Blog-a-thon: Strange Maps #531: A Rio Runs Through It–Naming the American Stream

Frank Jacobs, the U.K.-based writer behind the very popular Strange Maps blog and print anthology, as well as a new New York Times series called Borderlines, has generously agreed to let us excerpt a previous post from Strange Maps for this year’s Blog-a-thon.

Part of exploring communities is discovering how we define
their core components, and how those definitions compare to those of other communities
around the world.
I think you’ll find this map of different names for “running water” fascinating–whether or not you hail from the United States, and whether or not English is your first language.  Enjoy this tour of rios, brooks, bayous, and arroyos…

StrangeMaps_RioImage.jpgA body of running water may be called any of many different names, the most generic being stream, the most common being river.  A river can be defined as ‘a natural stream of water of usually considerable volume’. General terms for smaller streams include creek (smaller than a river) and brook (smaller than a creek). Very specific types of water currents  include anabranches (river branches that rejoin the main body of water) and distributaries (branches that don’t).

This map charts the rich variety of waterflow toponyms in the US, which reflects the climatological and geographical diversity of the country, but also its linguistic and historical heritage. River names seem extremely resistant to change, and indeed often are echoes of earlier dominant cultures [1].

The colours on the map, which is based on the place names in the USGS National Hydrography Dataset, correspond to the generic toponyms for waterflows, excluding the two commonest ones (river and creek, rendered in gray).

Discover which bodies of water are called what where, and see a larger version of the map, in the full text version of A Rio Runs Through It on the Strange Maps blog.

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