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Reviewed by:
  • Native American placenames of the United States
  • Sheila Embleton
Native American placenames of the United States. By William Bright. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. Pp. xviii, 600. ISBN 080613576X. $59.95 (Hb).

Bill Bright was introduced to onomastics by his teacher Madison Beeler while he was a student specializing in American Indian languages at Berkeley in the 1950s (Bright 2003:15). Although he continued his Americanist research throughout his career (in California), he did very little in onomastics until he retired (to Colorado in 1988) and his interest turned to toponymy (placenames). He published a volume on the placenames of Colorado (Bright 1993, subsequently updated twice, most recently in 2004), followed by a revised edition (Bright 1998) of Erwin Gudde's classic work on California placenames (Gudde 1969). The work under review represents a far larger project, a culmination of B's longstanding interests in American Indian toponymy. This obviously is a huge field, and it would have been an impossibly large task to enumerate all of 'the hundreds of thousands of names which American Indians applied, in their many languages, to places in their own territories' (Bright 2003:15); thus this work is restricted to names of American Indian origin that have entered official usage in English. The work is further restricted in that Hawaii is excluded because 'an excellent dictionary of Hawai'ian placenames [Pukui et al. 1974] is already available' (6), making it pointless to merely repeat its contents in this work. (Hawaiian names only appear in this volume as transfer names, e.g. Mauna Loa Lake in Michigan, Waikiki Springs in Washington.) This is the first such comprehensive dictionary, and without doubt it will hold its place for many years to come.

Approximately 11,000 placenames have been assembled, together with their pronunciations and etymologies. B also enlisted, and generously acknowledges, the help and expertise of twelve consulting editors (Wallace Chafe, Ives Goddard, Jane Hill, Kenneth Hill, Lawrence Kaplan, James Kari, Dale Kinkade, John McLaughlin, Marianne Mithun, Pamela Munro, John Nichols, and Robert Rankin) as well as 110 other scholars and native speakers (primarily from the US, but several from Canada, as well as one from England and one from Japan). From A'ai sto to Zuzax, the content of each entry is as follows: headword (along with any significant variants), location (state(s), county), pronunciation (often omitted, unfortunately, including for names where it would be useful; alternatives are given where relevant), etymology (the main body of the entry), source of the information, occurrence in other states if relevant, and any related names.

With any such work, one of the basic questions is what to include and what to exclude. B obtained his basic inventory from the Geographical Names Information System (GNIS), available by internet from the US Board on Geographical Names. He removed erroneous and no-longer-used items, but then included 'names that people are likely to encounter—in books, on maps, or on the land' (3) or that are relevant to regional history. He then supplemented this from the basic well-known placename dictionaries of the US or of particular regions or states (which cover names of all types, not just of American Indian origin), as well as older and newer placename dictionaries of various regions or states. The material was then additionally verified with the consulting editors and other experts and native speakers. [End Page 877]

The book is strictly confined to the territorial boundaries of the United States, and thus many names that are equally found in Canada are not cross-referenced at all. Thus, for example, Algoma (31) is listed as Michigan, Oregon, Idaho, and Wisconsin, but not Ontario; Calumet (77) as Iowa, Michigan, and South Dakota, but not Ontario, Québec, or Yukon; Chilliwack (101) as Washington but not British Columbia; Chippewa (103) as Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Mexico, but not Ontario; Iroquois (186) as New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, and Minnesota, but not Ontario or Northwest Territories; or even Canada (78) as New York, Maine, and Wisconsin, but not as Canada itself.

In addition to what would normally be termed borrowings (e.g. Mississippi), there are also loan translations (calques) such as the...


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