A town by any other name ...

The Decatur County community of Climax is right down the road from Attapulgus. Just a few miles farther away is Whigham, where they hold the annual rattlesnake roundup.

Climax has a population of 297, and Attapulgus boasts 492 residents. Whigham's population is 631, but you would think it would be less with all those rattlesnakes hanging around.

After checking the map, I saw where I would be going through Pavo, Coolidge, and Doerun on my way home from Thomasville. If I had had time, I would have gotten off the beaten path and stopped at Ochlocknee, which is named for one of Georgia's most interesting rivers, the Ochlockonee. It seems, though, that whoever named the town years ago wasn't up on his spelling; a couple of variations of the town's name are in circulation. The river, named by the Indians, means, "Yellow water."

The small towns of Georgia are fascinating. While they enjoy cell phones, computers, and the Internet, they honor past traditions. A blessing before meals, prayer meeting on Wednesdays, and church on Sundays. They fuss at one another at city council meetings and decorate their mailboxes with the Georgia "G," which means they probably are fussy about the Bulldogs when Saturday afternoons end with results that don't meet expectations.

Farming remains a way of life which makes residents apprehensive about the notion that the water table is declining and the potential of the Chattahoochee to be subdivided, based on orders of a federal judge.

Farmers are aware that you never know when a drought or dry spell is coming. There is no hedge against it. Farmers seem to have faith, however. Come back this way in the spring, when it is planting time, and you will see the big tractors at work, preparing the fields for the sowing of seeds. When the crops emerge, the big irrigation rigs activate and dump water on those infant crops until maturity.

Many Georgia communities are linked with agribusiness but more in the southern half of our state, which is why festivals abound. Like Whigham's rattlesnake roundup. Warrick, which is near Cordele, has a national grits-cooking contest.

When I pass through Georgia communities, I always am intrigued by how the little towns got their names. Some are Indian names, and some were named for prominent politicians or an early settler in the area.

Climax was taken from the Greek word, "klimax," to describe "the order of plants and animals in the natural environment." Some say Attapulgus comes from an Indian name, which means "boring holes in wood to make a fire." Whigham was originally called "Harrell's Station," but in 1880 the name Whigham was adopted in honor of Robert Whigham, who had a large mercantile store in the town. Doerun originated from a deer trail on the site when the town developed.

Someone once said that the name of the town of Opelika, Ala., came about when a father in the town's early days informed his son that he had found a bride for him. The son replied, "I hope I like her."

There was this guy who made a career out of visiting towns with unusual names to determine how the towns got their names. He was telling a friend about his hobby.

With that, the friend wanted to know where the researcher had stopped most recently. "Ashtabula, Ohio," was the reply. Naturally the friend was curious about how this town, which sits on the edge of Lake Erie, got its name.

The researcher explained that the town was settled by an old Mormon who had two wives, one named Rose and one named Beulah. He always slept facing Rose, which is how the town came to be named "Ashtabula."

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via email at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.