Vol. 71 No. 1 (2023): NAMES: A Journal of Onomastics

An Exploration of River Names in China

Yuan Sun
Foreign Language College of Jiangxi Normal University
Xiangyong Jiang
Foreign Language College of Jiangxi Normal University

Published 2023-03-14


  • toponym,
  • cognitive process,
  • China,
  • hydronym,
  • rivers,
  • metonymy
  • ...More


As a subtype of toponym, hydronyms reflect people’s perception, understanding, and contemplation of waterbodies. With data collected from authoritative gazetteers, this study classifies the names of 189 major rivers distributed across Mainland China into seven categories to extrapolate general rules governing river-naming in China. The results show that descriptive names comprise the biggest share. Based on this study’s research findings, this article also discusses the complex cognitive processes, including conceptual metonymy, conceptual metaphor, and conceptual blending involved in river-naming in China. Specifically, based on the principles of proximity and prominence, the most frequently employed types were the following metonymies: PLACE FOR RIVER, PROPERTY FOR RIVER, PERSON FOR RIVER, EVENT FOR RIVER, and FUNCTION FOR RIVER. As this research shows, river naming in China is not arbitrary, but highly motivated.


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