The original English settlers, it would appear, displayed little imagination in naming the new settlements and natural features of the land that they came to. Their almost invariable tendency, at the start, was to make use of names familiar at home, or to invent banal compounds. /Plymouth Rock/ at the North and /Jamestown/ at the South are examples of their poverty of fancy; they filled the narrow tract along the coast with new /Bostons/, /Cambridges/, /Bristols/ and /Londons/, and often used the adjective as a prefix. But this was only in the days of beginning. Once they had begun to move back from the coast and to come into contact with the aborigines and with the widely dispersed settlers of other races, they encountered rivers, mountains, lakes and even towns that bore far more engaging names, and these, after some resistance, they perforce adopted. The native names of such rivers as the /James/, the /York/ and the /Charles/ succumbed, but those of the /Potomac/, the /Patapsco/, the /Merrimack/ and the /Penobscot/ survived, and they were gradually reinforced as the country was penetrated. Most of these Indian names, in getting upon the early maps, suffered somewhat severe simplifications. /Potowánmeac/ was reduced to /Potomack/ and then to /Potomac/; /Unéaukara/ became /Niagara/; /Reckawackes/, by the law of Hobson-Jobson, was turned into /Rockaway/, and /Pentapang/ into /Port Tobacco/. But, despite such elisions and transformations, the charm of thousands of them remained, and today they are responsible for much of the characteristic color of American geographical nomenclature. Such names as /Tallahassee/, /Susquehanna/, /Mississippi/, /Allegheny/, /Chicago/, /Kennebec/, /Patuxent/ and /Arkansas/ give a barbaric brilliancy to the American map. Only the map of Australia, with its mellifluous Maori names, can match it.
The settlement of the American continent, once the eastern coast ranges were crossed, proceeded with unparalleled speed, and so the naming of the new rivers, lakes, peaks and valleys, and of the new towns and districts no less, strained the inventiveness of the pioneers. The result is the vast duplication of names that shows itself in the Postal Guide. No less than eighteen imitative /Bostons/ and /New Bostons/ still appear, and there are nineteen /Bristols/, twenty-eight /Newports/, and twenty-two /Londons/ and /New Londons/. Argonauts starting out from an older settlement on the coast would take its name with them, and so we find /Philadelphias/ in Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, /Richmonds/ in Iowa, Kansas and nine other western states, and /Princetons/ in fifteen.
Even when a new name was hit upon it seems to have been hit upon simultaneously by scores of scattered bands of settlers; thus we find the whole land bespattered with /Washingtons/, /Lafayettes/, /Jeffersons/ nd /Jacksons/, and with names suggested by common and obvious natural objects, /e. g./, /Bear Creek/, /Bald Knob/ and /Buffalo/. The Geographic Board, in its last report, made a belated protest against this excessive duplication. "The names /Elk/, /Beaver/, /Cottonwood/ and /Bald/," it said, "are altogether too numerous." Of postoffices alone there are fully a hundred embodying /Elk/; counting in rivers, lakes, creeks, mountains and valleys, the map of the United States probably shows at least twice as many such names.
A study of American geographical and place names reveals eight general classes, as follows: (/a/) those embodying personal names, chiefly the surnames of pioneers or of national heroes; (/b/) those transferred from other and older places, either in the eastern states or in Europe; (/c/) Indian names; (/d/) Dutch, Spanish and French names; (/e/) Biblical and mythological names; (/f/) names descriptive of localities; (/g/) names suggested by the local flora, fauna or geology; (/h/) purely fanciful names. The names of the first class are perhaps the most numerous. Some consist of surnames standing alone, as /Washington/, /Cleveland/, /Bismarck/, /Lafayette/, /Taylor/ and /Randolph/; others consist of surnames in combination with various old and new /Grundwörter/, as /Pittsburgh/, /Knoxville/, /Bailey's Switch/, /Hagerstown/, /Franklinton/, /Dodge City/, /Fort Riley/, /Wayne Junction/ and /McKeesport/; and yet others are contrived of given names, either alone or in combination, as /Louisville/, /St. Paul/, /Elizabeth/, /Johnstown/, /Charlotte/, /Williamsburg/ and /Marysville/. The number of towns in the United States bearing women's given names is enormous.I find, for example, eleven postoffices called /Charlotte/, ten called /Ada/ and no less than nineteen called /Alma/. Most of these places are small, but there is an /Elizabeth/ with 75,000 population, an /Elmira/ with 40,000, and an /Augusta/ with nearly 45,000.
The names of the second class we have already briefly observed. They are betrayed in many cases by the prefix /New/; more than 600 such postoffices are recorded, ranging from /New Albany/ to /New Windsor/. Others bear such prefixes as /West/, /North/ and /South/, or various distinguishing affixes, /e. g./, Bostonia/, /Pittsburgh Landing/, /Yorktown/ and /Hartford City/. One often finds eastern county names applied to western towns and eastern town names applied to western rivers and mountains. Thus, /Cambria/, which is the name of a county but not of a postoffice in Pennsylvania, is a town name in seven western states; /Baltimore/ is the name of a glacier in Alaska, and /Princeton/ is the name of a peak in Colorado. In the same way the names of the more easterly states often reappear in the west, /e. g./, in /Mount Ohio/, Colo., /Delaware/, Okla., and /Virginia City/, Nev. The tendency to name small American towns after the great capitals of antiquity has excited the derision of the English since the earliest days; there is scarcely an English book upon the states without some fling at it. Of late it has fallen into abeyance, though sixteen /Athenses/ still remain, and there are yet many /Carthages/, /Uticas/, /Syracuses/, /Romes/, /Alexandrias/, /Ninevahs/ and /Troys/. The third city of the nation, /Philadelphia/, got its name from the ancient stronghold of Philadelphus of Pergamun. To make up for the falling off of this old and flamboyant custom, the more recent immigrants have brought with them the names of the capitals and other great cities of their fatherlands. Thus the American map bristles with /Berlins/, /Bremens/, /Hamburgs/, /Warsaws/ and /Leipzigs/, and is beginning to show /Stockholms/, /Venices/, /Belgrades/ and /Christianias/.
The influence of Indian names upon American nomenclature is quickly shown by a glance at the map. No less than 26 of the states have names borrowed from the aborigines, and the same thing is true of most of our rivers and mountains. There was an effort, at one time, to get rid of these Indian names. Thus [Pg290] the early Virginians changed the name of the /Powhatan/ to the /James/, and the first settlers in New York changed the name of /Horicon/ to /Lake George/. In the same way the present name of the /White Mountains/ displaced /Agiochook/, and /New Amsterdam/, and later /New York/, displaced /Manhattan/, which has been recently revived. The law of Hobson-Jobson made changes in other Indian names, sometimes complete and sometimes only partial.
Thus, /Mauwauwaming/ became /Wyoming/, /Maucwachoong/ became /Mauch Chunk/, /Ouabache/ became /Wabash/, /Asingsing/ became /Sing-Sing/, and /Machihiganing/ became /Michigan/. But this vandalism did not go far enough to take away the brilliant color of the aboriginal nomenclature. The second city of the United States bears an Indian name, and so do the largest American river, and the greatest American water-fall, and four of the five great Lakes, and the scene of the most important military decision ever reached on American soil.
The Dutch place-names of the United States are chiefly confined to the vicinity of New York, and a good many of them have become greatly corrupted. /Brooklyn/, /Wallabout/ and /Gramercy/ offer examples. The first-named was originally /Breuckelen/, the second was /Waale Bobht/, and the third was /De Kromme Zee/. /Hell-Gate/ is a crude translation of the Dutch /Helle-Gat/. During the early part of the last century the more delicate New Yorkers transformed the term into /Hurlgate/, but the change was vigorously opposed by Washington Irving, and so /Hell-Gate/ was revived. The law of Hobson-Jobson early converted the Dutch /hoek/ into /hook/, and it survives in various place-names, /e. g./, /Kinderhook/ and /Sandy Hook/. The Dutch /kill/ is a /Grundwort/ in many other names, /e. g./, /Catskill/, /Schuylkill/, /Peekskill/, /Fishkill/ and /Kill van Kull/; it is the equivalent of the American /creek/. Many other Dutch place-names will come familiarly to mind: /Harlem/, /Staten/, /Flushing/, /Cortlandt/, /Calver Plaat/, /Nassau/, /Coenties/, /Spuyten Duyvel/, /Yonkers/, /Hoboken/ and /Bowery/ (from /Bouvery/). /Block/ Island was originally /Blok/, and Cape /May/, according to Schele de Vere, was /Mey/, both Dutch.
A large number of New York street and neighborhood names come down from Knickerbocker days, often greatly changed in pronunciation. /Desbrosses/ offers an example. The Dutch called it /de Broose/, but in New York today it is commonly spoken of as /Dez-bros-sez/.
French place-names have suffered almost as severely. Few persons would recognize /Smackover/, the name of a small town in Arkansas, as French, and yet in its original form it was /Chemin Couvert/. Schele de Vere, in 1871, recorded the degeneration of the name to /Smack Cover/; the Postoffice, always eager to shorten and simplify names, has since made one word of it and got rid of the redundant /c/. In the same way /Bob Ruly/, a Missouri name, descends from /Bois BruléA large number of them, /e. g./, /Lac Superieur/, were translated into English at an early day, and most of those that remain are now pronounced as if they were English. Thus /Des Moines/ is /dee-moyns/, /Terre Haute/ is /terry-hut/, /Beaufort/ is /byu-fort/, /New Orleans/ is /or-leens/, /Lafayette/ has a flat /a/, /Havre de Grace/ has another, and /Versailles/ is /ver-sales/. The pronunciation of /sault/, as in /Sault Ste. Marie/, is commonly more or less correct; the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad is popularly called the /Soo/.
This may be due to Canadian example, or to some confusion between /Sault/ and /Sioux/. The French /Louis/, in /St. Louis/ and /Louisville/, is usually pronounced correctly. So is the /rouge/ in /Baton Rouge/, though the /baton/ is commonly boggled. It is possible that familiarity with /St. Louis/ influenced the local pronunciation of /Illinois/, which is /Illinoy/, but this may be a mere attempt to improve upon the vulgar /Illin-i/.
For a number of years the Geographic Board has been seeking vainly to reestablish the correct pronunciation of the name of the /Purgatoire/ river in Colorado. Originally named the /Rio de las Animas/ by the Spaniards, it was renamed the /Rivière du Purgatoire/ by their French successors. The American pioneers changed this to /Picketwire/, and that remains the local name of the stream to this day, despite the effort of the Geographic Board to compromise on /Purgatoire/ river. Many other French names are being anglicized with its aid and consent. Already half a dozen /Bellevues/ have been changed to /Belleviews/ and /Bellviews/, and the spelling of nearly all the /Belvédères/ has been changed to /Belvidere/. /Belair/, La., represents the end-product of a process of decay which began with /Belle Aire/, and then proceeded to /Bellaire/ and /Bellair/. All these forms are still to be found, together with /Bel Air/. The Geographic Board's antipathy to accented letters and to names of more than one word has converted /Isle Ste. Thérèse/, in the St. Lawrence river, to /Isle Ste. Therese/, a truly abominable barbarism, and /La Cygne/, in Kansas, to /Lacygne/, which is even worse.
/Lamoine/, /Labelle/, /Lagrange/ and /Lamonte/ are among its other improvements; /Lafayette/, for /La Fayette/, long antedates the beginning of its labors.
The Spanish names of the Southwest are undergoing a like process of corruption, though without official aid. /San Antonio/ has been changed to /San Antone/ in popular pronunciation and seems likely to go to /San Tone/; /El Paso/ has acquired a flat American /a/ and a /z/-sound in place of the Spanish /s/; /Los Angeles/ presents such difficulties that no two of its inhabitants agree upon the proper pronunciation, and many compromise on simple /Los/, as the folks of /Jacksonville/ commonly call their town /Jax/. Some of the most mellifluous of American place-names are in the areas once held by the Spaniards. It would be hard to match the beauty of /Santa Margarita/, /San Anselmo/, /Alamogordo/, /Terra Amarilla/, /Sabinoso/, /Las Palomas/, /Ensenada/, /Nogales/, /San Patricio/ and /Bernalillo/. But they are under a severe and double assault. Not only do the present lords of the soil debase them in speaking them; in many cases they are formally displaced by native names of the utmost harshness and banality. Thus, [Pg293] one finds in New Mexico such absurdly-named towns as /Sugarite/, /Shoemaker/, /Newhope/, /Lordsburg/, /Eastview/ and /Central/; in Arizona such places as /Old Glory/, /Springerville/, /Wickenburg/ and /Congress Junction/, and even in California such abominations as /Oakhurst/, /Ben Hur/, /Drytown/, /Skidoo/, /Susanville/, /Uno/ and /Ono/.
The early Spaniards were prodigal with place-names testifying to their piety, but these names, in the overwhelming main, were those of saints. Add /Salvador/, /Trinidad/ and /Concepcion/, and their repertoire is almost exhausted. If they ever named a town /Jesus/ the name has been obliterated by Anglo-Saxon prudery; even their use of the name as a personal appellation violates American notions of the fitting. The names of the Jewish patriarchs and those of the holy places in Palestine do not appear among their place-names; their Christianity seems to have been exclusively of the New Testament. But the Americans who displaced them were intimately familiar with both books of the Bible, and one finds copious proofs of it on the map of the United States. There are no less than seven /Bethlehems/ in the Postal Guide, and the name is also applied to various mountains, and to one of the reaches of the Ohio river. I find thirteen /Bethanys/, seventeen /Bethels/, eleven /Beulahs/, nine /Canaans/, eleven /Jordans/ and twenty-one /Sharons/. /Adam/ is sponsor for a town in West Virginia and an island in the Chesapeake, and /Eve/ for a village in Kentucky. There are five postoffices named /Aaron/, two named /Abraham/, two named /Job/, and a town and a lake named /Moses/. Most of the /St. Pauls/ and /St. Josephs/ of the country were inherited from the French, but the two /St. Patricks/ show a later influence.
Eight /Wesleys/ and /Wesleyvilles/, eight /Asburys/ and twelve names embodying /Luther/ indicate the general theological trend of the plain people. There is a village in Maryland, too small to have a postoffice, named /Gott/, and I find /Gotts Island/ in Maine and /Gottville/ in California, but no doubt these were named after German settlers of that awful name, and not after the Lord God directly.
There are four /Trinities/, to say nothing of the inherited Spanish /Trinidads/.
Names wholly or partly descriptive of localities are very numerous throughout the country, and among the /Grundwörter/ embodied in them are terms highly characteristic of America and almost unknown to the English vocabulary. /Bald Knob/ would puzzle an Englishman, but the name is so common in the United States that the Geographic Board has had to take measures against it. Others of that sort are /Council Bluffs/, /Patapsco Neck/, /Delaware Water Gap/, /Curtis Creek/, /Walden Pond/, /Sandy Hook/, /Key West/, /Bull Run/, /Portage/, /French Lick/, /Jones Gulch/, /Watkins Gully/, /Cedar Bayou/, /Keams Canyon/, /Parker Notch/, /Sucker Branch/, /Fraziers Bottom/ and /Eagle Pass/. /Butte Creek/, in /Montana/, is a name made up of two Americanisms. There are thirty-five postoffices whose names embody the word /prairie/, several of them, /e. g./, /Prairie du Chien/, Wis., inherited from the French. There are seven /Divides/, eight /Buttes/, eight town-names embodying the word /burnt/, innumerable names embodying /grove/, /barren/, /plain/, /fork/, /center/, /cross-roads/, /courthouse/, /cove/ and /ferry/, and a great swarm of /Cold Springs/, /Coldwaters/, /Summits/, /Middletowns/ and /Highlands/. The flora and fauna of the land are enormously represented. There are twenty-two /Buffalos/ beside the city in New York, and scores of /Buffalo Creeks/, /Ridges/, /Springs/ and /Wallows/. The /Elks/, in various forms, are still more numerous, and there are dozens of towns, mountains, lakes, creeks and country districts named after the /beaver/, /martin/, /coyote/, /moose/ and /otter/, and as many more named after such characteristic flora as the /paw-paw/, the /sycamore/, the /cottonwood/, the /locust/ and the /sunflower/. There is an /Alligator/ in Mississippi, a /Crawfish/ in Kentucky and a /Rat Lake/ on the Canadian border of Minnesota. The endless search for mineral wealth has besprinkled the map with such names as /Bromide/, /Oil City/, /Anthracite/, /Chrome/, /Chloride/, /Coal Run/, /Goldfield/, /Telluride/, /Leadville/ and /Cement/.
There was a time, particularly during the gold rush to California, when the rough humor of the country showed itself in the invention of extravagant and often highly felicitous place-names, but with the growth of population and the rise of civic spirit they have tended to be replaced with more seemly coinages. /Catfish/ creek, in Wisconsin, is now the /Yahara/ river; the /Bulldog/ mountains, in Arizona, have become the /Harosomas/; the /Picketwire/ river, as we have seen, has resumed its old French name of /Purgatoire/. As with natural features of the landscape, so with towns. Nearly all the old /Boozevilles/, /Jackass Flats/, /Three Fingers/, /Hell-For-Sartains/, /Undershirt Hills/, /Razzle-Dazzles/, /Cow-Tails/, /Yellow Dogs/, /Jim-Jamses/, /Jump-Offs/, /Poker Citys/ and /Skunktowns/ have yielded to the growth of delicacy, but /Tombstone/ still stands in Arizona, /Goose Bill/ remains a postoffice in Montana, and the Geographic Board gives its imprimatur to the /Horsethief/ trail in Colorado, to /Burning Bear/ creek in the same state, and to /Pig Eye/ lake in Minnesota. Various other survivors of a more lively and innocent day linger on the map: /Blue Ball/, Ark., /Cowhide/, W. Va., /Dollarville/, Mich., /Oven Fork/, Ky., /Social Circle/, Ga., /Sleepy Eye/, Minn., /Bubble/, Ark., /Shy Beaver/, Pa., /Shin Pond/, Me., /Rough-and-Ready/, Calif., /Non Intervention/, Va., /Noodle/, Tex., /Nursery/, Mo., /Number Four/, N. Y., /Oblong/, Ill., /Stock Yards/, Neb., /Stout/, Iowa, and so on. West Virginia, the wildest of the eastern states, is full of such place-names. Among them I find /Affinity/, /Annamoriah/ (/Anna Maria?/), /Bee/, /Bias/, /Big Chimney/, /Billie/, /Blue Jay/, /Bulltown/, /Caress/, /Cinderella/, /Cyclone/, /Czar/, /Cornstalk/, /Duck/, /Halcyon/, /Jingo/, /Left Hand/, /Ravens Eye/, /Six/, /Skull Run/, /Three Churches/, /Uneeda/, /Wide Mouth/, /War Eagle/ and /Stumptown/. The Postal Guide shows two /Ben Hurs/, five /St. Elmos/ and ten /Ivanhoes/, but only one /Middlemarch/. There are seventeen /Roosevelts/, six /Codys/ and six /Barnums/, but no /Shakespeare/. /Washington/, of course, is the most popular of American place-names. But among names of postoffices it is hard pushed by /Clinton/, /Centerville/, /Liberty/, /Canton/, /Marion/ and /Madison/, and even by /Springfield/, /Warren/ and /Bismarck/.
The Geographic Board, in its laudable effort to simplify American nomenclature, has played ducks and drakes with some of the most picturesque names on the national map. Now and then, as in the case of /Purgatoire/, it has temporarily departed from this policy, but in the main its influence has been thrown against the fine old French and Spanish names, and against the more piquant native names no less. Thus, I find it deciding against /Portage des Flacons/ and in favor of the hideous /Bottle portage/, against /Cañada del Burro/ and in favor of /Burro canyon/ against /Canos y Ylas de la Cruz/ and in favor of the barbarous /Cruz island/. In /Bougére landing/ and /Cañon City/ it has deleted the accents. The name of the /De Grasse river/ it has changed to /Grass/. /De Laux/ it has changed to the intolerable /Dlo/. And, as we have seen, it has steadily amalgamated French and Spanish articles with their nouns, thus achieving such forms as /Duchesne/, /Eldorado/, /Deleon/ and /Laharpe/. But here its policy is fortunately inconsistent, and so a number of fine old names has escaped. Thus, it has decided in favor of /Bon Secours/ and against /Bonsecours/, and in favor of /De Soto/, /La Crosse/ and /La Moure/, and against /Desoto/, /Lacrosse/ and /Lamoure/. Here its decisions are confused and often unintelligible. Why /Laporte/, Pa., and /La Porte/, Iowa? Why /Lagrange/, Ind., and /La Grange/, Ky.? Here it would seem to be yielding a great deal too much to local usage.
The Board proceeds to the shortening and simplification of native names by various devices. It deletes such suffixes as /town/, /city/ and /courthouse/; it removes the apostrophe and often the genitive /s/ from such names as /St. Mary's/; it shortens /burgh/ to /burg/ and /borough/ to /boro/; and it combines separate and often highly discreet words. The last habit often produces grotesque forms, /e. g./, /Newberlin/, /Boxelder/, /Sabbathday lake/, /Fallentimber/, /Bluemountain/, /Westtown/, /Threepines/ and /Missionhill/. It apparently cherishes a hope of eventually regularizing the spelling of /Allegany/. This is now /Allegany/ for the Maryland county, the Pennsylvania township and the New York and Oregon towns, /Alleghany/ for the mountains, the Colorado town and the Virginia town and springs, and /Allegheny/ for the Pittsburgh borough and the Pennsylvania county, college and river. The Board inclines to /Allegheny/ for both river and mountains. Other Indian names give it constant concern. Its struggles to set up /Chemquasabamticook/ as the name of a Maine lake in place of /Chemquasabamtic/ and /Chemquassabamticook/, and /Chatahospee/ as the name of an Alabama creek in place of /Chattahospee/, /Hoolethlocco/, /Hoolethloces/, /Hoolethloco/ and /Hootethlocco/ are worthy of its learning and authority.
The American tendency to pronounce all the syllables of a word more distinctly than the English shows itself in geographical names. White, in 1880, recorded the increasing habit of giving full value to the syllables of such borrowed English names as /Worcester/ and /Warwick/. I have frequently noted the same thing. In Worcester county, Maryland, the name is usually pronounced /Wooster/, but on the Western Shore of the state one hears /Worcest-'r/./Norwich/ is another such name; one hears /Nor-wich/ quite as often as /Norrich/. Yet another is /Delhi/; one often hears /Del-high/. White said that in his youth the name of the /Shawangunk/ mountains, in New York, was pronounced /Shongo/, but that the custom of pronouncing it as spelled had arisen during his manhood. So with /Winnipiseogee/, the name of a lake; once /Winipisaukie/, it gradually came to be pronounced as spelled. There is frequently a considerable difference between the pronunciation of a name by natives of a place and its pronunciation by those who are familiar with it only in print. /Baltimore/ offers an example. The natives always drop the medial /i/ and so reduce the name to two syllables; the habit identifies them. /Anne Arundel/, the name of a county in Maryland, [Pg298] is usually pronounced /Ann 'ran'l/ by its people. /Arkansas/, as everyone knows, is pronounced /Arkansaw/ by the Arkansans, and the Nevadans give the name of their state a flat /a/.
The local pronunciation of /Illinois/ I have already noticed. /Iowa/, at home, is often /Ioway/. Many American geographical names offer great difficulty to Englishmen. One of my English acquaintances tells me that he was taught at school to accent /Massachusetts/ on the second syllable, to rhyme the second syllable of /Ohio/ with /tea/, and to sound the first /c/ in /Connecticut/. In Maryland the name of /Calvert/ county is given a broad /a/, whereas the name of /Calvert/ street, in Baltimore, has a flat /a/. This curious distinction is almost always kept up. A Scotchman, coming to America, would give the /ch/ in such names as /Loch Raven/ and /Lochvale/ the guttural Scotch (and German) sound, but locally it is always pronounced as if it were /k/.
Finally, there is a curious difference between English and American usage in the use of the word /river/. The English invariably put it before the proper name, whereas we almost as invariably put it after. /The Thames river/ would seem quite as strange to an Englishman as /the river Chicago/ would seem to us. This difference arose more than a century ago and was noticed by Pickering. But in his day the American usage was still somewhat uncertain, and such forms as /the river Mississippi/ were yet in use. Today /river/ almost always goes after the proper name.