Fact Sheet 158–99
Naming is a basic human tendency; it allows us to perceive the distinct identities of people and places and conveys those characteristics that make them unique. The name of a geographic feature can describe spectacular physical attributes (such as the Grand Canyon or Half Dome in Yosemite National Park), indicate cultural or historical significance (such as Washington Crossing on the Delaware River), or commemorate a worthy individual (such as the Hudson River, named for Henry Hudson, the explorer). Names have many different origins, and regardless of the type of name, they give us a greater familiarity with our surroundings and a sense of belonging to our environment.
Naming rivers, mountains, and valleys after individuals was one way settlers marked the land; it signified their lives on these lands were important and, in addition to being a point of reference, usually satisfied the need for stability and enhanced the general concept of sense of place. Even today, naming geographic features after individuals helps us to recognize their special achievements and contributions to the physical or cultural landscape. However, what may be most significant about the present commemorative naming decisions is their permanence. It is important for us to realize that the commemorative names assigned today may last for centuries.
First posted November 1999
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U.S. Geological Survey, 1999, Commemorative naming in the United States: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 158-99, 2 p., available only online at https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/1999/0158/.