Maps

Name That Waterway

The words we use for rivers and streams change with their geography


Is that a run, a kill or a fork? Or is it actually just a regular old stream? When it comes to naming waterways, it all seems to depend on your geography.

This map, created by designer Derek Watkins, color-codes the waterways of the U.S. by names they’re given. As Watkins explains, these names have their own name: toponyms, which are general descriptions of geographic features. The degree of geographical concentration of certain name types is pretty striking. Brooks tend to stay in New England, and bayous are primarily in the Louisiana-Mississippi area. Cañadas, rios and arroyos are concentrated in the Southwest. Branches seem to have the widest territory, covering much of the southeastern corner of the country.

Of course, the terms "river" and "creek" are also pretty ubiquitous, which led Watkins to simply map those more generic terms in grey.

The variety of names for waterways is interesting, and maybe a bit confusing. But it’s also helpful in a way—it’s pretty easy to get an idea about where a brook or a bayou is located. Sloughs, on the other hand, are more difficult to pin down.

(H/T: Greater Greater Washington)

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.