Who named the rivers of Europe?

From: x99lynx@...
Message: 15872
Date: 2002-10-02

Piotr wrote:
<<I don't believe this clerical conspiracy theory.>>
No conspiracy and no reason to call it that.

The fact is that you have absolutely ZERO record of names of rivers without
the scribes. The real question is where did they get the names from. If
there were multiple names or redundant local names, they would have gone to
ancient written sources. If they were trying to establish the place of their
country in antiquity, they would have gone to ancient sources. And if the
local current name did not match the name in the ancient writings, they most
probably would have opted for the authority of the ancient names.

Piotr also writes:
<<European rivernames are often rather conservative,...>>
Once again, the only way to know they are conservative is to find the names
preserved in writing. There is no proof that European rivernames are old
unless you find those names in old writing. We should not pretend we know
the names given to rivers by preliterate people who left no record of those

Piotr also writes:
<<...for example, and when the Slavs arrived in those parts, they adopted
Germanic *alb- (from whatever residual pre-Slavic population they found
there), just giving it a Slavic feminine ending. Then they subjected it to
liquid metathesis: > Laba. It all happened when the Slavs were still heathen
and pre-literate. There were no clerks about to tell them what they _should_
call the river, or to make them "correct" this Slavic deformation of the
Classical name. Yet the name survived and developed according to the regular
changes of the language, not according to anyone's prescriptions.>>

The obvious flaws in this example are::
1. How do we know what the Slavs called the Elbe if they were pre-literate?
2. When the Slavs did become literate enough to leave us their name for the
Elbe, they must have gotten that literacy from folks who would have also
informed them of the "proper name" of the Elbe.
3. Well before the Slavic name for the Elbe was first recorded, Slavs living
on the Elbe were in contact with Franks and their clerics who were aware of
everything from Theodoric to the Latin name for the Elbe. In Charlemagne's
court, western Slavic princes were already called "ancient allies" of the
4. German clerics were well established among the Western Slavs well before
the first recording of the Slavic name for the Elbe.
The fact that the name developed normally does not prove that it did not come
to the Slavs through the standardization that replaced their own name for the

And so its probably erroneous to say "There were no clerks about to tell them
what they _should_ call the river, or to make them "correct" this Slavic
deformation of the Classical name." There were probably clerks around to
give them a uniform name for the Elbe in the first place. Later developments
in the vernacular would have been made possible by adopting the "correct"
Classical name in the first place.

Piotr also writes:
<<It happens, especially with large rivers, that more than one name has been
in use (as with Da:nuvius/Istros), but our rivers are usually small by
American standards and there isn't anything remotely comparable to the
Mississippi in all Germania. Related Germanic languages were spoken along the
entire course of the Elbe, ...>>

Once again even having the same language is not the issue. Sedentary
settlers along a river have no reason to name a whole river, but only the
part they know. If it is the only river they know, there is no reason to
give that river any special name. What their friendly neighbors might call
their section of the river is of little concern. It's only when some
centralized source names the river as a whole - well beyond their local
experience - that these individual local names would lose their usage. Of
course, one of these local names might become the "official" name of the
river. But the other local names would be left unrecorded.

It's silly to think that Germanic coming down from the north and settling
along a river in small groups (there were no big towns) would all get to
gether and have a big meeting to decide on a common name for the Rhine. The
Rhine name probably was superimposed over the various local names for the
river when extensive trade along the river developed or the Romans and
writing arrived. (Or perhaps the Celts and writing arrived.) What probably
perserved the use, uniformity and spelling of the name into modern times was
however the clerics and scribes who took inventory of the land for the kings.

Again there was no conspiracy and no reason to feel that this was some kind
of cohersion. It is just a matter of understanding that there were no
official or coherent names for whole rivers and such before writing -- and
very often the classical writers supplied those official names when writing

Steve Long