Column: Raise a glass to hydronomy


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

At some point, every person thinks about making his mark — leaving his legacy in this world. Because I tend to think literally, I have always thought it would be cool to have a geographical feature named after me. I’m not asking for an ocean or anything, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a street in the nice area of town. I’d even be open to a ditch.

There’s a ditch in Fishers with a sign displayed in classic road-sign green with familiar white lettering: Shoemaker Ditch. It’s a humble ditch that announces itself with all the fanfare of an intrastate highway. Every time I pass the sign, I wonder: Did Mr. or Ms. Shoemaker contribute to the history and development of this area? Or did one of them die a shoddy death in this shallow-depth ditch? The mind races.

Of course, you know what’s coming next. There’s a word for the name of a body of water: a hydronym. Hydronym (Greek for “water name”) is a subset of geographical toponyms (place names). Hydronomy refers to the naming of any body of water. I’m going to lump ditches and ponds in with rivers, lakes, fjords, seas and oceans. Even small, manmade bodies of water should count, IMHO (in my hydronymic opinion).

This got me to wondering: Who gets to name bodies of water? This winding river of research led me to a group called the International Hydrographic Organization, or IHO. The IHO is made up of 97 countries that agree on standards for surveying and charting bodies of water.

All’s well and good in the IHO until a naming dispute arises. Take the Sea of Japan, for instance. This is the internationally recognized name for the body of water bordered by Japan, North Korea, South Korea and Russia. However, South Korea prefers “East Sea,” while North Korea likes “Korean East Sea.” In 1992, the IHO decided to include “East Sea” as a secondary hydronym for the Sea of Japan. The North Koreans still aren’t happy.

If you need a reason to celebrate on June 21, take the day off to celebrate World Hydrography Day, a day in which you celebrate the importance of hydrography. Of course, the group of folks who get to decide on names of bodies of water (the IHO) also invented this holiday. So, when June 21 rolls around, raise a tall glass of water to hydrography and hydronyms. Perhaps some year in the not-too-distant future, part of that holiday will include the ribbon-cutting for Honeycutt Ditch.