River X, X River

We start this post with an email from former (non-linguist) colleague Andy:
I discovered my Railroad Tycoon 3 DVDs today. [...]
This is an American game, so it's not surprising that it uses AmE usage. Even on European maps. In particular, it's really odd seeing "Thames River" or "Severn River" or for that matter (on the France map) "Seine River".

BrE usage is always "River x". Same in French, Italian, I can't for the moment think of the usage in German - though I bet it's a compound.

AmE is "x River". Why the change? The only countercase I can think of is the Gospel songs referring to "That Jordan River" which I suspect are actually AmE originally in any case.

In any case all of these uses sound really wrong to my BrE ear. About the only exception I can think of is "East River", but then the river's not actually called "East", is it?

An AmE countercase is of course the classic Standells track, "Dirty Water", which refers to the "River Charles". But then, it's Boston, so I guess that doesn't count as proper AmE.
Let's start at the beginning, or near enough to it.  Before the late 17th century (according to the OED), the normal way to refer to rivers was the River of X.  Here are some of the OED's examples from around that time:
1548 Hall's Vnion: Henry V f. xxxiii, Borne at Monmouth on the Riuer of Wye.
1565 in R. G. Marsden Sel. Pleas Admiralty (Selden Soc.) II. 55 Honnefleur and Rouen and other ports in the revere of Seine. a1616 SHAKESPEARE Antony & Cleopatra (1623) II. ii. 194 She purst vp his heart vpon the Riuer of Sidnis. 1652 M. NEDHAM tr. J. Selden Of Dominion of Sea 218 Those words concerning the River of Rhine. 1710 J. CHAMBERLAYNE Present State Great Brit. II. I. 323 It's watered with the pleasant River of Clyde.
From the late 17th century, the of started to be dropped, so then we get the River X, as in the River Thames, the River Clyde, the River Cam, etc.  But what else was going on in the 17th century?  Oh yeah, the English coloni{s/z}ation of North America.  So this is about the time when we'd expect to see transatlantic differences starting to develop.  If linguistic changes are happening in England, then they'll mostly stay in England, while the English speakers in America are off on their own linguistic path.

One possible scenario then, would be that BrE would come to have River Thames while AmE would still have the of: the River of Mississippi, say.  But the loss of of had already started by the time most of the colonists would have come over, so perhaps it's not surprising that it got lost in the soon-to-be US too.

It might seem odd that the loss of of would cause the nouns to swap/(BrE alternative spelling)swop places, resulting in X River, but I can think of some reasons why it isn't too odd:
  • First, consider the possessive use of of, as in a friend of my mother('s). Get rid of the of and we have to move my mother before the friend (and add a case marker, 's): my mother's friend.  So, there is an existing relation between grammatical constructions of the forms X Y and Y of X.   
  • Second, English generally puts grammatically simple modifiers before the nouns they modify.  So, unlike French, for instance, we say red chair, not chair red.  Since river is the 'head noun' in the river-name construction, it would seem most natural to put river after its descriptor.
  • A clear exception to the last generali{s/z}ation is what often happens with names of lakes and mount(ain)s: Lake Superior, Lake Titicaca, Lake Geneva; Mount Everest, Mount Rushmore.  But still, there are plenty of geographical features that put the name first: roads, streets, and lanes; seas and oceans; islands, deserts and so forth.
  • Some of what would become the original 13 colonies were first coloni{s/z}ed by Sweden and the Netherlands.  Swedish puts 'river' (älv) after the name.  Dutch (modern Dutch, at least) seems to not have a word for 'river' (rivier) as part of the name at all: it's just de Rhône, de Maas, etc.  I don't know how much linguistic influence these colonial powers might have had (not much, in the case of the Swedes, though they certainly named some things), but they're at least worth mentioning as a counterbalance to Andy's observation that the Romance languages put the 'river' first.
 The Wikipedia article on AmE/BrE differences lists some exceptions to each dialect's rules:
Exceptions in BrE include the Fleet River, which is rarely called the River Fleet by Londoners outside of official documentation, and also where the river name is an adjective (the Yellow River). Exceptions in the US are the River Rouge and the River Raisin, both in Michigan and named by the French. This convention is mixed, however, in some Commonwealth nations, where both arrangements are often seen.
Incidentally, the River Charles that Andy refers to is much more usually called the Charles River.

Another thing that might be considered an exception in BrE is what happens when the name of the river is used as a modifier for another noun.  One sees quite a few Thames Rivers in things like Thames River Authority, Thames River Police, Thames River Valley, and Thames River Cruises. Now, of course, we have the option here (especially in the last two cases) of parsing this so that Thames River is not a constituent phrase.  That is, is it:
[Thames River] Authority        or        Thames [River Authority] ?
I would suspect that most BrE speakers would vote for the latter, though that's not how I'd parse the American equivalents.

One also sees Thames River in BrE when it's plurali{s/z}ed, as in Thames Rivers Restoration Trust, which works to improve the Thames and its tributaries.  In this case, Rivers Thames would not be appropriate, since the tributaries are generally not named Thames, so in this case Thames is descriptive (like East or Yellow), describing the locations of the rivers, rather than just naming them.  Usually when referring to more than one river by name in BrE, the river+name order is maintained with river marked as plural, as in "The Environment Agency runs the rivers Thames, Nene, Great Ouse, Medway, Welland, Glen and Ancholme" (waterways.com).

BrE speakers generally use the American word order when referring to American rivers. One doesn't hear the River Mississippi much (though Julian Barnes uses it in Flaubert's Parrot), and this seems to extend to the rest of the new world--BrE prefers Amazon River (7 British National Corpus hits) over the River Amazon (2 hits), but really prefers just the Amazon (over 300 hits).   For European and African rivers, it's River X all the way.  So Germany has the river Main in BrE, but the Main river in AmE--and it's the latter that the local tourist board goes for.  Whether that's because the Germans have more affinity for AmE/American tourists or whether it's because that ordering is more natural to German I'm not sure--the German version of the website refers to it only as Der Main.  German speakers?

I've had a quick look for rivers in the US and UK that have the same name, but haven't succeeded in finding any--but we can see what happened when the English River Avon went to Canada and Australia. According to Wikipedia, the New World versions are Avon Rivers.


    1. In my experience with German, I’ve never seen the name of a river preceded or followed by the word “Fluss”. It’s always just “der [Name]”.

    2. In Connecticut it is the Thames River, but it's also pronounced differently (/TeImz/, not/tEmz/).

    3. River Moon, wider than a mile,
      I'm crossing you in style some day.

    4. Kennesaw Mountain in northern Georgia (the USA Georgia) is always called that locally, and in fact there is an incorporated town with that name. Palomar Mountain in California is usually referred to that way as well.

      The southern Appalachians (of which Kennesaw Mountain is a kind of outlier) have some mountains named Mount Something and many more mountains named Something Mountain. It is my impression that the Something Mountains are usually ridges whereas the Mount Somethings are usually more normal peaks. That Something Mountain usage for ridges extends all the way up to Pennsylvania.

      Many of the mountains that are not ridges are called something else, such as Clingman's Dome or Brasstown Bald.

      Charles Wells

    5. Hmmm....I take it British rivers don't usually have common English names? I grew up near Big River, Little River, the Russian River, and Ten Mile River, all in California. The Sacramento is enormous, so the "river" suffix is optional.

      Most of the mountains I know well are actually called "hills," or "ridges," but striking peaks are "Mount X," like Shasta and Lassen.

    6. Very few geographical features - river, mountain, town or city - in Britain have names in modern English; most were named well over a thousand years ago and their original names were in one of Old English (Anglo-Saxon), Old Norse, Norman French or Latin or in a p-Celtic British language.

      Few of those leave names that are immediately comprehensible to a modern English speaker, so it always seems decidedly odd to have names that recognisably mean something. Brits tend to laugh at "Big River" - it seems to be lacking the dignity of a name.

    7. There's a list of English rivers here
      which backs up the general River Name rule, but shows a few exceptions in the other order e.g. Lymington River. A few are referred to on the list as a one word name, e.g. Lee, but that links to an article River Lee, so may simply be the common abbreviation rather than an official name. (We'd regularly say for instance the Thames, the Ouse etc.)

      As the list includes tributaries it isn't clear if everything on the list is big enough to class as a river, but there are lots of other terms used in the names such as stream, beck, creek, brook. For these it is normal for the name to precede the term - e.g. Cod Beck, Haltwhistle Burn.

      As I understand it quite a few river names originally meant river so for instance River Yeo translates as River River. I thought that was true of the Ouse, which flows through my home town, but Wikipedia says ouse meant water.

    8. Incidentally, the East River is both a descriptive and the proper name for the body of water between Long Island and both Manhattan and the Bronx. However, it's not a river, but a tidal strait!

    9. The 'river of' form survives in a way in Scotland where you get a fair few rivers called 'water of X' (Water of Leith for example). But then the 'of' seems to have survived more generally in place names 'Bridge of X' is another common form for place names in Scotland

    10. Regarding 'river of X' and 'X river', this is similar to universities, where in BrE you can have University of Cambridge or Cambridge University, or so I understand. For US universities in AmE, the two forms aren't interchangeable. (There must be a post about that.) I guess the form 'University Cambridge' doesn't exist yet. But maybe Berkeley is not so far away. In my line of work at least, you could almost say 'the university Berkeley', just because 'Berkeley' is often understood to mean the university rather than the town. (Unless you're in the town, in which case it's just Cal, or you're into college sports, in which case it's California.)

    11. By the way, thanks for the post. I've been hoping this one would come up!

    12. In my experience, there are a select few examples of X Lake useage, localized in upstate New York. Referring to "Lake Seneca" would get you the strangest looks in Rochester, where it's always "Seneca Lake" (Or Otisco, Keuka, Cayuga, etc.) However, calling it "Ontario Lake" would get you equally strange looks. Both the great lakes and the finger lakes have Native American origins. Why the difference?

    13. As a Londoner born and bred, I question whether the Fleet is generally referred to as the "Fleet River". I don't recollect ever hearing it referred to that way, and certainly I call it the River Fleet. However, it might be relevant that the River Fleet doesn't get referred to much at all, since it is almost entirely subterrranean and most Londoners pass their lives unaware of its existence beneath their feet.

    14. @Dan Growing up, my parents would take my brother and me to Lake Welch, by Bear Mountain. Even though I don't live around there, it would still sound strange to hear it referred to as "Welch Lake." It is weird that there's such a difference when the lakes aren't that far apart.

    15. The university example is interesting. In Britain the form "Cambridge University" is the more normal usage but "University of Cambridge" tends to be used for more formal occasions because it sounds more grand and important.

    16. Although the Thames is also called London River, or the London River, at least by seamen, or at least that part of it navigable by seagoing vessels.

    17. I've just read the 2006 post on university names. It questions why British editors tend to make mistakes with university names in the US. I think the reason is because in the UK it would be unacceptable for a new university to use a name that was already in use, even if both forms were not used by the original university. In other words, even if, for example, "Lancaster University" only used that name and not also "University of Lancaster", it wouldn't be acceptable for a new university to choose the name "University of Lancaster" because it would be confused with the original one. So British writers/editors would never dream that in the US the same name could be used for two different universities, with only the difference between "University of X" / "X University" being used to distinguish between them.

    18. Regarding lake names, I believe the general rule is that large or more significant names. There are exceptions, of course.

    19. There's also "County X" vs "X County". Every Irish county is "County X", as sometimes is County Durham in England. (Other British counties are mostly -shire, with a few -sex, -folk, -set, or nothing. Formally most are "the County of X".)

      1. I remember seeing an American TV programme which had someone go to County Durham and they put "Durham County" on screen. That made me laugh. The American producers had clearly presumed that it worked the same way as in the US.

    20. For those who would like to comment on the university naming issue, could you do so at the relevant post? People do continue to read those posts, and your comment might be of use to new readers.

    21. @townmouse: The only lake in Scotland (apart from 3 or 4 small artificial ones) also retains the "of": it's the Lake of Menteith. On the other hand, I think the form is relatively rare in the names of lochs, which are usually Loch X.

    22. I find it interesting that there has been scant discussion of why the makers of the game referred to in the opening post should have chosen to use the formation Thames River when that is clearly not the local name for it. Surely they were not so ignorant and so unworldly as to think this was correct. And I can hardly believe they thought it necessary to 'translate' the name in order that the archetypal Mid-West farmer and his family would understand (cf sub-titles for Coronation Street). I would never dream of referring to the River Hudson and I would be quite happy to speak of Paris, France to an American if I felt that was necessary to aid clarity. (Especially if they came from Texas!)

    23. @Andy J
      Most likely a it's a case of They Just Didn't Care.

      Personally I think I'd be inclined to just say the Thames. I'm quite sure that's how I see it most frequently rendered in AmE.

    24. Quite a few of the US states have a Bear Mountain. It may be that only Alaska has a Mount Bear.

    25. As an Australian, I don't think either order sounds wrong for Australian river names, but the version with "River" at the end is significantly more usual, based on a couple of Google searches.

      According to Wikipedia, the Murray is called the "River Murray" in South Australia, but the "Murray River" elsewhere.

    26. The Dutch did give us "kill" as a suffix meaning "river" or "stream" -- as in Fresh Kills, Schuylkill River, Murderkill River (really!) in New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. There are also a few U.S. rivers with Spanish names, such as the Rio Grande, that are not translated to, say, Big River.

      1. Here in Vermont, we have a joke that is based in reality. When the Dutch settled in the Hudson basin, which extends to the Vermont border, they pointed to the river and asked the Natives "What is that called?" Answer "Batten" "Ah, the Dutch said, Batten Kill, and wrote it on their maps. Then the English came along and took over. Pointing to the river, they asked "What is that called?" "Batten Kill". "Ah, Batten Kill River", the English said, and wrote it on their maps. And so it remains to this day: the Batten Kill River (River River River), which arises in Vermont and flows into New York state. I wonder how many other river rivers there are.

        Another note about AmE names of rivers: Very significatn rivers seem to be regarded as entities unto themselves, and like the Thames of London, referred to as simply the Hudson, the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio, the Monongahela, the Columbia, the Colorado, the Sacramento. My observation is that this has less to do with size than it does with how it defines the surrounding landscape.

    27. With US mountains, it seems that "Peak" is post (Pike's Peak, Sandia Peak, Long's Peak), "Mount" and "Mont" are pre (Mount Blanca, Mount Evans, Mt. Harvard*) and "Mountain" is at least usually post (Rolling Thunder Mountain, Stone Mountain, Snowmass Mountain).

      Lakes can be either pre or post, though many of the biggest seem to be pre (Leech Lake, at 45000ha is perhaps an exception).

      Canyon seems to be often post (Black Canyon, Eldorado Canyon, Grand Canyon, Snake River Canyon -- a twofer, but Canyon de Chelly).

      Oh, and Rio Grande River (definitely not River Rio Grande 8-) ) is mildly entertaining, as is Table Mesa.

      * In the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.

      1. Keeping in mind that the Rio Grande is called in Mexico (and along part of the American side as well) "Rio Bravo del Norte."

    28. It's interesting that we say, in American English, "The Rock of Gibraltar" and not "Gibraltar Rock";
      the "Straights of Magellan" not "Magellan's Straights." But of course this discussion could lead us into "The Triangle of Bermuda." No, wait....

    29. @Elizabeth.

      I'm sure you're right. Still, I suppose that's better that than they could care less

    30. "However, it might be relevant that the River Fleet doesn't get referred to much at all, since it is almost entirely subterrranean and most Londoners pass their lives unaware of its existence beneath their feet."

      I was going to say that. I know of it as I used to work on Fleet Street (and once bought a 17th century print of the river). But I doubt many Londoners, let alone non-Londoners, know of it at all.

    31. There's a very interesting book on London's lost rivers, including the Fleet, the Effra, the Westbourne, etc.

      I don't think I'd use "River" as either a prefix or a suffix except for clarity - I'd just say the Adur or the Arun or the Thames; the French don't use it either - la Seine, la Meuse, la Rhone....

    32. Perhaps this is off-topic, but it occurs to me that I've never heard any generic terms for smaller waterways in Britain. In American English, we use "creek" for smaller streams -- though I gather that in British English, the term is used strictly for an inlet -- and in my part of the world (western Pennsylvania), a "run" is smaller yet.

      Both these forms always follow the proper name, such as "Redbank Creek" or "Bear Run" (this last being the stream that runs under Fallingwater, the Kaufmann house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright).

      Does BrE make such distinctions between very small streams and larger rivers?

    33. @Brian I think we have too many dialect words for flowing water that's not a ditch but isn't big enough to be a river - they are burns in Scotland and becks in the North East of England. Don't forget, our rivers tend to be considerably narrower than yours!

    34. We also have creek in BrE, though not very commonly (see Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier).

      For me, in England, I think the order is determined by whether the name is more like a description or more like a title. So the 'London River' but the 'River Thames'.

    35. Oh, also, it would be worth pointing out that even our biggest rivers are not very big in global terms. The longest is the River Severn at 220 miles. The widest estuaries are several miles across, but inland, no river is more than a few hundred feet.

    36. Here in Dublin, I have only ever heard reference to“ The River Liffey”, never The Liffey River. To my ears it sounds really odd. The same goes for the River Shannon, River Slaney, River Barrow, River Dodder and most other Rivers that I can think of in Ireland. Though, generally we leave out the “River” pary and refer to them as The Liffey, The Shannon, The Dodder etc.

    37. @ Brian

      Streams near me (east Scotland) are called burns. According to Wikipedia, British names for streams are:

      * Beck is used in Yorkshire, Lancashire , Dumfriesshire and Cumbria.

      * Bourne is used in the chalk downland of southern England.

      * Brook is used in the Midlands, Lancashire and Cheshire.

      * Burn is used in Scotland and North East England.

      * Nant is used in Wales.

      * Stream is used in Southern England.

      * Syke is used in lowland Scotland and Cumbria.

      * Allt is used in Highland Scotland.

    38. "Brook" is definitely used in England to describe a very small river, or at least it is in the central part of the country where I live.

    39. Mrs Redboots: "Don't forget, our rivers tend to be considerably narrower than yours!"

      Sometimes yes; sometimes no. "River" in the Western US is very different than "River" in the Eastern US. Out here (Colorado), a "river" might have a flow of less than 1/2 cubic foot/second.

      Of course, that same river might also have a flow of over 30000 cfs at a different time.

      That's a fairly extreme case, but it's pretty common for a "river" to be shallow enough to walk across without getting your knees wet for much of the year.

    40. Donaufluss, Rheinfluss, Elbefluss and so on do exist, but they do seem to have a slightly poetic tone from that wonderful corpus linguistics resource called Google.

    41. In AmE, I've noticed we use both the "Lake George" and the "Rye Lake" patterns. Once I thought there was a logic since many "X Lake" ones are man-made reservoirs. This is not a reliable rule though, since Lake Powell and Lake Mead are both huge reservoirs, and Crater Lake is entirely natural.

      Ponds, though, are always of the "Walden Pond" or "Mill Pond" form.

      I don't know what the colonists who founded New London, Connecticut originally called their waterway, but nowadays it's the Thames River, (pronounced like James, but with the TH.)

    42. Living since 25 years in Germany, and having checked with two natives, the German way of saying it (if it's said at all - it's not normal in German) is: the River Rhine, the River Isar, the River Main, which concurs with mainland European and BE usage.

      In respect of accuracy, I have to mention that this refers to South German usage (I don't think the North Germans do it differently, but I haven't any source confirmations, and one can be surprised at what differences there are).

    43. @ Brian. I live near Land's End in Cornwall, UK. This is a narrow peninsula where nowhere is more than five miles from the sea. As a result, local streams do not have the chance to become big, even by puny British standards. When we first came here, we were amused to hear the four-foot wide stream in our garden called a 'river', but now it seems normal to us....

    44. I think I am right in saying that all the lakes in the English Lake District have the lake word second - Bassenthwaite Lake, Buttermere, Coniston Water, etc. But in the (fairly common) "incorrect" versions of the names the lake word sometimes comes first - Lake Windermere, Lake Coniston, etc.

      Can it be that this is a time difference; that at some point, both in the Americas and in Britain and in the empire we started changing the position of the lake word? And thus Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika etc?

    45. @picky: though OED had lots of info about word order and 'river', it doesn't seem to have any about word order and 'lake'...

    46. if the QI episode that mentioned it is right (though I have to say, that is an if) there's only one lake in the Lake District with Lake as part of its official name. The others are all Namemere or Name Water etc.

    47. Yep, that's Bassenthwaite Lake

    48. In German, each river is either masculine or feminine and you simply use the article and the river's name. You don't specify that it's a river you're talking about, it might just as well be a mountain: die Rhône, der Rhein, die Elbe, der Mississippi, der Amazonas etc.

    49. @Gary McQueen - interesting. Since moving to Dumfriesshire, I've not heard anyone refer to a stream as a beck but I'll keep an ear out. I have noticed that smaller rivers (larger than a burn) do often get called 'something Water' rather than river; my favourite is the rather disconcertingly named 'Eweswater' which I don't think reflects its original source... (and it's definitely a river here, rather than a lake as seems to be the case in the Lake district if the other commenters are anything to go by)

    50. This comment has been removed by the author.

    51. @biggerbox

      According to the wikipedia the Thames River was called any number of things in the past, namely the Pequot River, Frisius River, Great River of Pequot, Little Fresh River, Mohegan River, New London River, and Pequod River. Though I'll admit as someone from Massachusetts the only one I've heard before is the Pequot River and that only in history class when talking about the Pequot War/massacre.

    52. We in Louisiana tend to use XX Name per French and Spanish standards for bodies of water, e.g. Bayou Teche, Lake Maurepas. "Bayou" is closely equivalent to "river", and those with "River" in the name likely started in another state and retain their AmE naming conventions (e.g. Mississississippi River, which I believe is only ever called "the Mississippi" or "the River"). Still, I recall that even where a river has such in its name, people in francophone areas may use River X, e.g. River Mermentau, when bothering to say "river" at all.

    53. If it's a description, it usually comes before the noun. I always smile when I go through the Coast Range and see the leash-warning signs from the "County of Lake," posted on the shore of Clear Lake. I hope no one calls it "Lake Clear."

      On the other hand, "County of Mendocino," and "County of Sacramento" seem quite reasonable. Those are names, not descriptions.

      I'm sure there are exceptions, but I would not expect to see a "Mount Cloudy," but a "Cloudy Mountain."

      But it's Mount Shasta, Mount Lassen and Lake Tahoe. I don't know why it's Folsom Lake, and not Lake Folsom. It's a reservoir, but right below it is the much smaller Lake Natoma. Both are on the American River, whose name is an awkward translation from the Spanish "Rio de los Americanos."

      In normal usage "river" and "mount(ains)" are commonly dropped, but they're always used in newspaper articles and the like, even local ones. The Mississippi might be an occasional exception to that.

    54. @ Mrs Redboots
      @ Gary McQueen
      @ sprhoyle

      Thanks to all three of you for your responses! I have to say that I like the long list of local terms. (It reminds me of the "American fruit desserts" section of the Joy of Cooking, full of grunts and slumps and brown betties and pandowdies.)

      It's interesting that quite of the few of the Scottish terms mentioned, based on Wikipedia (and the comment by @ townmouse) seem to take the form of X Burn or X Water, much like all the American stream terms tend to do.

      And "river" can definitely be of many different sizes in North America as well. The one in my hometown is only about 3 feet deep at this time of year -- but it's part of the Mississippi system, so by the time that water is 2000 miles downstream at New Orleans, there's a lot more of it.

    55. You happen to have been mentioned in my blog today, with a specific mention of this post.

    56. As a native speaker of German, I've never heard "Donaufluss", "Rheinfluss" etc. and they sound very strange to me - even in a poetic context. I wouldn't add "Fluss" to a river's name at all unless I thought the person I was talking to might not know that it was a river, in which case I would say "der Fluss Rhein".
      As a speaker of British English (it's what I learned at school and I have lived in England), I'd definitely parse "Thames River Authority" as "Thames [River Authority]".

    57. It appears that there is a lot of regional variation in lake naming patterns across the U.S. The examples cited in the post strike my ear as exceptions - growing up in the lake-rich Great Lakes region, I consider X lake to be the dominant form and Lake X to be an anomaly (although all of the Great Lakes - Superior, Michigan, Ontario, Erie and Huron are so named).

      Happily, I have a source to verify my hunches: "Wisconsin Lakes", a compilation of vital statistics published by the wisconsin department of natural resources in 2001 (PUB-FH-800).

      Acoording to this handy book, the state of Wisconsin has 6,044 named lakes. By my count there are only 28 lakes that follow the Lake X pattern (including lakes that are named in french, e.g. Lac Vieux Desert and Lac Sault Dore, but making no attempt to check for double entries due to lakes forming part of a county boundary).

      As an aside, The five most common lake names in wisconsin, collectively accounting for 344 lakes, are Mud Lake, Bass Lake, Long Lake, Spring Lake and Lost Lake.

    58. well, I'd agree that German speakers use just the name of the river: der Rhein, die Donau, der Kongo,...

      In school I learnt River X as we were taught BE. But I believe that X River comes more naturally for German speakers. We use compounds for other things in nature, like lakes (See in German: Lake Constance becomes the Bodensee and Lago di Garda becomes Gardasee. Similarly, German mountains are often (but not always) named X mountain - Xberg, but never Mount X. So X river follows this pattern but River X does not. Although the translation of the tourist board might well depend on the particular translator they chose for the job...

    59. I'm not sure whether it's too late to leave a comment here, but I think I may have the answer.

      In Britain, normal usage is just to use the name of the river, the Thames, The Severn etc. So although it is a noun on its own, adding 'River' is using it as an adjective. So it goes in front of the name.

      The exception 'the London River' for the Thames demonstrates this. The river's name is the Thames and everyone knows this. So in that context, 'river' is being used as a noun and London as an adjective.

      It would be natural for a British speaker of English to use the same convention of rivers elsewhere in the world, the Amazon, the Nile, the Mississippi, the Colorado, the Hudson, in each case on their own.

      I suspect US usage might derive from the name originally being the adjective and the river being the noun, as in "Big River, Little River, the Russian River, and Ten Mile River". They were rivers before they had names, whereas ours have had names since before time.

      The fact that Irish usage is the same as UK usage would support this reasoning.

      I'd definitely agree that in Thames River Authority, Thames is an adjective qualifying River Authority, since there are various other River Authorities, Conservancy Boards etc covering different river systems.

      On Windermere, I can recall being told off as a child for saying Lake Windermere. 'It's just Windermere, because 'mere' already means 'lake'.

      Mind the same also applies to Avon, but that's a different language.

    60. Yes, I think that's it. American rivers were named within historic memory, and the names are treated as adjectives.

      The American River in California is an odd case: while California was still part of Mexico, it was named, in Spanish, 'Rio de los Americanos." The translation into English effectively changed the meaning.

    61. Here in Canada, I've only ever heard X River in my area.

      Living in London, Ontario, we all say that we sit on the forks of the Thames River as apposed to the River Thames. Of course, the original settlers may just have been trying to be different from their bigger cousin. Of course, settling on the forks of a river called the Thames and calling yourself London doesn't hint towards originality.

    62. I live in British Columbia at the confluence of the Kickinghorse and the Columbia. Above town is Mount Seven. The Blaeberry Valley is referred to here as "the Blaeberry." Down valley is Lake Windermere. People tend to leave "river" off the name here. There is the usual mix of Lake X and X lake. All this is fascinating stuff.
      In Ontario there are Port Stanley, Port Dover, etc.
      In my childhood in Nova Scotia I spent time at a cottage on Lochaber Lake (Lake Aber Lake!. There are places there like Fortress Louisbourg, Annapolis Royal, Thorburn, Cape Blomidon, etc.
      This would definitely be a great subject for a scholastic paper.

    63. @Pascal, Julie and the commentators on German usage: I can think of only one exception to the German rule that there is never an explicit word for river in a river name, whether the river is a Fluss or a Strom: der Sankt-Lorenz-Strom always has Strom as part of its name.

      It's really funny, looking at the German wikipedia's long list of examples of rivers that are Ströme, to see them all without a term for river, except the St. Lawrence.

    64. I live near St. Louis, on the Mississippi(River) and we NEVER call it the Mississippi River, we either say the Mississippi, or the River, as in "I have to drive over the River to get to work" (I live on the Illinois side of the River)

    65. Late comment. My fave in UK. Is the River Avon down here in the Westcountry. It starts in Wales & the Welsh for river is Avon (pr. ahvv-on). Doesn't take much to see that this is a double named river! The avon afon.

    66. This post is years late for this thread but Lynne referred me to the thread when I raised something with her.

      Reading the thread and thinking a bit about it, I go with Anonymous of 02 September, 2010. I think he/she is onto something.

      In the old world, the name came first. Often it's older than the language we now use. Some river names are said to go back to languages that have been lost and forgotten. So the name is the noun and 'River' is an optional adjective. The sentence makes perfectly good sense without it. Nobody needs to tell us that the Thames or the Severn is a river.

      It would make sense that in the new world, the name is more likely to be seen as an adjective. It was given second, to something that was already a river. You might not have to put the word 'River' into the sentence, but once you do, the name has to go first.

      I too agree that in Thames River Authority,as a speaker of BrEng, Thames is an adjective qualifying River Authority.

      I was also told off as a child for referring to Lake Windermere.

      Coniston is sort of regularly irregular, since Coniston Water appears to get its name because it is next to the village called Coniston rather than the other way round.

    67. Lynne, you might be interested to know that Swedish also calls rivers "å". That could be an outdated finlandssvensk thing though, as that is what some rivers are called here in Finland (for example the Vandaå or River Vantaa near me). "Älv" is also found in Finland.

    68. This was a particularly apposite post to have encountered so shortly after - in a conversation with my brother - he mentioned the way in which the word 'County' precedes the name of the place when referring to 'County Durham' and the counties on the island of Ireland whereas it follows in the case of the counties of the United States, unless there are one or two exceptions about which I do not know!

      That idea where a British English speaker refers to 'River X' but 'X Brook' is (sort of!) reflected in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I say "sort of" since I cannot imagine there being many instances where a Czech speaker would put 'Řeka' or a Slovak speaker 'Rieka' in front of river names when talking of rivers generally - although, if it ever did occur, I'm fairly sure that it would precede - but in both cases the word 'Potok' ('Brook'/'Stream' etc.) would follow the name when talking of less substantial water-courses and would actually be uttered.

      So, in Slavonic languages, where there is no concept of articles, as far as I am aware, one doesn't even get an equivalent of 'The' with the river names, let alone an equivalent of the word 'River', either preceding or following!

      Finally, this observation of yours points out that a street plan of Bratislava I have must have been printed with an American English-speaking audience in mind, since 'Dunaj' is translated as 'Danube River', which sounds really strange to me!

    69. Your article mentions "the River Cam" as a modern example. Does that mean it was previously called The River Of Cam?

      Does that mean that Cam is a place? How does that relate to the name Cambridge (bridge over the Cam)? It all feels very self referential to me!

      1. In the case of Cambridge, the town name came first and then the River's name (originally the Granta) changed to match it. See: https://www.varsity.co.uk/features/8856


    The book!

    View by topic



    AmE = American English
    BrE = British English
    OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)