RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Colorado Place Names
, by William Bright

Colorado Place Names

This new book by William Bright is ideal for both random-page reading and as an authoritative guide to the history of place and town names in Colorado. Something that has long fascinated me is the often capricious authority exerted by the Unites State Postal Service when it comes to naming towns and villages in the United States. As we have traveled around we have found dozens of towns and villages that had odd names or spellings bestowed upon them that were certainly unintended by the founders. (Take Cornville, Arizona, for example.) Colorado Place Names has documented a remarkable number of USPS creations in Colorado. I think my favorite is the town of Gulnare, established in 1884 in Las Animas county. According to the author, although this town was originally known as Abeyton, the envelope that contained the application for the new official name pictured a Holstein cow with the caption of "Princess of Gulnare" and the postal employee discarded the submitted name and made the official name Gulnare.

Unlike a gazetteer, which usually provides information about a particular location, a place names directory supplies information about the name itself, including the pronunciation and the historical basis. This remarkable book delivers background information for over 2,000 communities, peaks, rivers, and other geographic features. The author is professor emeritus of linguistics and anthropology at UCLA, and his research is thorough. What I found the most interesting about the book is that so many Colorado place names trace their heritage to words connected with the large number of native American nations that lived in the greater Colorado area.

Another interesting place name I discovered while reading this book was "No Name Creek" which, according to the author, is the name of seven streams, a draw, three gulches, a lake, and a ridge. How a ridge could get such a name is a bit baffling to me. I also discovered that -- contrary to public perception -- the "North Pole" is actually located in El Paso County. I have been through the town of Parachute a number of times and always wondered where the name came from. According to the author, the town that was established in 1886 in Garfield County resembled the billows of a parachute when viewed from the sky. I have to admit this makes me wonder how many parachutists were floating around in 1886.

In any case, this is an excellent book to have aboard your road trip vehicle while traveling in Colorado. The historical citations are interesting, and, thanks to the pronunciation guide that accompanies most of the listed places, you can sound like a local, a handy asset for any roadtripper. Click here for another superb place name dictionary focusing on Nevada.

Mark Sedenquist

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