Not many people know that the town of Whitman was once known as “Little Comfort.’’ Or that the first residents of Dedham wanted to name
their community “Contentment’’ (which didn’t happen, but that’s why the word ended up on the town seal). Or that Norwood was almost called Queertown (you won’t find any mention of that on the town seal).
A closer look at the map south of Boston reveals plenty of places with unusual names. There are ominous watering holes, such as Bloody Pond in Plymouth, Never Touch Pond in Middleborough, Bad Luck Pond in Rehoboth, Devil’s Brook in Sharon, and the oxymoronic Dry Pond of Stoughton.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office maintains a lengthy list of names of neighborhoods and villages in the Commonwealth, some of which are no longer in use, like Donkeyville, which was a section of west Foxborough (it’s since been renamed Lakeview), and Yellow Town, which once referred to a part of Wareham (more specifically Warr Avenue, where the Franconia Iron Works boarding houses, painted yellow, were located).
The list includes fun-sounding names, like Spotless Town in Randolph; Happy Hollow in Brockton; Harmony in East Bridgewater; and Shoestring Village in Carver. There are also darker, more mysterious titles, such as Sodam in Hanson, Poverty Point in Plymouth, Bull’s Eye Crossing in Middleborough, and World’s End in Hingham.
Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Galvin’s office, said the state has maintained the list for “many years.’’ He said someone who reads a text from centuries ago may come across a place they’ve never heard of and think, “What the hell’s that?’’ The list, a repository for all place names of the past and present, has been “compiled for the benefit of the citizens,’’ said McNiff, and can serve as a handy reference tool.
In his role as register of deeds for Plymouth County, John R. Buckley Jr. has come across many odd-sounding places documented in property records. “Every town has a few of these,’’ he said. He pulled out a large atlas, more than a century old, and began leafing through the pages, pointing out some of the more interesting monikers, such as Glad Tidings Plain in Hingham and Mungo’s Corner in Scituate.
“A lot of the corners were named for people who lived in the neighborhood,’’ he said.
There’s Belcher’s Corner in Stoughton. Allen’s Corner in Walpole. The point where Canton, Stoughton, and Sharon all meet is known as Cobb’s Corner. Brewer’s Corner in Quincy was named after Frank Brewer, who owned a store at Garfield and Granite streets.
William P. O’Donnell, register of deeds for Norfolk County, said that parts of the town where he lives, Norwood, were named after the immigrants who settled there: Cork City, Swedeville, Dublin.
“South Norwood is called The Flats, supposedly because there are a lot of triple-deckers, and when you looked at it from a higher point they all looked flat,’’ said O’Donnell. “That’s the lore, anyway.’’
In Rochester, the junction of Mattapoisett Road and New Bedford Road was dubbed “Wheel of Fortune Corner’’ because of a speakeasy-like tavern that once stood there. The origins of the “Wheel’’ are explained on the Plumb Library’s website. It says that back when Rochester was a dry town, customers looking for a drink would place their money on a Lazy Susan-like rotating tray that “would turn into a hidden back room.’’ After a spin, their money disappeared and an alcoholic beverage would appear in its place. According to local lore, many farmers lost their fortunes at that corner, spinning that thing.
Local industry served as inspiration for naming many villages and neighborhoods south of Boston. Such is the case with the Stone Factory district of Canton, Tack Factory in Middleborough, Furnace Village in Easton, its doppelganger Furnace Village in Freetown, Knife Works Village in Sharon, and, in Carver, Shoestring Village and Ellis Furnace Village.
Other neighborhoods bear the flags of other countries in their titles. There’s a section of Bridgewater called Scotland. You can find Germantown in Quincy, New Dublin in Randolph, and England Corner in Wareham. Egypt is in Scituate. Jerusalem and Madagascar are in West Bridgewater.
“You can see Jerusalem, Scotland, and Egypt all in one day if you visit Plymouth County,’’ quipped Buckley.
One of the most extraordinary names in the region belongs to a parcel of land in Plymouth called “Shall I Go Naked Pasture.’’ It’s in the area of Braley Lane, between Route 3 and South Street, across from the Plymouth Public Library. The notoriously named pasture was so well known at one point that Henry David Thoreau wrote about it. According to one local history book, the land was once occupied by a poor woman who would go to the town elders for assistance, and whenever they turned her down she reportedly replied, “Shall I go naked?’’
World’s End in Hingham was most likely named for its natural scenic landscape and stunning harbor views. No one has ever lived on the 251-acre peninsula, according to the Trustees of Reservations, which manages the property. That distinction makes it even more deserving of its apocalyptic title.
Intriguing stories lurk behind many other addresses.
The Merrymount section of Quincy received its name from the mischieviously creative mind of Thomas Morton, a fun-loving adventurer who settled in that part of Quincy in the early 17th century. Morton was popular among traders and Native Americans in the area, but his carefree ways quickly made him an enemy of the Pilgrims in Plymouth. (Morton enjoyed nicknaming his rivals; he referred to Myles Standish, the military captain of Plymouth Colony, as “Captain Shrimp.’’) In 1627 Morton installed a maypole at his settlement. Morton made his maypole from an 80-foot pine tree and decorated it with ribbons and garlands, and a pair of antlers attached to the top. He hosted huge parties at which everyone danced and drank liquor, and he renamed the area “Ma-re Mount’’ — a play on words that he knew would surely irk his puritanical neighbors in Plymouth. John Endicott, a Puritan and the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, later cut down Morton’s maypole, and there were attempts to deport Morton to end his merrymaking. Today, the Quincy neighborhood is still known as Merrymount, and Maypole Road and Maypole Park stand as testaments to Morton’s legendary dance party.
While some names have fallen out of fashion — Madagascar and Donkeyville, for example — others have stuck around, if not in everyday language, then in the form of businesses and landmarks. In Bridgewater, for instance, you’ll find Scotland House of Pizza and the Olde Scotland Links municipal golf course. In Whitman, there is the Little Comfort General Store. In Scituate you can go to Egypt Beach for a swim or stop by the Egypt Country Store. You can drive down Egypt Beach Road and Egypt Avenue. There are even streets called Cairo Circle and Pyramid Lane.
Why is part of Scituate called Egypt? According to one theory published in the Boston Journal in 1874, that area had fertile soil, so corn grew more easily there. One day, a group of men who were on their way there to buy corn stopped at Esquire Pierce’s store for a drink. They waited for Pierce to come down and open his shop, and when he finally appeared, he said: “Well, boys, are you going down into Egypt to buy corn?’’ From that point on, whenever anyone stopped for rum at Pierce’s or went to North Scituate for corn, they said they were going to Egypt to buy corn.
The passage of time shrouds the linguistic origins of some places, such as Plymouth’s White Horse Beach. Over the years, several books have purported that its name was inspired by a lovelorn woman named Helen who rode a white horse into the waves and drowned in 1778. However, there are no records of this really happening, according to Peggy Baker, former executive director of the Pilgrim Society and Pilgrim Hall Museum.
“It has absolutely no historical basis — it’s what we call a romantic legend,’’ said Baker. That particular myth was derived from a poem called “Helen of White Horse,’’ which was written by Timothy Otis Paine around 1890. The true story behind the beach’s name remains unclear to this day.
“It’s a mystery,’’ said Baker.