Volume 7, Number 2, Winter 1980
Man is the naming animal, and the names man has given places are called placenames. Early settlers in Missouri and Arkansas naturally took on the task of naming creeks, rivers, mountains, and other natural geographical formations, as well as newly laid-out villages.
Many people believe that the task of naming is a task completed as they look at the many common and sometimes quaint but always interesting names on the map. They believe that a study of placenames is "history". But names change. Some areas grow, others dont. Old names die. New names are added, and current naming is tomorrows placename history.
Because southern Missouri and northern Arkansas is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States, the increase in population and the changes in the landscape to accommodate that population are creating a boom in placenames--and most are largely being ignored and uncollected and unstudied.
As this region grows, what might have been known as McCalls Farm became a named subdivision, laid out and with newly named streets. Towns which for generations never had officially named streets (they didnt need to because everybody knew where everybody else lived) have recently acquired named streets and street signs.
Many of these streets are named for trees, Indian tribes, relatives of the subdivider or for other local people--for the myriad of reasons people choose names, and in twenty or thirty years, the names will remain but the reasons and the information behind the naming will have largely disappeared.
A good armchair study that would be of great value to future historians could be (and should be) done for many of our growing towns and communities.
All it would take would be a box of 4 x 6 cards to record the placename and information about it. Such a research project could be done largely with city maps and the telephone.
Such a study would be fun (one meets some interesting people and hears some interesting stories) and would make an inexpensive hobby. It would be a delightful way to learn about your town and the people in it, and the information gathered would be appreciated by your local library now and local historians in the future.
Names on the land have intrigued writers and poets, because placenames often have the touch of the poet about them. Placenames can be the spark that fires the imagination, and they can be the raw material for a poem, as these two poems attest.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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