06/30/2014 11:22 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Norwegian Town Whose Name Is One Letter Long

By Ken Jennings,


Manufacturing the world's longest town name sure put the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales on the map -- if there are any maps that actually have room for a 58-letter town. But what about the world's shortest place name? It's hard to get much shorter than the Norwegian town of Å.

See Å on a Map

The Lofoten islands of Nordland are among the most scenic places on earth. Vertical spires of glacially carved granite rise from the Norwegian Sea 100 miles north of the Arctic Sea -- but the weather is surprisingly mild, due to the Gulf Stream. Tourists flock to Lofoten every summer to scale its mountains, admire its quaint red fishing villages, and enjoy its 24 hours of sunshine. To visit the Lofoten Stockfish Museum -- and who wouldn't want to see that? -- You'd have to travel to the southern tip of the archipelago, to a village of 150 people called Å (pronounced "aw").

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It's an Old Norse Word
Å didn't get its very brief name as a publicity stunt; its name is the Old Norse word for "small river." As a result, there are at least seven villages in Norway called Å, though the one in the Lofoten islands is the most popular with tourists. The "Å" road sign was stolen so often by pranksters that the town replaced it with one that said "Å i Lofoten," but after local complaints, the original one-letter sign was replaced.

Traveling from Å to B
In 2004, a British writer-comedian named Paul Parry decided he would take the ultimate cycling trip: from Point A to Point B. That is, he would bike from Å, Norway to Bee, Nebraska. (Technically, this also included an ocean voyage from Southampton to New York. Parry didn't ride a stationary bike the whole time, but he says he did run full marathons on the deck of the Queen Mary 2.) When he finally arrived in Nebraska more than three months later, the Mayor of Omaha officially proclaimed it "A to B Day," and a flurry of media attention greeted the weary traveler as he arrived at the tiny town of Bee, Nebraska.

I'd Like to Buy a Vowel
I'd like to one-up Parry by doing a full itinerary of vowels: from Å to E (a river in Scotland) to I (a town in Fujian, China) to Ø (an island in Denmark) to U (a municipality in Micronesia) and maybe sometimes Y (a commune in northern France). In fact, it's possible to see lots of the world while avoiding consonants entirely. There's Eiao (an island in the Marquesas), Aiea (the town near Honolulu where Bette Midler grew up) and a stream in Roraima, Brazil called Aauaua. It might be a lousy Scrabble rack, but it's apparently a very pretty stream.

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