Vol. 65 No. 4 (2017)

Squaw Teats*, Harney Peak, and Negrohead Creek*: A Corpus-Linguistic Investigation of Proposals to Change Official US Toponymy to (Dis)honor Indigenous US Americans

Published 2017-10-02


  • Palimpsest,
  • toponyms,
  • dual naming,
  • cultural landscapes,
  • occupance


Each year, the US Government receives hundreds of petitions to alter the official name of a geographical feature. Since the nineteenth century, the US Board on Geographic Names (USBGN) has had the task of assessing these requests with a view toward standardizing the nation’s toponymic inventory. During its decision-making, the Board seeks to maximize consistency in the formation, selection, and application of official toponyms, while minimizing potential public injury. The challenges in this regulatory balancing act are particularly apparent with regard to indigenous place names. Using an original corpus compiled from 10 years of USBGN petitions, this empirical study identified patterns in the type, motivation, and argumentation used to (dis)honor Native American identities, histories, and cultures via names and naming. After introducing the UsBGN's policies and practices, these findings are presented with several illustrative examples. The article ends by contextualizing the findings within the broader PC debate and offering future research suggestions.


  1. Adams, George. 2001. General William S. Harney: Prince of Dragoons. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
  2. Baldauf, Richard. 2010. Rearticulating the Case for Micro Language Policy in a Language Ecology Context. Current Issues in Language Planning 7 (2–3): 147–170.
  3. Bright, William. 2000. The Sociolinguistics of the ‘S-Word’: Squaw in American Place Names. Names 48 (3–4): 207–216.10.1179/nam.2000.48.3-4.207
  4. Bright, William. 2004. A Glossary of Native American Toponyms and Ethnonyms from the Lewis and Clark Journals. Names 52 (3): 163–237.10.1179/nam.2004.52.3.163
  5. David, Jaroslav. 2011. Commemorative Place Names — Their Specificity and Problems. Names 59 (4): 214–228.10.1179/002777311X13082331190074
  6. Gasque, Thomas. 2000. Structure and Controversy: What Names Authorities Adjudicate. Names 48 (3–4): 199–206.10.1179/nam.2000.48.3-4.199
  7. Heikkilä, Karen, and Gail Fondahl. 2010. Indigenous Toponyms as Pedagogical Tools: Reflections from Tl’azt’en Nation, British Columbia. Fennia 188 (1): 105–122.
  8. Kana’iaupuni, Shawn, and Nolan Malone. 2006. “This Land is My Land: The Role of Place in Native Hawaiian Identity.” Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being 3 (1): 281–307.
  9. King, Richard. 2003. De/Scribing Squ*w: Indigenous Women and Imperial Idioms in the United States. American Indian Culture and Research Journal 27 (2): 1–16.10.17953/aicr.27.2.97761545p7401436
  10. Makoni, Busi, Sinfree Makoni, and Pedzisai Mashiri. 2007. Naming Practices and Language Planning in Zimbabwe. Current Issues in Language Planning 8 (3): 437–467.
  11. McArthur, Lewis. 1996. Anglicized Native American Place names in Oregon: Their Number and Distribution. Names 44 (4): 322–332.10.1179/nam.1996.44.4.322
  12. Merskin, D. 2010. The S-Word: Discourse. Stereotypes. And the American Indian Woman. The Howard Journal of Communications 21: 345–366.10.1080/10646175.2010.519616
  13. Monmonier, Mark. 2006. From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  14. Mühlhäusler, Peter. 2010. Language Planning and Language Ecology. Current Issues in Language Planning 1 (3): 306–367.
  15. Orth, Donald, and Roger Payne. 1997. Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Geographic Names. US Department of the Interior and the USBGN. Accessed June 1, 2017. https://www.georgiaarchives.org/documents/USGBN_policies.pdf.
  16. Tent, Jan. 2015. Approaches to Research in Toponymy. Names 63 (2): 65–74.
  17. Wilkinson, Melanie, R. Marika, and Nancy Williams. 2009. “This Place Already Has a Name.” In Aboriginal Place names: Naming and re-Naming the Australian Landscape, edited by Harold Koch and Luise Hercus, 403–362. Canberra: ANU Press.