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.