Boring, Oregon; Hell, Michigan, Toad Suck, Arkansas; Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky — Americans have truly gone to all depths of the imagination in naming their small towns. While the U.S. contains a plethora of unfortunately-penned places, our neighbors in Canada have outdone us, particularly in the northeastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
When famed British explorer and cartographer Captain Cook mapped the coast of Newfoundland in the late 1700s, he had no reservations about enlisting his crude sense of humor. With a complete disregard for future residents, he went about pervishly enshrining towns across the island — Cuckolds Cove, Blow-Me-Down, and Come-By-Chance among them. But the Captain’s most inflammatory donning came after landing on a southeastern Newfoundland location that juts out into Trinity Bay, a place he proclaimed “Dildo.” Today, the name stands and is enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.
While the exact origins of Dildo’s name are shrouded in mystery, the word was widely used in the 18th century to describe anything cylindrical (test tubes, corks, etc.). But the term’s etymology dates as far back as the 1590s, when it was used as a bastardized form of Italian diletto (“delight”). Some scholars suggest the word was enlisted to describe sex toys as early as the Renaissance, though others, like Dildo resident Stella Wright, surmise that the town has existed “a lot longer than artificial penises have been around.” Whatever Captain Cook’s intentions may have been, the name is unmistakably penetrating.
An hour west of Newfoundland’s provincial capital, Dildo is a quiet, meandering harbor town with a population of 1,200. At one time, it flourished on the back of a burgeoning whaling and fishing industry; today, its name is that only thing that keeps people coming.
Though there may not be a whole lot to do there (the top three “Dildo attractions” on Tripadvisor are all hotels), the town’s residents are a proud, boisterous bunch, and partake in a number of annual festivities. Each summer, “Captain Dildo” — an old wooden statue of a boat skipper — leads the Annual Dildo Parade through the streets. (If you’re lucky enough to attend, be sure to snag an “I Survived Dildo Day” souvenir T-shirt — they’re a hot commodity!)
In the 1980s, some of the town’s less-thrilled residents took issue with Dildo. Led by Robert Elford, an electrician, a petition was circulated lobbying for a more reserved name — “Seaview,” or “Pretty Cove” — but the “crusade” was unanimously vetoed at the climax of debate. Again, in 1990, Elford fought to ditch “Dildo” — this time in favor of “Baytona” (a play on Florida’s much-warmer Daytona).
“Things always got a bit sticky for my son when people asked him where he lived,” he told the Independent in 1995. “It all got too personal.” But the petition failed again, and Elford settled on changing his own personal address from “Dildo” to “New Harbour,” a neighboring village. Life went on.
Similar protests in other crudely-named Newfoundland provinces have been more successful. Around the same time, a coastal community, Gayside, changed its name after residents were accosted by homophobic locals. Cuckold’s Cove, another waterfront town, is now Dunfield; Silly Cove is now Winterton, and Famish Gut (another Captain Cook classic — an ode to his starving seamen) is now Fairhaven.
But Dildo refuses to be displaced, and most of its inhabitants have made the best of their geographic misfortune, including Diane George, who runs the island’s gift shop.
“You’ve hit the spot, all right,” she tells visitors with a wide smile. “It does rather stick out at you from the map, doesn’t it?”