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Is it a Brook, Stream, Branch, or a Slough: A Map of Generic Terms for Streams

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April 13, 2012

Is it a Brook, Stream, Branch, or a Slough: A Map of Generic Terms for Streams

By Tim Romano

After throwing up a press release over on Angling Trade the other day from Americanrivers.org I spent a good deal of time poking around their site and came across the amazing map pictured above that was made by Derek Watkins, a geography grad student from the University of Oregon.

Derek says, Generic place names (or toponyms) such as Cumberland Gap or Mount Rainier provide general categorical descriptions of a geographic feature, in contrast to specific toponyms, which provide a unique identifier: Lake Huron. This map taps into the place names contained in the USGS National Hydrography Dataset to show how the generic names of streams vary across the lower 48. Creeks and rivers are symbolized in gray due to their ubiquity (although the etymology behind the American use of creek is interesting), while bright colors symbolize other popular toponyms.

He goes on to say that the map, "illustrates the range of cultural and environmental factors that affect how we label and interact with the world. Lime green bayous follow historical French settlement patterns along the Gulf Coast and up Louisiana streams. The distribution of the Dutch-derived term kill (dark blue) in New York echoes the colonial settlement of “New Netherland” (as well as furnishing half of a specific toponym to the Catskill Mountains). Similarly, the spanish-derived terms rio, arroyo, and cañada (orange hues) trace the early advances of conquistadors into present-day northern New Mexico, an area that still retains some unique cultural traits. Washes in the southwest reflect the intermittent rainfall of the region, while streams named swamps (desaturated green) along the Atlantic seaboard highlight where the coastal plain meets the Appalachian Piedmont at the fall line.

Look at the map closely. What do you all think, is this mostly correct? Did he miss any names that you use or are used in your region? For a more specific breakdown on names check out this flickr link from the Geographic Names Information System. Many of the names are much easier to view when only one or two are used on the map at one time. Pretty cool stuff I thought.

Comments (12)

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from stick500 wrote 2 years 1 week ago

What about criks? :)

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from nuclear_fisher wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Ha yeah. Here in IN seems like everything is either a River or a Creek - or a ditch if its not natural. Creek vs crick would be interesting but its not distinguishable by name, would have to door to door and show people a card of the word and listen to what they say.

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from buckhunter wrote 2 years 1 week ago

It has always been my impression that streams run into creeks and creek run into rivers. Maybe creek is in a different category.

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from dave63go wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Really cool map, but for Pete's sake, how did they forget "creek"? Growing up in Indiana, everything is a creek. Down into Kentucky and Tennessee as well.

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from nuclear_fisher wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Dave, If you click on the link they have a lot more maps and you can make a whole lot more sense out of 2 colors. The creek vs brook tells the story.

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from Steward wrote 2 years 1 week ago

"Creeks and rivers are symbolized in gray due to their ubiquity..., while bright colors symbolize other popular toponyms."

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from backcast wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Interesting. 'Round here(NW PA)almost every small flow is a "run", with "branch" and "fork" sometimes used, and rarely, "brook". "Crick", I believe, is universal. "I was swimming in the crick" or "We fished a little crick" is common Pennsyltucky speak.

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from jbell6826 wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Got a bunch of cricks in Missoura too. However, in Missouri we have streams, rivers and creeks!

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from 784512 wrote 2 years 1 week ago

field and swamp

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from jamesti wrote 2 years 1 week ago

man, how things get turned into other things! at least say thanks. this is actually good if you use it right.

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from country road wrote 2 years 1 week ago

How about a "gut"? ---Or is that a salt water term? A crick is just from somebody who can't pronounce creek. Ain't that right, y'all?

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from shane256 wrote 2 years 6 days ago

A stream, bayou, swamp, slough, and creek are all different things around here. Although, a stream and a creek are pretty close to the same.

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from stick500 wrote 2 years 1 week ago

What about criks? :)

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from backcast wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Interesting. 'Round here(NW PA)almost every small flow is a "run", with "branch" and "fork" sometimes used, and rarely, "brook". "Crick", I believe, is universal. "I was swimming in the crick" or "We fished a little crick" is common Pennsyltucky speak.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from nuclear_fisher wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Ha yeah. Here in IN seems like everything is either a River or a Creek - or a ditch if its not natural. Creek vs crick would be interesting but its not distinguishable by name, would have to door to door and show people a card of the word and listen to what they say.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 2 years 1 week ago

It has always been my impression that streams run into creeks and creek run into rivers. Maybe creek is in a different category.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dave63go wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Really cool map, but for Pete's sake, how did they forget "creek"? Growing up in Indiana, everything is a creek. Down into Kentucky and Tennessee as well.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from nuclear_fisher wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Dave, If you click on the link they have a lot more maps and you can make a whole lot more sense out of 2 colors. The creek vs brook tells the story.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Steward wrote 2 years 1 week ago

"Creeks and rivers are symbolized in gray due to their ubiquity..., while bright colors symbolize other popular toponyms."

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jbell6826 wrote 2 years 1 week ago

Got a bunch of cricks in Missoura too. However, in Missouri we have streams, rivers and creeks!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 784512 wrote 2 years 1 week ago

field and swamp

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from jamesti wrote 2 years 1 week ago

man, how things get turned into other things! at least say thanks. this is actually good if you use it right.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from country road wrote 2 years 1 week ago

How about a "gut"? ---Or is that a salt water term? A crick is just from somebody who can't pronounce creek. Ain't that right, y'all?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane256 wrote 2 years 6 days ago

A stream, bayou, swamp, slough, and creek are all different things around here. Although, a stream and a creek are pretty close to the same.

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