How these Michigan Towns got Their Weird Names

1. Bad Axe – Oddly enough, Bad Axe is named after the very thing its moniker references. Located in the Thumb area south of Port Austin, it was named by surveyors helping to build the first state road. When the men set up camp in the area, they found an old, broken axe on the ground. Not feeling especially creative, they named their work camp Bad Axe and even put up a sign. Then they noted the name of the location on their survey, and the name stuck.

De Tour Reef Light, photo credit: Mark


2. Hell – Hell has frozen over. Many times. Hell, Michigan anyway. Meteorologists love this little unincorporated town north of Ann Arbor, because every year at least of few of them around the country put up a photo of a snowy Hell. Then they roll out the jokes about, “a cold day in Hell.” No one knows for sure how the town came by such an infamous name, but there are a few theories:

  • The town was settled by Germans who named it Hell which actually means bright in German.
  • When founder George Reeves was asked to name the town he replied, “You can name it Hell for all I care!” Why he was so cranky is a mystery, because he operated several successful business in the town, including a grist mill, distillery and general store.
  • 175 years ago the area around the town was swampy and thus plagued with mosquitoes.  The infestation was so fierce residents said it was, “Hell to live there.”

Today, Hell draws tourists with its unusual name, and capitalizes on it with attractions like Screams Ice Cream and Diner. You can even get married in Hell at the local wedding chapel.


Photo Credit: Doug Kerr

3. Paradise –  It’s actually possible to go from Paradise to Hell and back in one day if you’re in Michigan. The two towns are about a five-hour drive apart. It isn’t hard to see why it’s called Paradise with its location on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula. The town is surrounded by pristine, protected state and national forests. The beautiful Whitefish Bay and Tahquamenon Falls are nearby.

4. Raisin Center – You won’t find any raisins here today, but it gets its name from nearby Raisin River. French settlers named the river after the wild grapes that grew on its banks. The River Raisin National Battlefield is also close by. It’s the site of a battle fought during The War of 1812 between U.S. and British forces for control of Michigan and the lower Great Lakes. You’ll find Raisin Center just off M52, north of Adrian.


Photo Credit: US National Park Service

5. Christmas – You can celebrate Yuletide any day of the year with a visit to Christmas. The tiny town is in the Upper Peninsula, just outside of Munising. It was named for a local factory that produced Christmas ephemera, beginning in 1938. The factory is no longer in operation, but you can’t miss the 35 foot Santa Claus that stands along M-28, commemorating the town’s heritage. Today, thousands of people still send bundles of Christmas cards to the post office in neighboring Musising where they’ll stamp them with a Christmas, MI postmark before sending them on their way.


6. Slapneck – This little Upper Peninsula town gets its name from a typo. It was supposed to be named for Pennsylvania surveyor John Slapnick, but someone got the spelling wrong. They can’t blame it on autocorrect, since it was named way back in the 1800s.

7. Podunk – The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines podunk as, “a small, unimportant town.” Residents of Podunk, which sits about halfway between Battle Creek and Grand Rapids, might disagree. However, the small cluster of houses near Podunk Lake is not officially recognized as a town.

8. De Tour Village – No, this town isn’t named for Michigan’s seemingly endless road construction season. The word is actually French for, “turn in the river.” In this case, it’s the St. Mary’s River. De Tour is located where the river flows into Lake Huron. Visit to watch freighters go by, enjoy the uncrowded beaches or catch a ferry to nearby Drummond Island.

9. Vulcan – This Upper Peninsula town is not home to an annual Star Trek convention, and you won’t find Spock’s relatives lurking about. It was probably named after Vulcan, the Greek God of Fire. If you visit here today, you can go on the Iron Mountain Iron Mine Tour that takes you on a 2,600 foot trip, 400 feet below ground.

10. Grosse Pointe – Far from disgusting, Grosse Pointe is an affluent Detroit suburb on the shores of Lake St. Clair. Grosse Pointe is French for, “Big Tip.” It’s also the setting for the 1997 film of the same name, starring Minnie Driver and John Cusack.

11. Free Soil – You won’t find bargain real estate in Free Soil, but the town gets its name from an important part of our country’s history. Michigan played a big role in the anti-slavery movement prior to the Civil War, and the Free Soil Party was an abolitionist political party that operated in the area. The town is located south of Manistee.

12. Cadillac – This city and the car both get their names from Frenchman Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac. That’s a mouthful! He’s credited as the founder of Detroit. Cadillac is on US 131 in the Lower Peninsula and considered the spot where “Up North” begins.

13. Maybee – Yes, no, Maybee, Michigan? Located near Monroe, Maybee gets its name from founder Abraham Maybee.

Can you think of any other Michigan towns with Weird names?

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7 Responses to How these Michigan Towns got Their Weird Names

  1. I really enjoyed this historic overview of Michigan. I found this information very enlightened. I live in Dearborn Heights, Michigan . I have lived in Michigan all my life.

  2. They forgot Climax, Michigan. It is village in Kalamazoo county. Climax is so known because when Daniel B. Eldred first visited the township he said, “This caps the climax”

  3. Ubly, and the thumb of the state. I heard it was because a founder was sitting in a bath tub drinking beer and enjoying his bath, and going over what could they name this town. When all of the sudden he farted in the tub and it sounded like”ubly” if it isn’t true, it sure makes for a great story!

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