UPDATE: I posted this on Reddit and my “best name” was promptly beaten: https://geonames.usgs.gov/apex/f?p=138:3:::NO:3:P3_FID,P3_TITLE:865853,Bumfagging%20Hill
The contest for Best Name of a Geographic Object in New Hampshire has a new champion, thanks to an irritated former high school teacher. And he’s got an even better name in his back pocket, waiting for the right moment.
But there’s no reason we have to let him keep the trophy. Despite centuries of map-making occupation, New Hampshire still has a lot of places waiting to be given an official name and you, dear reader, could take the plunge.
“I don’t think there’s any limit to the number of things in the state that don’t have a name. Think of unnamed ponds, and then go down to seasonal wetlands, and then vernal pools, for instance. There’s no clear dividing line. The same goes for streams and hilltops,” said Ken Gallager, principal planner with the state Office of Strategic Initiatives, who is New Hampshire’s representative on the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. He sees all our attempts to name things, which are much fewer than I had suspected.
“Normally we see two or three name proposals in a year, but many of those are renaming proposals, and also some of the proposals wind up getting rejected. So overall, the number of names for previously-unnamed places is less than one per year,” Gallager said.
If this process is new to you, I suggest checking the database of official geographic names, run by the U.S. Geological Survey (geonames.usgs.gov). How else can you learn that while New Hampshire has no officially named craters, it does have five named mines, two named rapids, and 46 things named “Bald”?
Why am I writing about this, you ask? Because geeks love to name things, knowing that a name provides the cognitive context in which you can store information. For example, I can’t tell the difference between all the birds which come to our suet feeder until I learn what they’re called. Only after I know which one is a yellow-bellied sapsucker (honest!) can I start to differentiate its behavior.
Which brings us to Ron Dube, a former high school biology teacher who lives in the small southern New Hampshire town of Mason. Ron and I worked together years ago when I edited his natural-history column, but we had lost touch until I read in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript about his latest adventure.
Here’s how Dube tells it.
“I love maps – road maps, topographic maps, atlases. One day, I was looking at a topographic map of our property and saw that the waterways that pass through my property have no names, whereas other streams in town did.”
So he looked into the process of getting things officially named. Basically, you submit an application to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names and as long as it’s not rude or the name of a living person or too similar to nearby features, they consider it, getting the opinion of selectmen or the city council in the location, and eventually give it a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.
Mason approved Dube’s proposed name but much to his irritation it was nixed for obscure reasons by the neighboring town of Townsend, Mass., where the creek ends up.
“I was kind of mad,” Dube said. “It was May and the black flies out there were biting like crazy, so I said if that’s how you want it, I submitted Black Fly Brook.”
Lo and behold, that got approved – creating what is, in my humble opinion, the best geographic name in New Hampshire.
Soon, official maps will show that the water running through the culvert under Briggs Road is officially Black Fly Brook, joining 1,781 other smaller-than-rivers in the state from Abbott (there are three of those) to Zealand.
Having whet his nomenclature appetite, so to speak, Dube kicked into action. He is applying to name a pond after Bob Marshall, a local resident who contributed much to Mason, as well as labeling other small aquatic features with suggestions more appropriate for a biology teacher: Skeeter Brook, Bladderwort Bog (named after a floating plant that is taking over the wetland), and Stonefly Creek.
But he says the best is yet to come, concerning a shallow beaver pond in the north of town.
“About 12 years ago, people noticed what appeared to be a rock in the swamp that appeared to be getting larger. They attributed it to frost heaves: the ice under it freezing and thawing, and pushing it up. Somebody went out to inspect it and the closer they got, the more it smelled. When they got close they noticed it was a dead moose,” Dube said.
Nature’s decay has reduced the carcass so it’s now below the water but Dube wants to make sure it’s not forgotten.
“I’m going to call it Dead Moose Swamp,” he said, happily. “A neighbor asked me to submit it.”
A new geographic name champion in the works! You read it here first.