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June 11, 1995|CHARLES SOLOMON

WHY DO THEY CALL IT TOPEKA? How Places Got Their Names by John W. Pursell (Citadel Press: $9.95; 241 pp., paperback original). Pursell has compiled an engaging collection of the etymologies of the names of various cities, states, countries and geographical features. Chicago comes from the Algonquin word checagou, or skunk cabbage, while Palo Alto, Spanish for tall trees, refers to the nearby sequoias. Torrance is named for Jared Sidney Torrance, who founded community in 1911. Interesting and often funny, "Topeka" could provide a welcome diversion on a long road trip.

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