One semester in college I had a professor who started every class with the same question, “Is anybody here from Clarence?” After the first couple of classes it was evident that none of us was from the Natchitoches Parish village, yet the question persisted throughout the semester. At first, I could not tell how serious he was about his continued inquiry, but his grin gave him away. For reasons unknown there is something funny about continually asking students, or any other gathering, if they are from Clarence.
Since our cover story this issue is about “Staycations” (the art of vacationing within one’s own area especially during a time of crisis so as to support local folks as well as discover more about ourselves), I was wondering about some of the city names a traveler might encounter along the way.
Unusual names abound throughout the 64 parishes, including a location called Frogmore. Some places, such as that one, are the names of plantations that stood there, and not legal villages. Our pursuit here is of the officially sanctioned towns, a search which begins with wondering what the founders in Caddo Parish were thinking when they named their village Belcher. Perhaps they would have thought otherwise had they known that the place would one day be best known for its watermelons.
Some names are descriptive, if not flattering. Dry Prong was, according to legend, named after a creek on which a mill was built. Only, the creek went dry each summer, so the mill was moved to another more reliable creek. Nevertheless, it was the dry prong that received immortality.
Then there is the Iberville parish town of Grosse Tete which is French for “big head.” The legend might be more socially acceptable if I could tell you it was named after a geographic landmark, such as a nearby head-like hill, but no, according to tradition the early French settlers named the bayou, and hence the settlement, after a member of the local Choctaw tribe known for the size of his noggin.
As for towns at the polar ends on the alphabetical spectrum, there is nothing particularly humorous about the name Abbeville, nor unique. Nevertheless, give the place credit: It is very picturesque, loaded with history and the home of the Giant Omelette celebration (a French thing with roots to Napoleon) for which 5,000 eggs are allegedly used, and a really big frying pan. It is also where Steen’s Syrup (the brand in the bright yellow can) is made. This is hearty cane syrup which no doubt goes well on a biscuit accompanying a more modest sized omelette.
Zwolle, named after a city in the Netherlands (don’t ask why, it has to do with early railroad financial deal-making), is a Sabine parish town known for a particular annual celebration. Fortunately, the town’s name is pronounced Za-wall-ee which creates a rhyme when speaking of the Zwolle Tamale Festival.
And the list goes on: There is a village in Vermillion parish that gives me pause to wonder. Would the Professor’s question have been any funnier if he had asked, “Is anyone here from Maurice?”