by Doctor Science
There are many important, time-sensitive things going on in the world. This post is about language, art, and geography, and is not time-sensitive in any way.
I was recently linked to Derek Watkins' map of generic terms for streams and other small watercourses:
In comments pfly showed up with a set of clearer comparisons of stream names, e.g.
Next, British geographer James Cheshire started playing:
Inspired by this work I have quickly (with much less cartographic flair) extracted the major rivers and streams in Great Britain from the Ordnance Survey's Strategi dataset and coloured them according to whether they are a "river", "canal" (not sure if this really counts in terms of naming), "water", "afon" (Welsh for river) and "brook". You can see that a clear geography exists. I was not surprised by all the "afons" being in Wales but I was surprised to see so many "waters" in Scotland.
As an American, I am much struck by how low the water-name diversity is in England south of Lothian, and how low their density is on this map, compared to e.g. the US east of the Mississippi. From here, it looks as though Cheshire's data set does not include as many small or insignificant waterways as the US dataset, and thus that the two sets are not, in fact, comparable.
From my side of The Pond, it would be *very* interesting for one of our Britfriends to map the names of insignificant streams only — specifically, to not include any watercourse called a "river". It does not seem credible to me that the wide variety of terms used in US stream names — especially in the Eastern US — do not reflect a variety in the terms used in England. It may also be that the US water name diversity preserves the diversity found in England in the 17th and 18th century.
In a blog post now only available on the WayBackMachine, pfly said:
In Names on the Land, this pattern is explained. I won't go into details here, except to say that neither brook nor creek is the standard term for "small river" in all of England. Brook is apparently common in southeast England, and was brought to New England by the early colonists. A creek in England typically refers not to a small river at all, but rather a small tidal wash or mud flat. The early colonists of Virginia, who first encountered a vast "tidewater" region, used the word river for large tidal inlets, and creek for smaller tidal inlets. As they explored inland, the terms stuck and were applied to streams.I'm getting a copy of Names on the Land (by George Stewart) from the library, and will report further.
However, random drilling down in Ordnance Survey maps for the north Midlands, where the Quakers of Pennsylvania would have been coming from, reveals plenty of "brook" names (and you can see them on Cheshire's map above), so I have no idea why eastern Pennsylvania isn't as full of "brooks" as New England.
For instance, the Wissahickon is now called a "creek", though in England "creek" means an estuary or inlet to the sea -- for example, in the Narnia book Prince Caspian, "Glasswater Creek" is an opening that leads from the sea up a small stream, "the Glasswater". Stewart says that using "creek" for any small sub-river watercourse started with the early colonists in the Chesapeake Bay region, who encountered a huge number of creeks (in the usual English sense), and the toponym stuck as they followed the watercourses upstream. I don't know, though, when "The Wissahickon" (a Lenape name) started to be called "Wissahickon Creek".