George R. Stewart’s classic study of place-naming in the United States was written during World War II as a tribute to the varied heritage of the nation’s peoples. More than half a century later, Names on the Land remains the authoritative source on its subject, while Stewart’s intimate knowledge of America and love of anecdote make his book a unique and delightful window on American history and social life.
Names on the Land is a fascinating and fantastically detailed panorama of language in action. Stewart opens with the first European names in what would later be the United States—Ponce de León’s flowery Florída, Cortés’s semi-mythical isle of California, and the red Rio Colorado—before going on to explore New England, New Amsterdam, and New Sweden, the French and the Russian legacies, and the unlikely contributions of everybody from border ruffians to Boston Brahmins. These lively pages examine where and why Indian names were likely to be retained; nineteenth-century fads that gave rise to dozens of Troys and Athens and to suburban Parksides, Brookmonts, and Woodcrest Manors; and deep and enduring mysteries such as why “Arkansas” is Arkansaw, except of course when it isn’t.
Names on the Land will engage anyone who has ever wondered at the curious names scattered across the American map. Stewart’s answer is always a story—one of the countless stories that lie behind the rich and strange diversity of the USA.
It chronicles the nomenclatural adventures of explorers, legislators, and common folk and amounts to a fizzy refresher on America’s past and her character. It proceeds in a spruce voice that’s a model for producing scholarship that doesn’t feel leaden, and it further inspires meditations on tricks of rhetoric and laws of euphony….Perhaps most importantly, it is an aid to fighting tedium: You are about to have several hundred conversations touching on the matter of where your interlocutor is from, and Stewart gives you a map for navigating this chatter with a bit of style.
—Troy Patterson, Slate
George R. Stewart, midcentury novelist and co-founder of the American Name Society, gave onomastics a good name with his classic Names on the Land (1945), a learned and rollicking act of patriotic toponymy. Its republication, with a graceful introduction by Matt Weiland, is a welcome reminder that the polyglot medley on our maps is, as Mr. Stewart says, “a chief glory of our heritage”…few authors or books are more American—in every good sense of that word—than George R. Stewart and Names on the Land.
— Wall Street Journal
Important, useful, interesting….Names on the Land is a wonderful work of original research and a fine book to dip into.
— The New York Times
An enchanting book, written with wisdom and wit and an almost austere poetry….Like all really good books, regardless of subject, it has a light to cast.
— Journal of American Folklore
Unusual and excellent…put together in a fascinating manner…The style is also enchanting and leaves an impression that is not quickly forgotten…Here is a book, in short, that may be read frontwards or backwards or from the middle in either direction and be fully enjoyed.
— American Speech
Names on the Land was first published in 1945 and has remained a classic in the field of onomastics—the study of proper names and their meanings.
— Los Angeles Times
— Minneapolis Star—Tribune
A book so interestingly and delightfully written is certain to have wide appeal…Like all really good books, regardless of subject, it has light to cast: something of which there seems to be never enough to go around.
— Journal of American Folkore