Thematic Categories for U.S. Place Names

Authors: Lisa Butler Harrington*, Kansas State University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Environmental Perception, Rural Geography
Keywords: Place names, cultural geography, rural U.S., historical geography
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: Download


Place name guide books, usually written for individual states, most often take the form of dictionary-like tomes, with alphabetical listings of places and very brief notes regarding their names and history. I have begun work on place names to categorize them thematically, rather than alphabetically. Initial categorization is presented in this poster, with examples ranging from the humorous to the sentimental and the aspirational. ‘Places’ named include both human settlements and natural features. Themes identified include names associated with human occupations and activities, aspirations, negative experiences, heavenly and hellish notions, wild things (plants and animals), physical descriptions, humorous ideas, memorials and recognition of military and political figures, familial and local resident recognition, native people and names, the old world and prior locations, and literature. In addition to these names, many place names include an indication of the type of place, such as Station, Ferry, Grove, Store, Spring(s), Crossroads, Mill(s), Chapel, Gap, Hollow, Camp and Campground, and Stand. These are often preceded by a surname. As rail line stops and post offices were established, those submitting names often took the opportunity to recognize wives and daughters. These names often became the name of the local settlement. In some cases there have been naming chains, where a frontier settlement was named for an East Coast city, which in turn had been named for a European city. Misspellings have also played a role in creation of names, and some places have gone through a number of name changes over their histories.

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