Water Feature Names

Confluence of Caney Fork River and Big Spring (creek), Bridgestone Firestone Centennial Wilderness WMA, White County, Tennessee
I was curious after a conversation with fellow geographer, David Starnes, what the frequency of descriptors (which I call classes for the purpose of this analysis) like stream, creek, branch, prong, fork, etc. are regionally. I did some analysis, and here are some tables of what I found. Details of the analysis follow the tables.

I very well could have called this "Hierarchical Water Feature Name Frequency using GNIS in the NHD Regions 5 and 6" but opted for a more user friendly title given my audience. For this analysis I utilized the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) which gets names for features from the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).

I joined NHD data to the NHD Plus data to get stream order information, which for the lay user could be considered a measure of the size of the stream. Since I was interested in changes in the descriptors of smaller water features grading upwards to larger water features, stream order was the easiest measure to work from and hierarchically organize the data.

I used Excel to isolate the final word in each water feature name to see only the descriptor. I counted frequency of each descriptor by stream order, as well as the length of stream miles associated with each. Both the count and length can be used to assess frequency.

Table 1 (Water Feature Names : Modal Data) shows the number of unique descriptors associated with each stream order, as well as the mileage of each stream order in terms of total, named, and unnamed features. The class mode shows the most frequently used descriptor.

Table 2 (Water Feature Names : Data) shows the individual descriptors for each stream order and their respective frequency and length. Interesting descriptors point to unique place names such as The Slough in Meigs County, Ohio; The Thoroughfare in Pleasants County, West Virginia; Right Fork Dixfork in Pike County, Kentucky; Upper River Deshee in Knox County, Indiana; Old Kinniconick Bed in Lewis County, Kentucky; Big Sang Kill in Mingo County, West Virginia; and Virginia Rill in Martin County, Indiana. Curious names likely have interesting stories. If you know one of them, leave me a comment!

Cumberland River and Obey River confluence, Clay County, Tennessee


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