Friday, August 15, 2014

All Names are Made Up

Last week i posted on the name of the iconic lake that forms the headwaters of the Mississippi River- Lake Itasca. I was reacting to the fact that the name of the lake was "made-up" by the headwaters explorer, Henry Schoolcraft. He came up with the name of the lake from a Latin phrase he put together, veritas (true) + caput (head). He got

ver- ITAS CA- put.
Sure it sounds like a Native American word. But the Ojibwe name for "Lake Itasca" was Omashkoozo-zaaga'igan (Elk Lake), according to Wikipedia.

At this time I felt cheated. Itasca was a made-up name. It wasn't it's real name. By that, I meant of course, the Native American name for it.

But as I rode across the lake the next day I realized that in and of itself this body of water has no name. It is just a lake. People give it a name. And who is to say that doing something that's actually kind of unique to give it a name is wrong? What if Schoolcraft had decided to name it after the then President Jackson? Would that have been a better or worse name?

I thought further, then, to the naming of the animals- a job given to Adam and Eve in the Biblical creation story. So if Adam named, for example, a "lion" a "lion," what language did he do it in? Aramaic- Aryeh; Hebrew- ari; Greek- léon; Latin- leō? The name I use in English for that animal isn't its real name?

While I may prefer certain older names to newer ones (Denali vs. Mt. McKinley; Tiadaghton vs. Pine Creek) neither name is right or wrong.  We name the names.

So, I apologize to Henry Schoolcraft for doubting and dissing his name for the lake. The more I came to know it last week, the more I realized that its name is Itasca.

And just for fun, here's Bob Dylan on this topic:

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