Don’t be Embarrass-ed if you didn’t know there’s an Embarrass, Wisconsin. We didn’t either!
Wisconsin has some weird town names. Some are long and French. Others are short, yet strange. Many are simply hard to say.
We rounded up a few of our favorites, where they came from, and how you actually pronounce them!
Photo courtesy of the Village of Pardeeville
This small town of about 2,200 people lies just north of Madison. Considering the UW’s reputation as one of the nation’s biggest party schools, you might think Pardeeville is a misspelled version of Partyville, but not even that much thought went into it. It’s simply a case of slapping a –ville on the back of someone’s name. The town is a nod to Milwaukee merchandising guru John S. Pardee, who built a store there in 1848.
Photo courtesy of Downtown Oconomowoc
Many Badger State town names come from native languages. Some of those names are harder to pronounce than others. It’s not fair to pick on names derived from native tribes or even put them under the umbrella of weirdness, simply because white people struggle with them. However, it can bring a smile to your face watching someone from Illinois or Minnesota butcher a name. Oconomowoc, the Potawatomi word for “gathering of the waters,” is arguably one of the best examples. If you sound out the syllables, it’s not so difficult—Oh-con-oh-mow-wok.
Courtesy of Egg Harbor Welcome Center
The words themselves aren’t weird. However, naming a town after eggs puts Egg Harbor on this list! Two conflicting narratives explain the origin of its name. The boring story: a settler found duck eggs in the harbor and named the area after them. The fun story: in April of 1862, six boaters left Green Bay on their way to Mackinac Island. As they approached an unnamed shore, they started racing towards it, while people on the boats began throwing eggs at each other. The men left the harbor with egg shells all over the shore, but not before formally christening the spot as Egg Harbor.
Photo courtesy of Siren Chamber of Commerce
The Burnett County town’s name actually has nothing to do with emergency response vehicles, even though it’s pronounced the same way. In 1895, Siren’s founder, Swedish immigrant Charles P. Segerstrom, named the town “Syren” after clumps of lilacs near his house. Syren comes from the genus name for lilacs—Syringa, which comes from the word syrinx, meaning hollow tube. (Did you know you can hollow out shoots of lilacs to make little flutes?) The Postal Service eventually changed the town’s spelling to Siren.
You may be wondering who would name a town based on such a negative feeling. However, the town of Embarrass, pronounced exactly as you would expect, is a case of old definitions coupled with imperfect translations. “Embarrass” comes from the French word for obstruction, obstacle, or to obstruct. The tiny town of 400 is located on a river that was often blocked with logs each spring, so blame the French for this unusual name!
Photo courtesy of Edward H. Wolf Schleisingerville to Slinger Historical Museum
Slinger has multiple definitions, but none of them are remotely related to this small town’s actual namesake. Slinger, northwest of Milwaukee, is a shortened version of its previous name, Schleisingerville, after Baruch Schleisinger (pronounced Shly-singer) Weil, who established the town as a railroad stop in the mid-1800s. By 1921, residents got sick of saying the full thing and shortened it to its current iteration.
If Cumberland is the Land of Cumber, what is “cumber”? The old word refers to an obstruction or hindrance, or in verb form, to harass, trouble, or hinder someone or something. However, this definition may or may not be the inspiration for the name, which came from England via Maryland. Cumberland, Maryland was named by English colonists after the son of King George II, Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland. Cumberland, WI, was originally named Lakeside before 1880, when when John Humird arrived from Cumberland, Maryland and requested the name change. You can’t blame the French for this one!
READ MORE: 5 Small Towns in Wisconsin You Must Visit
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