Things to do in Shakopee MN

Unraveling the Oddball Origins of Minnesota’s Funniest Town Names

As a born-and-bred Minnesotan, I’ll admit that I’ve become a bit desensitized to the utterly bizarre names that grace some of our state’s towns and cities.

I mean, when you grow up with places like Nimrod, Climax, and Fertile sprinkled across your maps, the oddities start to seem…well, normal after a while.

But every once in a while, I’ll meet someone from out-of-state or overseas, and the mere mention of these outlandish monikers is enough to prompt fits of laughter and incredulous stares. “You’re kidding, right? There’s seriously a place called Embarrass?” Why yes, yes there is! And you’d better believe the folks who live there have fully embraced their town’s name with a heaping helping of good-natured self-deprecation.

That’s just the Minnesota way, don’t ya know? We might be known as the “Minnesota Nice” folk, but we also have a quirky sense of humor and a willingness to poke fun at ourselves from time to time. And you’d better believe our town names are a prime example of that spirit shining through.

From the unintentionally scandalous (Climax) to the amusingly blunt (Fertile) to the delightfully whimsical (Mahtomedi), our state’s quirky place names are a never ending source of curiosity, confusion, and downright hilarity for anyone who wasn’t raised among them.

I can promise you’ll chuckle, you’ll scratch your head, and you’ll gain a new appreciation for the bizarre brilliance of the Minnesota place name game. You betcha!

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Castle Danger, Minnesota

Perched along the rugged North Shore of Lake Superior, Castle Danger boasts a name that conjures up visions of medieval fortresses and perilous adventures.

As the legends go, this name could have originated from Norwegian fishermen who thought the towering cliffs resembled a castle’s ramparts.

Alternatively, some say it was christened after a ship called the “Castle” that met its demise on the rocky shores. Regardless of its origins, Castle Danger is a beautiful stop on MNs North Shore.

Climax, Minnesota

In the late 1800s, baseball players and tobacco enthusiasts alike were wild about a particular chewing tobacco brand called “Climax.”

So enamored were the residents of this tiny town that they decided to adopt the name for their community.

Today, Climax is a sleepy village that’s far from a climactic experience – unless you find amusement in its delightfully tongue-in-cheek moniker. Who knows? Maybe it’ll inspire you to take up the old-timey habit of chewing tobacco. (Just kidding – we recommend sticking to sunflower seeds instead!)

Duluth, Minnesota

With its French flair and stunning location on the shores of Lake Superior, Duluth is a city that exudes a certain je ne sais quoi.

Its name pays homage to Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, a 17th-century French explorer and diplomat who traversed the region in an effort to establish French dominance in the area.

Today, Duluth’s legacy lives on in its charming canal parks, historic neighborhoods, and a thriving arts and culture scene that would make any Francophile swoon.

Embarrass, Minnesota

If you find yourself in Embarrass, don’t be – the town’s unusual name has nothing to do with any sort of shameful situation.

In fact, it’s a nod to the French fur trappers who navigated the nearby Embarrass River, which they aptly dubbed the “Riviere d’Embarras” (River of Obstacles) due to its countless log jams and other hindrances.

While the name might induce a few snickers, Embarrass is a delightful little community that wears its moniker with pride – and perhaps a touch of self-deprecating humor.

Fertile, Minnesota

When it comes to clever town names, Fertile is about as on-the-nose as it gets. Legend has it that a settler from Fertile, Iowa, was so struck by the rich, productive land in this part of Minnesota that he decided to bestow the same name on his new home.

And it seems the town has lived up to its billing – Reader’s Digest even crowned it “The Nicest Place in Minnesota.”

With its lush farmlands, friendly residents, and abundance of community spirit, Fertile is a place where good vibes blossom and thrive.

Fergus Falls

With a name like Fergus Falls, you’d be forgiven for expecting some sort of Celtic hamlet nestled in the Scottish Highlands.

But this charming Minnesota town actually takes its moniker from an early settler named James Fergus, who established a fur trading post near the scenic falls of the Otter Tail River.

Today, Fergus Falls is a bustling community that seamlessly blends its pioneer roots with modern attractions, like the quaint downtown district filled with antique shops and cafés.

And let’s not forget the sprawling Otter Tail County Fairgrounds, which play host to one of the largest and most beloved county fairs in the state each summer.

Kiester, Minnesota

Okay, we’ll admit it: Kiester is the kind of name that’ll make even the most mature among us struggle to stifle a chuckle. But before you let your inner 12-year-old run wild, know that this town was named after a respectable figure – Judge Jacob Armel Kiester.

In fact, Kiester has embraced its quirky moniker with open arms, even starring in a Preparation H commercial back in the day.

These days, the town is a charming little community that proves you don’t need a serious name to have a serious dose of Midwestern charm.

Lake Elmo

If you’re looking for a town with a name as whimsical as it is lovely, then Lake Elmo is sure to enchant.

While the origins of its moniker are hotly debated, one popular theory suggests it was inspired by a young man named Elmo, who tragically drowned in the nearby lake that bears his name.

These days, Lake Elmo is a tranquil suburban haven just outside the Twin Cities, where residents can enjoy expansive parks, scenic trails, and a vibrant downtown district filled with charming boutiques and eateries.

So whether you believe the legend or not, there’s no denying that Lake Elmo casts a certain spell over all who visit.

Little Canada, Minnesota

Just a stone’s throw from the Twin Cities lies Little Canada, a delightful community that pays homage to its French-Canadian roots.

Originally called “Petit Canada” by its early settlers, the town has retained its cultural heritage through annual festivals, traditional cuisine, and a general joie de vivre that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Whether you’re indulging in a plate of poutine or simply soaking up the friendly, small-town atmosphere, Little Canada is a delightful reminder that you don’t need to cross the border to experience a touch of Canadian charm.

Luverne, Minnesota

In a state known for its quirky town names, Luverne might just take the cake for being the most overtly affectionate.

This southwestern Minnesota community was dubbed as such by an early settler who, upon laying eyes on the picturesque landscape, declared, “I love to remain here!” And who could blame them?

With its wide-open prairies, winding rivers, and friendly small-town vibe, Luverne is the kind of place that inspires deep attachment at first sight.

Fittingly, the town celebrates its romantic moniker each year with the Luverne Luv-Fests, with different events themed around it.

Mahtomedi, Minnesota

At first glance, Mahtomedi might sound like a tongue-twister of a name. But once you understand its origins, it starts to make perfect sense.

This town derives its moniker from the Dakota word “mato,” meaning “gray bear,” and “mde,” meaning “lake” – a nod to the nearby White Bear Lake.

So, in essence, Mahtomedi is the town by the gray bear lake, which is actually a rather poetic way to describe this scenic community. Who knew a name could be so whimsical and descriptive at the same time?

New Prague, Minnesota

While its name might not be the most outlandish on this list, New Prague has a rich cultural legacy that’s worth celebrating.

Founded by Czech immigrants in the 1850s, this town has worked hard to preserve its heritage through traditional architecture, cuisine, and annual events like the Dozinky Harvest Festival.

Stroll down Main Street, and you’ll be transported to a little slice of Central Europe, complete with cozy pubs serving up hearty dishes and a lively community spirit that’s as warm as a freshly baked kolache.

Nimrod, Minnesota

At first blush, Nimrod might sound like an insult – perhaps a not-so-subtle jab at the town’s residents. But fear not, for this community’s peculiar name has nothing to do with any perceived lack of intelligence.

Instead, it’s a nod to the biblical figure Nimrod, who was the great-grandson of Noah and a mighty hunter.

While the connection might seem tenuous, it’s a testament to the creative minds of the town’s founders, who managed to imbue a simple farming community with a sense of historical gravitas and whimsy.

Savage, Minnesota

Just on the outskirts of the Twin Cities metro lies Savage, a charming suburb with a backstory that’s anything but its name might imply. You see, this community was originally christened Hamilton – a serviceable if unspectacular title.

But everything changed when the legendary racehorse Dan Patch came along. Owned by Marion Willis Savage, this record-shattering pacer was a bona fide celebrity in the early 20th century, drawing crowds of admirers wherever he raced.

So smitten were the townsfolk that they opted to rename their humble hamlet after Savage himself, ensuring that his legacy (and that of his equine superstar) would never be forgotten.

These days, a statue of Dan Patch graces the grounds of the public library, serving as a permanent reminder of Savage’s unique claim to fame.

Because really, what’s more quintessentially Minnesotan than a town that loves a horse enough to change its darn name?

Shakopee, Minnesota

When it comes to towns with names that roll off the tongue, Shakopee is in a league of its own. This community’s moniker is derived from the Dakota Sioux word “Khakakhpengan,” which roughly translates to “river town” or “town by the river flats.”

Fitting, considering Shakopee’s prime location along the mighty Minnesota River. But the town’s name isn’t the only thing that’s a mouthful.

I didn’t realize how funny the name was, until I tried to get a friend from Arkansas to say it properly. Shock-O-Pee. Needless to say, she was from Weiner Arkansa.

Don’t let the names fool you, the Shakopee is some place I can’t get enough of.

Sleepy Eye, Minnesota

If there’s one town in Minnesota that truly lives up to its name, it’s the delightfully drowsy-sounding Sleepy Eye.

Legend has it that this community was so christened by early German settlers who encountered a particularly lethargic-looking Native American chief while passing through the area.

These days, Sleepy Eye maintains its laid back, small-town vibe with a walkable downtown district, scenic parks, and enough local eateries and watering holes to make visitors feel right at home.

But don’t let the sleepy moniker fool you – this town knows how to have a good time, especially during its annual Sleepy Eye Summerfest, which celebrates the HOG days of Summer.


Try as you might, chances are you’ll never find the true origins of Zumbrota’s peculiar name. Some say it’s a Native American word, while others insist it’s simply a quirky amalgamation of sounds cooked up by the town’s founders.

Whatever its linguistic roots, there’s no denying that Zumbrota has a certain ring to it that’s impossible to forget.

This charming community has one of the state’s only remaining covered bridges.

So even if you can’t decipher its name, you’re sure to be smitten by Zumbrota’s undeniable charm.

What do you think?

So, there you have it, folks – a whirlwind tour through some of Minnesota’s most delightfully named towns. From the fanciful to the head-scratchers, each of these communities has a story that’s as unique as its moniker.

Who knows? After exploring these offbeat destinations, you might just find yourself inspired to start a town of your own – and give it a name that’ll have people talking for generations to come.

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