153. Hydronym, noun. From Greek hydor, “water,” + onoma, “name,” this lovely little word exists so that we may have a name for the name of a body of water.
Strictly speaking, a hydronym is a proper name—an appellation for a specific river, lake, sea, creek, mountain tarn, or other wet object. Hydronyms are a rich target of geolinguistic study. They may offer, for example, information about the physical distribution and historical range of different peoples, as well as evidence for the relationships between linguistic groups. Hydronymy is a subfield of toponymy (the study of place names), which is in turn a subfield of onomastics (the study of proper names).
Out here, we call the dozens of breeding territories that pairs of curlews have established only by letters. Tomorrow, says Jake, you and I will visit P and Q; Kristine and David will cover B and H. For days I am a little blind, struggling to link a meadow, like so many other meadows, to its single bare character.
Water, however, we have names for. Sharon’s Drainage is where two years ago she was the one to discover its depths. Three Forks splits into as many channels as the front toes of a songbird. This particular water, which runs east of us and empties into Allen Creek, we call the Beaver Drainage, after those who live along it for more of the year than we. I learn its nature: at first frozen, then cascading, then reduced to a muddy rivulet that we hop over to check on the nest closest to camp.
You could count on your fingers the number of souls who know this water by this name—that is, until this moment.