Swear warning: This blog post contains words which some may consider to be rude or offensive. This includes words which are written the same way as English swear words. So this is your official swear warning! Read ahead at your own risk…

The English-speaking world is no stranger to odd-sounding place names. In the US you’ll find places like Duckwater, Accident, and Humptulips; in Australia there’s Useless Loop, Eggs and Bacon Bay, and Nowhere Else; while in the UK you’ve got the decidedly more risqué Sandy Balls, Cockermouth and Penistone, to name just a couple of eyebrow-raising examples. (The UK likes a good bottom in its town names too, it seems – there a Pratt’s Bottom, a Scratchy Bottom, a Boggy Bottom… all the bottoms!)

Boring is a community in Oregon [2]

If you drive around the UK for long enough, you’re bound to come across plenty of towns, villages and streets with names that will make you look twice. Head to North Yorkshire and you might happen upon the village of Crackpot. Wander round Surrey and you might find a neighbourhood called Donkey Town. And in Loughborough you could stumble across a street called Butthole Lane. (Just beautiful.) Here the butt doesn’t refer to what you think it might refer to, but comes from an Old English word meaning ‘target’ (think of the phrase butt of the joke, not referring to one’s derriere but rather to the ‘target’ of the joke).

Butthole Lane, Shepshed, Loughborough [3]

The people of Butthole Lane generally seem to like the name of their street – they don’t appear bothered by the tourism it attracts, and are seemingly adamant that this name will not be changed, at least according to some articles online.[4] The same can’t be said for the similarly named Butt Hole Road in South Yorkshire, which had its name changed to the less conspicuous Archers Way in 2009 after residents suffered from pranks and problems with being refused certain services owing to their address.

Tourists posing next to the old Butt Hole Road sign [5]

What does all this have to do with German? Well, a similar fate befell a small village in Tarsdorf, Upper Austria. Nowadays the official name of this village is Fugging, but up until as recently as 2021, this village was called Fucking.

Village sign of Fucking, Austria [6]

The name Fucking isn’t an anglicism by any means, as it may seem. It’s thought to be derived from the name of a nobleman who lived in that region around 1070 – Adalpert von Vucckingen. Though even as early as the 6th century, another nobleman called Focko is thought to have founded this small settlement. The ending -ing­ appears frequently in Bavaria and Austria, and so over time this ending was added to the name of this village, too.

Fucking experienced a few different spelling variations over the years. After some earlier variants, it was first known as Fugging in 1614, then later as Fuking (notably without the “c”) in the 19th century. Other variations that cropped up along the way include Fukching and Fugkhing. The spelling Fucking is thought to have appeared around the 18th century.

So it seems the name Fucking doesn’t have anything to do with the English word. (Boo!) It’s not even pronounced in the same way; the “u” is pronounced as [ʊ], like in full, rather than [ʌ], like in fun, or indeed like in f*ck. Not the same word.

But this didn’t deter masses of tourists from flocking from far and wide to this tiny village, home to just 120 or so people. The visitors would seek out the Fucking sign in order to snap a highly sought-after photo to show off to their friends back home. As harmless as that might sound, the growing international prominence of Fucking meant that more and more people were coming to get a picture with the sign – some of them even stealing the sign altogether, prompting the authorities to take measures to secure the sign with concrete. This didn’t stop some people, who still managed to steal the sign by using angle grinders, pipe cutters and other tools.

Every time the sign was stolen, it cost around €250 to replace. Considering how often it was stolen, this was starting to cost the village not just their nerves, but also a fair bit of money. (Sidenote: The sign of Shitterton, a place in Dorset, England, was also repeatedly stolen. The residents and the district council pitched in to raise £680 for a 1.5-tonne stone with the name Shitterton engraved in it – a sign that would be almost impossible to steal.)

The old Shitterton sign that kept getting stolen
The new, theft-proof Shitterton sign

The last straw for Fucking was reportedly when a Danish YouTuber, the late Albert Dyrland (known as Albert Soap), recorded a video in the village, which was later posted online in 2020. During the recording of this video, he filmed all around the village, going to people’s houses and even to a primary school. While some (mostly younger) residents were seemingly not too bothered by this, this understandably caused a significant disturbance for a lot of people living there, not just during the filming but also as a result of the extra attention the video brought in.

After a failed attempt to change the village’s name from Fucking to something else in 2004, the council of Tarsdorf eventually voted in favour of a name change in late 2020. But why Fugging? There are a few reasons why this name makes sense.

  • Firstly, as we’ve already seen, the village was already called Fugging once before. In this sense, it’s not like they came up with a brand-new name, but rather reverted to an earlier form of the name.
  • Secondly, orthographically it’s not too far away from Fucking; it’s still recognisably the same village. Five out of the seven letters remain the same, with just the “ck” being changed to “gg”. Granted, small changes can make all the difference, but it’s not a million miles off.
  • Thirdly, Fugging is also very similar to Fucking in terms of its pronunciation. To an outsider, the only difference would be that the [k] in Fucking is changed to a [g] in Fugging. In the local dialect, however, both Fucking and Fugging are pronounced in the same way. So when it comes to talking about their village, the residents of Fugging don’t have to actually say anything differently.
  • And fourthly, there’s precedence for such a change: in Lower Austria, there is actually another village that used to be called Fucking (who’d have thought there’d be multiple Fuckings in Austria?). This Fucking had its name changed to Fugging back in the 19th century for reasons unknown, possibly due to its proximity to Vienna (where there are more English speakers). One Fucking already became Fugging, so why not another one?

By changing Fucking to Fugging, the village was able to retain its history and even the pronunciation of its name without having to deal with the unfortunate coincidence of an identical spelling to an English swear word. They essentially get to keep the Fucking name, just without the Fucking sign.

This sign is now a thing of the past

Sadly, though, the village signs still get vandalised from time to time, such as when one Fugging sign was changed to read “Fucking” just one month after the name change. All this attention may take a while to shake off yet.

There’s a lot in a place name. There’s often centuries of history and language change that leads us to what we’re left with today, and this can coincidentally result in some quite brilliant and humorous names. But if there’s something to learn from all this, it’s that we can appreciate a funny name for what it is, but nowhere should be hounded because of it and forced into having to change their name. And the people of Fugging definitely deserve to be able to move on from this. As Andrea Holzner, the Mayor of Tarsdorf, wrote to me: “Das Thema Fugging ist für mich abgeschlossen. [The matter of Fugging is closed for me.]”. Let’s hope everyone can put this story to bed now. After all, places with funny and unusual names still have residents who want to get on with their lives – even if the name of their village is fugging hilarious.

Final thought: Despite Fucking having had its name changed to Fugging, the places Oberfucking and Unterfucking, also in Upper Austria, have kept their names to this day. So the Fucking name is still alive and well!

Sign of Oberfucking, Upper Austria [7]

Many thanks to Andrea Holzner, Mayor of Tarsdorf, for providing me with information about the history of Fugging for this blog post. While she understandably did not want to be interviewed anymore about Fugging, I am grateful that she nonetheless wanted to support YOTE in this way.

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[1] Photo by Wvglobo1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/File:Fugging_Town_Sign_-_2022.jpg. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode.

[2] Photo by incommunicado – originally posted to Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boring,_Oregon,_US.jpg. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode.

[3] Photo by Duncan Harris / Butthole Lane, Shepshed – From geograph.org.uk, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Butthole_Lane,_Shepshed_-_geograph.org.uk_-_216726.jpg. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

[4] https://www.sadanduseless.com/butthole-lane/ (26.08.2022)

[5] Photo by Andy Leppard – originally posted to Flickr as Butt Hole Road, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Butt_Hole_Road_tourists.jpg. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

[6] Photo by Tobias “ToMar” Maier – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43240501. Photo cropped. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode

[7] Photo by Croq – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oberfucking.JPG. Photo cropped. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode.

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