Re: [tied] Re: Pliny's "Guthalus"

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 15923
Date: 2002-10-04

Names of major rivers are often etymologically equivalent to "the River", "the Water", "the Stream", etc. Simple epithets like "Mighty", "Running", "Winding", "White" or "Black" are also popular. This monotony is precisely the reason why patterns like "Old European hydronymy" are so homogeneous despite their wide geographical range. Microhydronymy is a different thing. Even the locals need to distinguish a number of brooks and rivulets. I know of a few interesting cases when an incredibly old name for a mere brook survives locally despite being unknown to official cartography. Near the place where I lived as a child there is a rather inconsopicuous stream known as the Mrówka to everybody who is familiar with it (the name means 'ant' in Polish). On all maps that are sufficiently detailed to show it, the name is Zimna Woda 'Cold Water', unknown locally. It was only when I became interested in etymology that I discovered that Mrówka was a folk-etymological distortion of Nrówka (initial <nr-> does not occur in any modern Polish morpheme): it flows into a larger river once called the Nrowa (now Utrata, of purely Polish origin) < *norwa, an ancient name without a Slavic etymology (but with Baltic connections).
----- Original Message -----
From: Richard Wordingham
Sent: Friday, October 04, 2002 8:13 PM
Subject: [tied] Re: Pliny's "Guthalus"

The locals don't really need a name for their river; it is very much
just 'the river'.  (For example, I don't think I have ever _heard_
the name of the river that runs through the town I live in!)  However
traders, and any others who use various waterways, would need a name,
and may therefore be the effective namers.  One may even need a name
to discuss fords.  Trading goes back a very long way - Mesolithic at
least!  What relatively static locals call the river is largely

The one exception to the pronciple of naming that I can think of is
an overwhelmingly dominant river.  For that, a phrase such as 'the
main river' might suffice.  After all, in English we don't really
have a single name for our planet!  (Is it Earth?  Is it Terra?)