Apalach to Zolfo: A Guide to Florida Places and Pronunciations

By: Herb Hiller

Flaunt Florida! Explicate the inexplicable! Put yourself one up on Two Egg, Four Corners and Five Points!

What’s in a name? Here’s what.

Learn for example that Lutz, north of Tampa, isn’t Lutz like Klutz. It’s Loots, like Coots.
Hobee? No-bee. Hobe Sound rhymes with Globe Round.

Newmans like the condiment maker? No. Newnans like the lake east of Gainesville.

Fort Mose isn’t Mose like in Doze. It’s Mo-zay like in Rose (which of course isn’t Rose but Ro-zay).

Kissimmee? You can unpurse your lips and just simmer instead. It’s Kissimmee.

Steinhatchee like a gaudy Bavarian mug? Sorry, no. Like in plain Osteen across the state.

Lake Tohopekaliga is best handled as Lake Toho. Same as Apalachicola, or Apalach.

The river made famous by Stephen Foster isn’t Swanee but Suwannee (though pronounced the same), and its tributary is Alapaha, not Alapaha.

The farming region below Miami is the Redland, not Redlands, and the old cow town east of Tampa is Thonotasassa, not Thonotasassa.

Mickler Landing won’t tickle your fancy. It’s on the coast so, helped by the Irish personification of the sea, think mikeLer.

For some natives, that song isn’t "Moon Over Miami." It’s "Moon Over Mah-a-muh," as in its namesake river that means Big Water, which it emphatically is not. Lake Okeechobee is way bigger – the largest freshwater lake in America that doesn’t freeze in winter – and it means Big Water.

Which brings us to the flora-inspired. Florida boasts fragrantly named Mango (near Thonotasassa) and flagrantly named Orange Mountain. There’s also Azalea Terrace, Bamboo Key, Banana Creek, Berry, Cabbage Grove, Cane, Carraway, Cassia, Cherry Lake, Citra below Gainesville, Citrus County on the Gulf Coast, Cottondale, Cypress Hill, Ferndale, Floral Park, Flowers Still, Fruitland north of Leesburg, Fruitland Peninsula below Palatka, Goldenrod next to Orlando, Hedges, Hibiscus Lodge in West Palm Beach, Honeyville, Juniper, Lantana, Laurel, Lemon City (now part of Mah-a-muh) and Mulberry below Lakeland.

There's also plain Oak, Oak Dale, Oak Groves, Oak Hills, Oak Knoll, Oak Landing, Oak Park, Ridge and Terrace. Yet, there are twice as many Oranges, though no Grapefruit (even in Upthegrove Beach). Also, Orchid, Palm (plain old and every other which way, too), Peach Orchard, Pecan Park, Pumpkin, Satsuma (not to be confused with Samsula), Shamrock, Spuds, Tangelo Park, Tangerine, Tarpon and the Hills helpfully named Tomato and Walnut.

As you may know, a hammock is a high patch in a marsh, though Cooks Hammock always puts me in mind of where chefs might chill a while back of their kitchens. That is, if there were any cooks – any anything – in this high ground below (go figure) Mayo.

Wildlife persists in place names: Alligator, at least one Skunk Island, Bass, Bee Ridge, Buffalo Bluff, Coral Gables, Crows Bluff, Curlew, Deerfield Beach (from when more deer than people populated the north end of Palm Beach County), Dog Island (heavenly unbridged getaway off Carrabelle), Dog Town, Duck Key, Eagle Lake, Early Bird, Fish Creek, Gull Point, Hen Scratch, Hogtown, Manatee County, Mosquito Lagoon, Oriole Beach, Otter Creek, Owl’s Head, Pompano Beach, Quail Hollow, Squirrel Hill and two Tiger Bays.  

Want more numbers? We've got lots of one-of-a-kind places: Two Egg. Four Corners. Five Points, Seven-Mile Bridge, Calle Ocho, and Nine Mile, Eleven Mile and Thirteen Mile, those last three motes along Highway 98 between Apalach and Mexico Beach.

Back to business (as it were). Tate’s Hell is up in northwest Florida, while down in Islamorada (Eyela-more-ahd-a) is Hog Heaven Sports Bar, close to Paradise Yoga. Throughout the Keys, Paradise attaches like lovebugs to all sorts of businesses. A small sampling: Grooming, Health & Fitness, Optical, Plumbing, Tattoo and Transmission Service.

Clearly, Florida commands the planets with Apollo Beach; yesteryear’s Celestial Railroad that connected Juno, Jupiter, Mars and Venus; Satellite Beach; Sun City; and a different Venus and Neptune Beach beside Jacksonville. You can find Pluto at Disney World and Saturn at car showrooms.

Puzzle time: If Nalcrest stands for the National Letter Carriers retirement community, how about next door’s Fedhaven? Pennsuco (Pen-sook-o) was a worker town of the Pennsylvania Sugar Company now part of Miami, while who could possibly have coined Methobapterian for Red Bay’s proximate Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches?

As for Beluthahatchee (Beh-looth-a-hat-chee), that’s the preserved home west of St. Augustine of late folklorist-writer Stetson Kennedy, who often entertained Arlo Guthrie’s famed father Woody. Of the big B, the 1939 WPA Guide to Florida (contributions by Kennedy as well as by Zora Neale Hurston, among others) explains it was “a land of forgiveness and forgetfulness. When a woman accusingly reminds her man of something in the past, he replies, ‘I thought that was in Beluthahatchee.’”

That Works Progress Administration was a creation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but FDR is hardly the only president hallowed in Florida. He had Camp Roosevelt, while others (not including a few already celebrated herein) are Washington County, tiny Adams (near Jasper in the county named for Hamilton, who had presidential ambitions but died in a gun duel), Jefferson County (county seat: Monticello). Madison County (its own seat), Monroe County, Jackson all over the place, Quincy for John Q. Adams, Harrison (close by Lake Tsala Apopka), Polk County, a Fillmore-shorn Millard, Fort Zachary Taylor, Buchanan (close by Zolfo Springs), Lincoln City, Park and Lincolnville in St. Augustine and Grant. There's no Hayes (but, boy! Did he ever steal his election in Florida!) and no Garfield (but Palm Harbor for years used Garfield the Cat for an icon).

Theodore Roosevelt did at least embark his Rough Rider invasion of Cuba from Tampa. And one after another, Taft, Wilson (close to Kennedy Space Center), a Harding Avenue in Surfside, while the Lakeside Inn in Lake County loudly thumps that Silent Calvin Coolidge paid a visit. There’s a Herbert Hoover Dike around the Big O, and a savvy flack once attired Harry Truman in a splashy, flashy floral shirt while HST vacationed at the Little White House in Key West. (The Truman Show was filmed way up in northwest Florida at Seaside).

Among colors galore look for Black River, White Springs, Bowling Green, Grayton Beach, Emeralda, Bluewater Bay, Red Head (not far from Scratch Ankle, now folded across the tracks into Milton). Also Yellow River, all those Oranges, Silver Springs and Golden Glades.

Tallahassee is home to admired Florida writer Susan Cerulean. Otherwise, Turquoise Beach on Choctawhatchee (Chock-taw-hatch-ee) Bay and a Purple Onion Deli & Bakery in Seminole (which is not in Seminole County but in Pinellas, which means Pineapple).

But what about that Orange Mountain?

Hilolo better sums up Florida’s highs and lows, where there’s a Blue Mountain Beach, Clermont, Crestview, Florida Hills, Highland Meadows, many Hilltops, a Lake of the Hills, Mount Dora, Montverde, Mount Pleasant, Iron Mountain and Skytop. At 95 feet, it's dwarfed 5-to-2 by Clermont's 226-foot Citrus Tower just off to the west that once, as the chief attraction in Central Florida, overlooked a vast realm of groves. Today, it's chiefly Disney – where Cinderella’s Castle stands at 189 feet.

Highest Florida point is Britton Hill, 345 feet up, at the far bottom of which is Florala, where a 'Bama B&B keeper used to offend Floridians by telling guests, “It may be the highest point in Florida, but it’s the lowest highest point of all the states.”

Maybe it all started when Juan Ponce de León came up the coast in 1513 and named the place la Florida. Was that because that May day marked Pascua Florida (that means “feast of flowers,” applied to Easter) or because of the super-abundant wildflowers he found, possibly exclaiming, “Ay! la Florida!” (Land of Flowers).

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