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Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States

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This beloved classic about place-naming in the United States was written during World War II in a conscious effort to pay tribute to the heritage of the nation's peoples. George R. Stewart's love of the surprising story, and his focus not just on language but on how people interact with their environment, make Names on the Land a unique window into the history and sociolog This beloved classic about place-naming in the United States was written during World War II in a conscious effort to pay tribute to the heritage of the nation's peoples. George R. Stewart's love of the surprising story, and his focus not just on language but on how people interact with their environment, make Names on the Land a unique window into the history and sociology of America. From the first European names in what would later be the United States; Ponce de León's flowery Florída, Cortez' semi-mythical isle of California, and the red river Rio Colorado; to New England, New Amsterdam, and New Sweden; the French and the Russians; border ruffians and Boston Brahmins: Names on the Land is no dry dictionary but a fascinating panorama of language in action, bursting at the seams with revealing details. In lively, passionate writing, Stewart explains where Indian names were likely to be kept, and why; the fad that gave rise to dozens of Troys and to Athens, Georgia, as well as suburban Parksides, Brookmonts, and Woodcrest Manors; why "Brooklyn" is Dutch but looks English and why "Arkansas" is Arkansaw, except of course when it isn't. His book has delighted generations of road-trippers, armchair travelers, and anyone who ever wondered how their hometown, or (more likely) the next town over, could be called that. Stewart's answer is always a story; one of the countless stories that lie behind the rich and strange diversity of America.


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This beloved classic about place-naming in the United States was written during World War II in a conscious effort to pay tribute to the heritage of the nation's peoples. George R. Stewart's love of the surprising story, and his focus not just on language but on how people interact with their environment, make Names on the Land a unique window into the history and sociolog This beloved classic about place-naming in the United States was written during World War II in a conscious effort to pay tribute to the heritage of the nation's peoples. George R. Stewart's love of the surprising story, and his focus not just on language but on how people interact with their environment, make Names on the Land a unique window into the history and sociology of America. From the first European names in what would later be the United States; Ponce de León's flowery Florída, Cortez' semi-mythical isle of California, and the red river Rio Colorado; to New England, New Amsterdam, and New Sweden; the French and the Russians; border ruffians and Boston Brahmins: Names on the Land is no dry dictionary but a fascinating panorama of language in action, bursting at the seams with revealing details. In lively, passionate writing, Stewart explains where Indian names were likely to be kept, and why; the fad that gave rise to dozens of Troys and to Athens, Georgia, as well as suburban Parksides, Brookmonts, and Woodcrest Manors; why "Brooklyn" is Dutch but looks English and why "Arkansas" is Arkansaw, except of course when it isn't. His book has delighted generations of road-trippers, armchair travelers, and anyone who ever wondered how their hometown, or (more likely) the next town over, could be called that. Stewart's answer is always a story; one of the countless stories that lie behind the rich and strange diversity of America.

30 review for Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    If some are born great and some with a gift for laughter, others are born with a love of names, and I believe that i am one of them. . . . writes our author, to begin. And a good thing, because otherwise I might not have been so richly entertained. For perhaps I was born with an unquenchable thirst for useless facts. It is my habit to keep loose pieces of paper towards the back of the book, to write notes or point to passages that pleased. Halfway through the book, and six full pages of scratching If some are born great and some with a gift for laughter, others are born with a love of names, and I believe that i am one of them. . . . writes our author, to begin. And a good thing, because otherwise I might not have been so richly entertained. For perhaps I was born with an unquenchable thirst for useless facts. It is my habit to keep loose pieces of paper towards the back of the book, to write notes or point to passages that pleased. Halfway through the book, and six full pages of scratchings, I turned to the update progress instead. Perhaps you noticed. This might not be a book for everyone, and plenty of other reviewers have said as much. It's scholarly, yes; but also plenty funny. And there are well-turned phrases. And those useless facts. I learned, or re-learned, about how Wall Street got its name, and Baton Rouge and Cumberland and the Rocky Mountains. I live not too far from Wheeling, West Virginia, and I thought it was just another name, something derived from the Brits, like Reading or Beardsley. But it is really wil-ing, "place of the head," because, as the Indians reported, a captive had been put to death there, and his head stuck upon a sharpened pole. And, I'll never drive by there without knowing that. I know now that Chesapeake, which is a big bay, means "big river." I'd always heard of Newport News and thought it an odd name for a city. But now I learned: Two brothers named Newce came there to make a plantation. Once before, in Ireland, they had founded a town, naming it Newcetown, where it still stands. So now to their second settlement they gave the name New, and since it had an anchorage, they called it Port, and it became New Port Newce. The brothers were unfortunate, and men forgot them soon; but men remembered captain Newport, who had done much to found Virginia. So they began to think and write Newport's Newce, perhaps even to confuse the second part with Neuse River. Then in trying to make sense they wrote Newport News, and so it remained. Thus with men and names, as with fishes in the sea, the greater often swallow up the smaller. Stuff like that. There are place names that delighted the author. We know because the same names delighted us: Kerless Knob, Tate Knob, Teeny Knob. Curry She Mountain. Tomato Creek, Trace Creek, True Love Creek. Traitor's Cove and Tin Garage. Stinking Spring. Pistol Creek and Pigeon Roost and Philanthropy River. Harmony, Hangtown and Hardscrabble. Circle Back, Colt-killed Creek and Chucklehead Diggings. They changed the name of Cuckold Town but I think Chicken Thief Flat still exists. But the author thinks the country's name was a disappointment: Men had often shown much care, and even had carried on disputes, about the name for a colony, or even a little town. But they seemed to have given no thought at all for a whole country, and it grew up merely by common usage--a description, cumbersome and commonplace, like South Fork of Big Creek. . . . It was unwieldy, inexact and unoriginal. Although it rolled well from the tongue of an orator, not even the sincerest patriot could manage it in a poem or song. . . . Moreover: in the very name, the seeds of nullification and secession lay hidden. And: the political mind has contrived to exercise its ineptitude about names. British Commonwealth of Nations is almost as bad as United States of America, and Soyuz Sovietskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Republik is even worse. Rowland Hill remarked that he did not see why the Devil should have all the good tunes. Still, Columbia would have met its death by political correctness, and Freedonia or Urbania? Come on. I learned that our post-revolution crush on the French gave us the word bourbon and that the Scotch-Irish brought with their scanty baggage three things of different worth to the new country--whiskey, the Presbyterian Church, and independence from Great Britain. I spend a good portion of my time amused, usually keeping the reasons to myself. And now, driving through this country, spotting road signs, the names of places and things, I will have more cause than ever to be amused. And I might even share the stories.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kathrina

    How I wish George R. Stewart was still alive, so that I could actually respond to his request for letters on names of the land. How grateful I am that he found the process of naming so fascinating, and that his passion poured out in every sentence he wrote. A friend of mine recently read Moby Dick, and her review considered -- damn, this guy really likes whales -- and though I don't believe whales topped her list of fascinating obsessions, she appreciated the passion with which Melville spoke of How I wish George R. Stewart was still alive, so that I could actually respond to his request for letters on names of the land. How grateful I am that he found the process of naming so fascinating, and that his passion poured out in every sentence he wrote. A friend of mine recently read Moby Dick, and her review considered -- damn, this guy really likes whales -- and though I don't believe whales topped her list of fascinating obsessions, she appreciated the passion with which Melville spoke of them. The same is here; I do enjoy the contemplations of names, their evolution through history, but Stewart's passion makes the act and process of naming an art form. I cheer with him when he deduces that Oak River (or Creek, Stream, Brook, Valley, whatever) was named because it had few oaks, not many, and thus the descriptor was specific to its uniqueness, not what was common. Or when he leads us through the evidence that Oregon is really a misreading of the word Wisconsin?! I wish I had a photographic memory so that I could recall at a moment the absolute ton of onomatolgy trivia packed in these pages. I am in awe of the goodreads readers who have claimed this book is boring; I have found this book to be the most engaging way to learn my American history, as I can associate historical events through the names they left behind. There is no end to the creativity, ingenuity, and melting-pot amalgamation of the naming of this country -- how can that be boring? It's our story! Thanks to NYRB for keeping this book in print.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    For some reason I was expecting more charm, more narrative from this. Stewart's pile-of-facts style reminded me of John McPhee, as if this were a 500 page McPhee New Yorker article. It was boring. But there were some moderately interesting facts, and some bright moments, as in this 1864 Congressional discussion of the naming of Montana: Mr. Sumner: The name of this new Territory - Montana - strikes me as very peculiar. I wish to ask the chairman of the committee what has suggested that name. It se For some reason I was expecting more charm, more narrative from this. Stewart's pile-of-facts style reminded me of John McPhee, as if this were a 500 page McPhee New Yorker article. It was boring. But there were some moderately interesting facts, and some bright moments, as in this 1864 Congressional discussion of the naming of Montana: Mr. Sumner: The name of this new Territory - Montana - strikes me as very peculiar. I wish to ask the chairman of the committee what has suggested that name. It seems to me it must have been borrowed from some novel or other. I do not know how it originated. Mr. Wade: I cannot tell anything about that. I do not know but that it may have been borrowed from a novel. I would rather borrow from the Indians, if I could find any proper Indian name. Mr. Sumner: I was going to suggest that in giving a name to this Territory, ...I would rather take the name from the soil, a good Indian name. Mr. Wade: Suggest one and I will agree to it. Mr. Sumner: I am not familiar enough with the country to do so. Mr. Howard: I was equally puzzled when I saw the name in the bill...I was obliged to turn to my old Latin dictionary... At first it seemed surprising that a primary source would be more entertaining than a secondary source. But it shouldn't be; they usually are. Later, Stewart made a joke: Berlin in Alabama, bearing the name of Adolph Hitler's capital, changed it to that of the capital of King Croesus by becoming Sardis. Your author commends this as a prudent selection, scarcely subject to political vicissitudes. The United States is unlikely ever to become involved in a war with Lydia, especially since that once potent kingdom disappeared from the list of independent nations in the sixth century B.C.

  4. 4 out of 5

    AB

    Though the books should be burned and the people themselves cut off, still from the names- as from arrowheads and potsherds- the patient scholar may piece together some record of what we were… After all else has passed, the names may yet remain. Several years ago, I read of a man’s curiosity and wonder about the naming of a seaside resort called Balbec. I read the titles; Place-Names: the Name and Place-Names: The Place and for the first time I asked myself: what is in a name? Ever since se Though the books should be burned and the people themselves cut off, still from the names- as from arrowheads and potsherds- the patient scholar may piece together some record of what we were… After all else has passed, the names may yet remain. Several years ago, I read of a man’s curiosity and wonder about the naming of a seaside resort called Balbec. I read the titles; Place-Names: the Name and Place-Names: The Place and for the first time I asked myself: what is in a name? Ever since seeing the cover of this book in a NYRB ad, I was drawn to read it. Names on the Land did not disappoint. George Stewart does not provide a simple glossary of names and give its origin and meaning. Instead, he starts with the early names: California, Cape Fear, and Virginia and shows how the history of America can be read by its naming. Stewart writes in a manner that I can only call inspiring. It reads of a man deeply in love with his subject. It brings to mind an unfortunately now dying tradition of the scholar whose love of their subject shines through in something beyond a bland and exact academic paper. Simply put, Stewart obviously lived for this subject. With real emotion, he discusses his love of the names on the map, even his apprehension about the doubling of Washington (state and D.C.) and his objection to the name “United States of America”. I loved every minute of this book, but to for me the chapters towards the end of the book shine the best. There is obviously a seriousness to discussing how the “great names” came about. Once the great names have been established I found a real wit to the book. Stewart goes into the comedy and bizarreness of naming and he becomes playful with his speech. With all the big names placed on the map, it was time to focus on the little names— the ones that, for me, possess a real charm. Among the interesting places discussed can be found: Tombstone, Christmas, and Santa Claus. Would I recommend this book for everyone? Absolutely not. But if you enjoy a good anecdote or ever wondered why it’s spelled Arkansas but called Arkansaw, there are a great variety of things to enjoy in this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    RATED IN CATEGORY "BOOK" : 1 STAR RATED IN CATEGORY "SLEEP AID" : 5 STARS I acknowledge that many goodreads reviewers profess to find this book "fascinating". I understand that it is regarded by some as an "American classic". There is something distinctly impressive about George R. Stewart's sheer stamina. What I cannot do, based on empirical evidence from extensive trials, is read more than a page of this book without lapsing into prolonged, profound slumber. It may be the most boring book ever w RATED IN CATEGORY "BOOK" : 1 STAR RATED IN CATEGORY "SLEEP AID" : 5 STARS I acknowledge that many goodreads reviewers profess to find this book "fascinating". I understand that it is regarded by some as an "American classic". There is something distinctly impressive about George R. Stewart's sheer stamina. What I cannot do, based on empirical evidence from extensive trials, is read more than a page of this book without lapsing into prolonged, profound slumber. It may be the most boring book ever written. On the plus side, the book's soporific effects are remarkably consistent, with a median time to sleep onset of just under a minute. The side-effect profile is quite favorable, with no potential for addiction, or adverse drug interaction with other therapies. The most prevalent adverse effect observed in trials was chronic bruising of the reader's ankle, the most common site of impact when the book slides from the subject's grasp at the moment of sleep onset. Use of the product near an open flame is a distinct fire hazard and is contraindicated. My experience with this product suggests that repurposing it as a sleep aid, for subjects with mild to moderate insomnia, represents a practical option well worth considering. Viewed as a potential remedy for subjects experiencing insomnia, the risk-benefit ratio is quite favorable. If you have difficulties falling asleep, and worry about Ambien-induced "sleep-snacking", "sleep-driving" or - God forbid - "abnormal thinking", or the addictive potential of benzodiazepines, you might want to consider "Names on the Land" as an inexpensive, safe, surprisingly effective alternative. I imagine that an audio version of the therapy would be equally efficacious.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    It's a little dry. But in a 1950's tv program kind of way. We're used to whistles and bells in our culture nowadays. I know SEVERAL people who won't attend a movie on the basis of monotony if it doesn't have at least one explosion or murder in it. This book is not for them. I kept having to remind myself that the book was written 50 years ago. As a textbook. And apparently a very well respected one. George Stewart has a mild humor as he writes. He passes the silly, the overly complicated, and the It's a little dry. But in a 1950's tv program kind of way. We're used to whistles and bells in our culture nowadays. I know SEVERAL people who won't attend a movie on the basis of monotony if it doesn't have at least one explosion or murder in it. This book is not for them. I kept having to remind myself that the book was written 50 years ago. As a textbook. And apparently a very well respected one. George Stewart has a mild humor as he writes. He passes the silly, the overly complicated, and the mundane stories of how we named the New Land mostly in a hurry and mostly without having done it for thousands of years. I'm a name nerd. So I liked it. I learned the 6 basic ways people name places. I learned that most of the 'Indian' names I grew up around in Michigan were really just badly heard Sioux/Algonquin filtered through badly translated French. Same is true for most of the 'Indian' names of the states. I learned the spelling of Arkansas vs. the pronunciation of Ar-kan-saw caused a lot more furor than one modern reader could believe. Same is true for Mt. McKinley. I learned the county I was born in (Genesee County, Michigan) was named after the county and town in New York state. The Geneseo Indians probably never lived in Michigan. That shoots down a lot of childhood daydreams I had. Alot of the west (west of Appalachia, that is) was named to get people to move there and buy land. That explains all the Mt. Pleasants, the Oak Brooks, the Springfields. I learned that most of the states after the original 13 had been chosen from several different names (i.e. Washington was almost Columbia after the river, Missouri was almost Jefferson, Minnesota was almost Mississippi).

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lacey

    Have you heard the story about how chocolate chip cookies were invented? Once upon a time there was a lovely young housewife who was going to have company and wanted to make chocolate cookies for them. Lo and behold when she went to the cupboard she found, to her everlasting shame, that she was all out of cocoa powder. Undeterred she broke up a bar of baking chocolate and stirred the chunks into the cookie dough, assuming that in the oven the chunks would melt and mix into the cookie, making it Have you heard the story about how chocolate chip cookies were invented? Once upon a time there was a lovely young housewife who was going to have company and wanted to make chocolate cookies for them. Lo and behold when she went to the cupboard she found, to her everlasting shame, that she was all out of cocoa powder. Undeterred she broke up a bar of baking chocolate and stirred the chunks into the cookie dough, assuming that in the oven the chunks would melt and mix into the cookie, making it fully chocolate. Obviously that didn't happen but the result was even better and we all lived happily ever after eating the new cookies. Reading this book was kind of like inventing the chocolate chip cookie. I thought it was going to be a book full of fascinating facts about names famous and obscure throughout the land. What it actually is is chocolate chip nuggets of interesting factoids interspersed within the cookie part. Except the cookie part is some of the dullest, driest prose I've ever read. I'm rather proud of myself for having made it through, but I don't know that I'd encourage anyone else to attempt the project.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alex Rosenthal

    I knew I was in trouble as soon as I picked up this book and saw that it was 400 pages. There are two ways a book like this could work. You could have a narrative study of the trends in place-naming and how these trends reflected the growth of the United States. Or you could have a bathroom style book of factoids explaining how each place in the United States got its name, something quick and easily digestible. Unfortunately, this book is both. A long narrative story that goes from place to plac I knew I was in trouble as soon as I picked up this book and saw that it was 400 pages. There are two ways a book like this could work. You could have a narrative study of the trends in place-naming and how these trends reflected the growth of the United States. Or you could have a bathroom style book of factoids explaining how each place in the United States got its name, something quick and easily digestible. Unfortunately, this book is both. A long narrative story that goes from place to place and explains how each place got its name, occasionally providing historical context. This ends up being less interesting than I'm making it sound. Each of these stories are interesting in and of themselves, but reading them one after the other is deadening and something like being stuck talking to a dull person at a party: you start by thinking "this could be interesting, I'm gonna hear what he has to say," and after a short while you're thinking "dear god in heaven get me out of here."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Constantine

    Light in tone and deep in content, a fun book to dip into or read cover to cover.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    A fine tracing of how our nation's landscape was named: natural features, cities, and towns. The author follows the individual strands of explorers and why they named features as they did (reflecting their heritage, religion, country, or for that matter, a whim of the moment.) Then settlers, factions, towns people, the Post Office and finally a Board to settle disputes or "clean up" anomalies - if the locals would allow it. The book is comprehensive from the opening sentence, "In the beginning, A fine tracing of how our nation's landscape was named: natural features, cities, and towns. The author follows the individual strands of explorers and why they named features as they did (reflecting their heritage, religion, country, or for that matter, a whim of the moment.) Then settlers, factions, towns people, the Post Office and finally a Board to settle disputes or "clean up" anomalies - if the locals would allow it. The book is comprehensive from the opening sentence, "In the beginning, then, the land was without names." On and on and on the book wanders from East to West, taking one all across the continent until ending in Alaska and Hawaii. And much time and detail is given to native Americans, the Choctaw, Iroquois, Seminole whose languages were often musical to the ear, and those names stayed. Waves of French, English, German, Dutch all added their lines, and in many cases renamed features and towns to their liking only to have some return to a former label, or something different altogether. Along the way, Stewart exhibits a wit and dry humor, and not a little of his own musings. On Pg141, he grieves (one feels) at the mournfulness of statues and battlefields where those in combat died, "[during the French-Indian war near Ticonderoga, NY], many died that day, men who had seen no visions, as men always die when a stupid general flings them against an unshaken fortress." And later, remarking on the "great men" whose names are found from Maine to Georgia, "Sunderland, Walpole, Litchfield, Hardwicke, Bedford, Halifax, Pelham, Newcastle, Carlisle and the rest. What most of them ever did for the colonies to deserve so much as the naming of an out-house would be difficult to discover." The taking of Indian names was both original, and then rediscovered with a passion in the early to mid 1800s. Stewart quotes a poem on pg 277 by a popular Lydia Sigourney who wrote "Indian Names" - Ye say they all have pass'd away That noble race and brave; That their light canoes have vanish'd, From off the crested wave; That, mid the forests where they roam'd, There rings no hunter's shout; But their name is on your waters, Ye may not wash it out ... Old Massachusetts wears it Within her lordly crown, And broad Ohio bears it Amid his young renown. Connecticut hath wreath'd it, Where her quiet foliage waves, And bold Kentucky breathes it hoarse Through all her ancient caves. The author notes regarding African Americans, pg330, "Unfortunately the rich imagination and verbal luxuriance of the race had free play only in the informal names of its own districts. Catfish Alley in Charleston, or Congo Street, Adam and Eve Alley, Solomon Alley, Elysian Fields, and Concrete Quarters" all in the small city of Monroe, Louisiana. A reference book but a rich and meaningful one.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    Warning: My favorable rating may be due to my love of the subject matter. Toponyms fascinate me, and American toponyms are mostly recent enough to shed some light on the naming process. In fact, this book is generally about the naming process. It is not a dictionary of toponyms, but instead a guide through American history and how naming evolved from the first exploration of the now contiguous U.S. through the time of publication: post World War II (and pre-Alaska and Hawai'i statehood). The boo Warning: My favorable rating may be due to my love of the subject matter. Toponyms fascinate me, and American toponyms are mostly recent enough to shed some light on the naming process. In fact, this book is generally about the naming process. It is not a dictionary of toponyms, but instead a guide through American history and how naming evolved from the first exploration of the now contiguous U.S. through the time of publication: post World War II (and pre-Alaska and Hawai'i statehood). The book is split into easily digestible pieces. Most sections are under ten pages. This may sound like not a lot for a section, but each section is deliciously dense. And the sections are not artificially inflated nor deflated to keep some size consistency. If a topic only takes three pages, that's what it gets. If a topic needs more than ten pages, though, that happens as well. I initially looked for this book due to interest in toponyms that originate from American languages. This book lists plenty of those, and often their meanings and particular language (or at least language family) of origin. But it also goes beyond the time when names were taken from American languages, and into other sources of names. Although most of the other names are European in origin, they are given (or sometimes changed) for many different reasons. One of my favorite things to learn was that the "sippi" in Mississippi and the "sape" in Chesapeake were the same Algonquian root for 'river'. I also like the story of Altadena, which is blatantly American: Romance prefix replacing the "pasa" of Pasadena, which itself is from Chippewa, a language that was spoken nowhere near Pasadena. There are many other gems and vignettes like this one throughout this book that made it totally worth the read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    This is only incidentally a book about placenames in the United States. Though Stewart did explain the origin of many names, more or less in historical order, and clearly enjoyed a good story (such as the way that "Wisconsin," through a series of misspellings and displacements, became "Oregon", or the squabbling over the name of Mount Rainier), his real love was the process of naming. The ways that Americans and their predecessors named the landscape are manifold, and much of the style of New En This is only incidentally a book about placenames in the United States. Though Stewart did explain the origin of many names, more or less in historical order, and clearly enjoyed a good story (such as the way that "Wisconsin," through a series of misspellings and displacements, became "Oregon", or the squabbling over the name of Mount Rainier), his real love was the process of naming. The ways that Americans and their predecessors named the landscape are manifold, and much of the style of New England or Ohio or California names derives from the practices that were current when these areas were settled. And unlike so many historians of his time, Stewart did not ignore the American Indians. He concluded by musing on the ways that a good name can become poetic, through romantic, historical, or meaningful connotations. The pace is slow and I took several weeks to read this book, which is probably the right way to approach it. This is the fourth of Stewart's books that I have read, the others being 'Earth Abides' (a powerful novel about the human and ecological consequences of an epidemic that wipes out nearly all the human race), 'Storm' (a meteorological novel that led to the practice of naming hurricanes), and 'U.S. Route 40' (a travel book about the coast-to-coast highway that includes the old National Road). If you like his style, all of these books are still worth reading, and 'Earth Abides' is one of the few pre-1950 science fiction novels to remain perennially in print.

  13. 4 out of 5

    joyce

    Interesting to read a book on American place-naming written when Alaska and Hawaii weren't even states yet, and when there were people still living whose parents remembered the Civil War. The "historical experience" was probably enhanced by the first-edition copy I'd checked out from the library, brittle pages to match that effusive old prose style, reminding me to be patient even when I skipped some of the longer-winded passages. Fun read - would love to see the same with tons of maps, just beca Interesting to read a book on American place-naming written when Alaska and Hawaii weren't even states yet, and when there were people still living whose parents remembered the Civil War. The "historical experience" was probably enhanced by the first-edition copy I'd checked out from the library, brittle pages to match that effusive old prose style, reminding me to be patient even when I skipped some of the longer-winded passages. Fun read - would love to see the same with tons of maps, just because I'm a nerd like that.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mark Buchignani

    A wonderfully interesting book which begins in ancient naming origins and over time transitions to numerous specific outstanding or intriguing examples, such as Nome, Alaska, which was originally marked on the map as “? Name” because it had none. This then was misread as “Nome” and so it became. “Nome is therefore an authenticated example of the workings of mere error.” I found the early part of the book fascinating, the latter entertaining. If you are at all interested in U.S. place-name nomenc A wonderfully interesting book which begins in ancient naming origins and over time transitions to numerous specific outstanding or intriguing examples, such as Nome, Alaska, which was originally marked on the map as “? Name” because it had none. This then was misread as “Nome” and so it became. “Nome is therefore an authenticated example of the workings of mere error.” I found the early part of the book fascinating, the latter entertaining. If you are at all interested in U.S. place-name nomenclature, Names on the Land is for you.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    It isn't a bad book, but it's a bit like reading a dictionary. It gives the history of place names in the U.S., and I love that kind of history. However, I didn't make it past the East coast chapters before I decided I wanted to supplement my reading diet with something plot-driven, and eventually I forgot all about this book on my nightstand. I'll be picking this up again, but for now, I'm just going to say I'm done with it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Whitaker

    A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    Written back in the 1940s, "Names on the Land" is a collection of stories relating how various places in the United States got their names. Stewart starts out describing how early explorers named natural geographic features and carries the story of place naming through the 20th century. Readers shouldn't expect a single narrative about place naming, but rather a large selection of anecdotes. Stewart describes the naming of many, many places. My favorites include Portland, OR (determined via a coi Written back in the 1940s, "Names on the Land" is a collection of stories relating how various places in the United States got their names. Stewart starts out describing how early explorers named natural geographic features and carries the story of place naming through the 20th century. Readers shouldn't expect a single narrative about place naming, but rather a large selection of anecdotes. Stewart describes the naming of many, many places. My favorites include Portland, OR (determined via a coin flip) and Nome, AK (transcribed from "? Name" on map).

  18. 4 out of 5

    John P

    Excellent! Informative and interesting all the way through. Stewart displays a powerful command of language and story. The amount of research required to produce this work is mind-boggling and yet after Stewart's distillation, the result is more than readable - it's a joy. He punctuates his straightforward delivery with occasional humor and believable (and likely correct) inferences. The notes are well done too and showcase more of his personality than does the main body.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Overall I enjoyed reading the story of how places in the United States got their names. The book is as accurate as it can be when dealing with names that are part folk myth, there is at least one instance where the author was incorrect. However, the book is well-researched and worth the read just to see how place names evolve or are changed.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Oh, man, a history nerd’s dream. A naming nerd’s dream, too, assuming there are naming nerds out there, which this book seems to prove. Very readable rundown of how places in America, great and small, got names from the earliest European contact onward (and in some cases before, but as you can imagine, even the native-seeming names got run through the colonizers’ wringers in many cases).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Robert Gebhardt

    I'm very happy this book exists, although a newer version or edition might be due at this point. Regardless, if you want to know where the name of every city, state, mountain, river, etc. in the US comes from, and why and how, this is probably the best source.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Wilkins

    This was one of those boring books to read before going to sleep.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    Took me like twenty years but damn if it isn't a great historical work about what we call things.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sull McCartney

    Great writer

  25. 5 out of 5

    Robert Cole

    Excellent! Vastly informative and entertaining. I can't even imagine undertaking and carrying through such a study. I'll probably read portions again.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Robert Cox

    Absolutely fascinating. I certainly was never aware of just how complex the process of naming places in the United States has been

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra

    Terrific if you’re into American history/knowing everything.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I enjoyed the emphasis on the process of how place names are created and evolve. I also appreciated the author's sense of humor!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elese

    I am a name enthusiast and also have a great deal of respect for George Stewart--a former Cal professor and a prolific and varied writer. Despite all of that, I barely made it through this naming death march of a book. (Don't be fooled by the chapter "Melodrama in the Forties" beginning on p. 242. Nope that's about the 1840s.) But read it I did, and I'm glad I did. If you expect to see me in the next few months be prepared for an onslaught of place-name fun facts; I've stored them away like a gi I am a name enthusiast and also have a great deal of respect for George Stewart--a former Cal professor and a prolific and varied writer. Despite all of that, I barely made it through this naming death march of a book. (Don't be fooled by the chapter "Melodrama in the Forties" beginning on p. 242. Nope that's about the 1840s.) But read it I did, and I'm glad I did. If you expect to see me in the next few months be prepared for an onslaught of place-name fun facts; I've stored them away like a giddy chipmunk. Here are a few of Stewart's stronger opinions about naming practices: --On the United States of America as a name: "The makeshift establishment of the national name was the worst misfortune in our whole naming-history. Its too great length has consumed paper, ink, time, and energy. Its vagueness and inaccuracy have caused incalculable misunderstanding, and bad feeling. Yet the trouble has never been acute enough to occasion an amendment to the Constitution, and any official change has become less and less likely." --Disdain for timid namers: "In the years following the Civil War a horrible malady called 'good taste' began to rage throughout the United States. It was the disease of people who were basically unsure of themselves. Those suffering from it became artistically timid, insipid, and sterile. In naming, which is a kind of art, the stricken people preferred conventional terms of pale elegance. They rejected the honest names of earlier times, and rejected also the vigorous names of the great industrial age in which they lived. Their namings tended to be effeminate, snobbish, Anglophile, and full of liquid sounds." --On stating the obvious about the origin of names arising from plants: "Such names rarely sprang from incidents, because a man does not often have an adventure with a tree." --And finally, when referencing an enthusiastic reader's compilation of all two-letter place names: "This is a kind of sheer intellectual whimsey which is too little cultivated in the modern world." Indeed.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    Rarely does one encounter a scholarly work as sprightly and funny and downright readable as George R. Stewart's Names on the Land. Stewart has a storyteller's sensibilities, and it's pleasantly surprising how the book functions as a cover-to-cover read; to only skim for the places with which you are already familiar would do a disservice to the book, and handicap your enjoyment. I'm resisting the urge to supply a list of "And did you know ____ got its name because ____??" given that everyone in m Rarely does one encounter a scholarly work as sprightly and funny and downright readable as George R. Stewart's Names on the Land. Stewart has a storyteller's sensibilities, and it's pleasantly surprising how the book functions as a cover-to-cover read; to only skim for the places with which you are already familiar would do a disservice to the book, and handicap your enjoyment. I'm resisting the urge to supply a list of "And did you know ____ got its name because ____??" given that everyone in my immediate vicinity while I read the book had to endure that anyway. But there is, to be sure, a nugget of information worthy of sharing with a friend on nearly every page. What's important here, though, is that Stewart doesn't turn this into an encyclopedia of naming trivia, which a lesser author surely would've. This is no mere bathroom reading. Instead, he gives a sense of America's history and exigent concerns of naming amidst the trivia, and contextualizes each with a larger movement or fashion. That doesn't sound terribly dazzling, I know, but it is: it's interesting to note where we stopped naming things after presidents, or why a bunch of places in Ohio have names from antiquity. The Matt Weiland-edited State by State serves as a nice companion piece (and I was glad to see Weiland was asked to write the introduction in this NYRB printing) to Stewart's, though I do recommend putting some space between the two, lest you get burned out on Americana.

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