It seems a lifetime ago that I lived in Nebraska. My home was in Norfolk, the birthplace of Johnny Carson, Tonight Show’s longtime host before the Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon eras. The town’s name is often pronounced “Norfork” by the locals because that was its intended name–for the “north fork” of the Elkhorn River. But a post office official, thinking the spelling was a mistake, changed the name to Norfolk.
This is a fun story, but the name isn’t all that unusual. After all, there’s a larger, better known Norfolk in Virginia.
But like the other Midwestern states, Nebraska has its share of interesting town names.
One founder hoped his new town would attract people “as the magnet attracts iron.” Platted in 1893, Magnet’s population, according to 2014 data, is a whopping 56. After rebuilding from two tornados, one in 1937 and one in 1975, the town’s motto is Magnet: The Town Too Tough to Die!
A tiny town near Lincoln got its name from the appropriately named George Miller. In 1881, he built his mill at the headwaters of the Big Blue River. Surprised by the amount of water power available, he named the mill Surprise. A couple of years later, a post office was established and the name stuck.
Wynot, located in the northeastern corner of the state, may have gotten it’s name because an early resident’s favorite answer to any question was “Why not?” The catchphrase caught on and seemed the perfect name for this little railroad town.
Wymore on the other hand, was named for Sam Wymore who donated the land. It’s known as the Welsh Capitol of the Great Plains.
The original Boys Town is an Omaha suburb founded by the renowned Father Flanagan in 1917. The non-profit organization’s headquarters are located here and is now listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
My favorite town name is the poetic Weeping Water. Nigahoe, meaning “rustling water,” was the Native American name for a nearby stream. The French settlers thought the name was Nihoage which means “water weeping.” They called the stream L’eau qui Pleuva,which translates as “water which weeps”. Located near a limestone quarry, the town’s residents celebrate an annual Limestone Day with a parade and fireworks.
The populations of these towns may be small but each one has a historic and pioneering legacy. Based on the name alone, which one would you most like to claim as home?