What’s in a Name?

Place names have an astonishing tendency towards repetition; they are usually very local designations.  Frequently, they simply modify more basic geographic terms: farm, town, ford, hill, pond and in the various dialects and languages: a farm is also ‘by’ for example; while ‘town’, ‘ton’, ‘burg’, ‘burgh’, ‘wick’, ‘borough’…etc., all reflect various types of cities, and those terms are not the total list for ones in the English language.  These then tend to be modified by a fairly limited set of adjectives.  In New Hartford, an excellent example of this is ‘West Hill Pond’….there are plenty of hills, and ponds, farther west.  But if one considers the fact that New Hartford also has an East Hill (now Jones Mountain) and a Town Hill, then West Hill makes literal sense: the hill to the west of the town center.

West Hill pond has had two other designations in the past three centuries: ‘Lake Wonksunkmunk’ and ‘Shepard’s Pond’.  Unlike its current name, these two reflect the other common tendency amongst place names: connection to an individual.  Supposedly, Wonksunkmunk was the name of the chief of the Native American tribe, unidentified, that used the area as a seasonal hunting ground in the pre-colonial era.  The other name, ‘Shepard’s Pond, remembers the purported first settler on the pond’s shore: one Daniel Shephard in 1738.

There is, of course, also the issue of whether it is properly a lake or a pond….



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