Re: NANFA-L-- How Does Everyone Feel About.....

Peter Unmack (peter.lists at)
Wed, 23 Mar 2005 15:23:29 -0600 (CST)

On Wed, 23 Mar 2005 wrote:

> Texas has a marvelous stream in the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert
> country -- the Devil's River (spelled correctly with the apostrophe,
> Peter).

Ok, I can't resist biting back. One can argue what is right versus wrong
grammatically, but the fact is that official guides to place names all
exclude apostrophes, thus it is Devils River if you happen to look it up
on an official map or place name index.

I've pasted below some partial _selected_ material from a couple websites
for information's sake.


>From Principles, Policies, and
Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names

Apostrophes suggesting possession or association are not to be used within
the body of a proper geographic name (Henrys Fork: not Henry's Fork). The
word or words that form a geographic name change their connotative
function and together become a single denotative unit. They change from
words having specific dictionary meaning to fixed labels used to refer to
geographic entities. The need to imply possession or association no longer
exists. Thus, we write "Jamestown" instead of "James' town" or even
"Richardsons Creek" instead of "Richard's son's creek." The whole name can
be made possessive or associative with an apostrophe-in-the end as in
"Rogers Point's rocky shore." Apostrophes may be used within the body of a
geographic name to denote a missing letter (Lake O' the Woods) or when
they normally exist in a surname used as part of a geographic name
(O'Malley Hollow).


The U.S. Board on Geographic Names has since its inception in 1890
discouraged the use of the possessive form, which includes the apostrophe
and the s. The possessive form using an s is allowed, but the apostrophe
is almost always removed. There is nothing in the Board's archives
indicating why specifically, only discouraged use.

We suspect that the reason is simply that the U.S. Board on Geographic
Names does not want to show possession for natural features because
ownership of a feature is not in and of itself a reason to name a feature
or change its name. Since 1890, there have been only five decisions by
the U.S. Board on Geographic Names allowing the genitive apostrophe for
natural features. These are: Martha's Vineyard approved in 1933 after an
extensive local campaign; Ike's Point in New Jersey was approved in 1944
because it would be unrecognizable otherwise; John E's Pond in Rhode
Island was approved in 1963 because otherwise it would be confused as John
S Pond (note the lack of the use of a period, which is also discouraged);
and Carlos Elmer's Joshua View in 1995-in-the specific request of the
Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names because otherwise
three apparently given names in succession would dilute the meaning, that
is, Joshua refers to a stand of trees. Clark's Mountain in Oregon was
approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in 2002-in-the request of
the Oregon Board to correspond with the personal references of Lewis and
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