1800s, the sky would routinely grow dark when large numbers of the now-extinct passenger pigeon passed through this popular roosting area in northwestern, Pennsylvania. John James Audubon once wrote of watching a mile-wide flock of the birds take more than three hours to pass overhead, according to David Jouris’s 1994 book All Over the Mapwhich also details many other animal-named locales. The area’s pigeon heyday was short-lived: In 1873, the state was so alarmed by the dwindling number of its passenger pigeons that it adopted the first of a series of laws to restrict pigeon hunting. Yet hunters continued to flout the restrictions and the town’s historical marker commemorates the loss, stating simply that the animal once “nested in the beech groves of this area.” The memory of these bright-breasted fliers lives on in the town name. 

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