These Town Names Will Make You Do a Double Take

Replica of the Eiffel Tower topped with a cowboy hat
Photo: N@ncyN@nce/Flickr

Just like people, places sometimes share the same name. Paris, for example, isn’t just the capital of France; it’s also a town in northeastern Texas. In fact, there are more than a dozen American towns called Paris and that's not the only example of place-name trickery. If you say you visited China, it could mean that you flew across the Pacific, or it could mean that you spent time in the other China, which is near Augusta, Maine.

Some of these geographic double takes are due to immigrants wanting to honor their motherland or town founders trying to point to some sort of real or perceived shared history. A few towns, however, seem to have no connection whatsoever to the much-more-famous place.

Here are several American places and the stories of how they got their famous names.

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Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania

Photo: Gerry Dincher/Flickr

Thanks to beaches, boardwalks and a certain reality television franchise, Jersey Shore is a recognizable name. However, the town of Jersey Shore isn't in New Jersey at all. Neither is it anywhere near the shoreline. Rather, it's a small borough in the middle of Pennsylvania with 4,000 inhabitants and a quaint, historic atmosphere.

So how did this place get its name? It started with a joke. The town, which was known by several names in its early years, was first settled in the 18th century. Area residents who were originally from New Jersey earned a reputation because of their rowdy visits to local taverns along the Susquehanna River. Other settlers began referring to the area as the Jersey Shore. It was only a nickname, but it stuck — and became official in 1826. And, yes, some folks apparently still get confused and call the local Jersey Shore tourism office requesting information about the beach.

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China, Maine

Photo: Magicpiano/Wikimedia Commons

China, a town of roughly 4,000 people, is part of the Augusta, Maine, statistical area. It calls itself the "friendliest town in Maine." Augusta and the nearby coastline are popular with tourists, and tourism there revolves around China Lake, which features boating access and cabin rentals, and China Forest, which has trails for hikers and bikers.

China wasn't the town founders' first name choice. They wanted to call their settlement Bloomville so it would be associated with nearby Bloomfield. Bloomfield residents weren't flattered and warned that people would get confused by the similarity. Inspired by the title of a religious hymn popular at the time, the settlers chose China. China was mainly a settlement for Quakers and Baptists, and their objections to slavery (and to bounty hunters who searched for escaped slaves) meant that a small African American community also thrived there.

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Paris, Texas

Photo: RaksyBH/Wikimedia Commons

Paris is a city of 25,000 in northeastern Texas. It's the county seat for Lamar County, though film buffs will likely recognize it as the title of a 1984 Wim Wenders film. Ironically, the main character in that movie is trying to go to Paris, Texas, but at one point his companion mistakenly thinks he means Paris, France. The midsize Texas town pokes fun at this type of confusion. Its 65-foot version of the Eiffel Tower is topped with a cowboy hat, and the 14-mile "Trail de Paris" is popular with cyclists, joggers and dog walkers.

Paris, Texas, is named after its famous French cousin. A wealthy businessman named George Wright donated land for the town, but one of his employees chose the name. Paris grew because it was on several important rail lines. Now, it boasts manufacturing, a regional healthcare center and agricultural operations. Fires and tornados have damaged the town during its history, but a number of historic buildings still remain in the downtown area.

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Rome, New York

Photo: Ernest Mettendorf/Wikimedia Commons

The history of Rome, New York, isn't as well-known as that of its Italian counterpart, but its story is quite interesting. Located in the central part of the state, Rome lies at the site of an important ancient portage between the Hudson and Mohawk rivers used by the area’s Native American tribes. In the 18th century, British and colonial militaries built a series of forts in what is now present-day Rome. The town remained relevant during the 19th and 20th centuries as a stop on the famous Erie Canal and as a copper producer during the Industrial Revolution.

Today, Rome is a city of about 30,000 and is a part of the modest-sized Utica metro area. Rome is a popular name for American towns. Rome, New York, and Rome, Georgia, are the two largest Romes in the country, but there are more than a dozen others. This region of New York also has a town named Verona.

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Madrid, Iowa

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This Iowa town has had more than one name connecting it to Europe. The first immigrant settlers in the area were from Sweden, and they called it Swede Point. The name was changed to Madrid in the late 19th century, although to this day, locals pronounce it differently than their Spanish namesake. (They like to put the emphasis on the first syllable instead of the second, so it sounds like MA-drid instead of ma-DRID.)

Most early residents were farmers who mined coal for personal use during the winter. That changed in the early 20th century when larger scale mining took off. This coal boom brought other immigrant groups, including people originally from Italy and the Balkans. These new Madrid residents added another chapter to the town's melting-pot history.

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Italy, Texas

Photo: Beth Felice/Flickr

Italy is another small town whose residents usually pronounce the name differently than its more-famous inspiration. They prefer to ignore the "a," and say IT-lee instead of Italy. Despite this difference, the town's name was indeed inspired by the European country. A resident who had spent time in Europe thought Italy was an apt title because he experienced a similarly sunny climate during his holiday. The name stuck.

Italy was a quiet farming town until it got a railroad connection that set off an economic boom that lasted until the Great Depression. Today, it remains a small town of around 2,000 people that's within an hour’s drive of Dallas. U.S. Route 77, which parallels Interstate 35, runs right through the center of Italy, as does Texas Highway 34. Some unusual roadside attractions, including a UFO-themed restaurant, entice highway travelers to stop and stay a while.

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Miami University in Ohio

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Virtually everyone associates the name Miami with South Florida. However, Miami University is in Ohio, just outside Cincinnati. It's a large university with 25,000 students and a history that dates back to 1809. It's known as a quality institution and has sometimes been referred to as a "public Ivy league" school. How did it get the name Miami? The title comes from the Miami River and its large river valley, both of which dominate the landscape in this region of southern Ohio.

The Miami were a tribe of Native Americans who lived in the river valley during the early days of colonial settlement. The Miami eventually had to flee because of increasing colonial population. They ended up in Oklahoma. Miami, Florida has a connection to Native American names, but it's a different one. The original native settlement in Miami, Florida, was described as Mayami in the local language because that meant "Big Water," referring to Miami's seaside location.

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Lebanon, New Hampshire

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Lebanon, New Hampshire, was named for another town called Lebanon and not directly for the Levantine country whose capital is Beirut. Many of the original settlers in this part of New Hampshire came from a town called Lebanon, Connecticut, and they brought the name with them when they moved.

Lebanon spent most of its history as a mill town (and a quite successful one at that). By the later 20th century, however, the town reinvented itself as a center for arts and recreation, health services, and tech and medical startups. The center of modern Lebanon's economy is now the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

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Moscow, Idaho

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Moscow, Idaho, is in the northern part of the state near the Washington border. Most of the town's economy and culture revolve around the University of Idaho, the state's largest college and foremost research institution. The town's history dates back to the post-Civil War era when farmers and miners moved to the region. The farmland was rich, so the original settlement was known as Paradise Valley.

The city officially became Moscow in the late 19th century. No one is quite sure about the inspiration for the name, but theories abound. One of the most believable is that the postmaster of Paradise Valley, who was responsible for sending in the paperwork for the official name, had previously lived in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Others suggest the name was based on a misunderstanding of Native American words or that it was inspired by Russian immigrants.

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Montevideo, Minnesota

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Not only is Montevideo the capital of Uruguay, it's also a town of 5,000 people in rural western Minnesota. These two enclaves are 6,000 miles apart. The Uruguayan version is known for its cosmopolitan culture, and the Minnesotan version grew up as a farming and railroad town. Nevertheless, the two Montevideos have forged a surprisingly strong bond based on their shared name.

The Minnesota Montevideo has had a statue of Jose Artigas, an Uruguayan historical figure, in the center of town for more than 60 years. They also celebrate annual Fiesta Days that focus on Uruguayan culture and draw locals and Uruguayan diplomats, expats and exchange students. This friendship has led to informal and formal ties between the two Montevideos, and many Uruguayan students come to study at Minnesota colleges.