Vol. 64 No. 4 (2016)

Beyond the Branding Iron: Cattle Brands as Heritage Place Names in the State of Montana

Published 2016-10-01


  • women’s courtesy titles,
  • form of address,
  • Chinese surnames,
  • transcultural gender-related onomastics


For more than two centuries, American cattle ranchers have used hot-iron brands as the primary means of identifying and asserting ownership of their animals. American cattle brands consist of highly visible symbols containing letters, numbers, and/or images which may appear individually or in any combination. Every cattle brand symbol has a corresponding name that occurs in spoken and written (alphabetized) form. By virtue of purposeful naming strategies, cattle brands display a range of associations with other types of names. These onomastic relationships reflect underlying connections between cattle brands and various elements in their socio-cultural surroundings, and offer some fascinating insights into the history, culture, and social structure of American cattle-ranching communities. This paper specifically examines the practice of naming towns and ranches after cattle brands in the State of Montana, and explains how this phenomenon comprises a unique aspect of the region’s cultural heritage.


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