Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/67

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63
NATURE NAMES IN AMERICA
NATURE NAMES IN AMERICA
By SPENCER TROTTER
SWARTHMORE COLLEGE

WHEN Adam, or the cave man, began giving names to the things of the earth and the things of the sky, it was probably with a view to a better personal acquaintance with the objects and for a ready means of conjuring up their images to the mind. In the same spirit a learned professor later defined a system of classification as a series of pegs to hang ideas on. If we are of a mind with Juliet as to the matter of calling a rose by any other name, we accept an undeniable fact, a scientific proposition, but we are at the same time in danger of losing a certain flavor and zest of life, a subtle something in our conscious relation to the things of this world. At least this is true of those of us who are highly endowed with a sense of the fitness of a name for the thing that it stands for. It is more than likely that the man or woman possessing this keen relish for a name will unhesitatingly repudiate the statement of Juliet, preferring rather to live in the delightful delusion of the name itself. It is the conjuring up the image of the thing, the making it a part of the inner conscious self, that has so much to do with the background of our happiness. How could it be otherwise in this age-long association of words and things? Our life is a life of words, and whether we see the printed word, or hear it spoken, it is to us one with the thing itself, and the thing itself is but the word materialized.

This delight in a word for the sake of its associations, though intensely personal, is after all in a large way a matter of race history. What we call the 'mother tongue' an expression that in itself suggests the most vital relation in human life, is the handing down of inherited speech; as important in its way as the transmission of blood and of brain cell. As the bodily substance may change under the influence of new environments, so a language may change under like conditions, and yet each will bear throughout its structure the large features of its ancestry. It is a matter of some interest to trace out the effects of the new world on the thought and speech of the early colonists and the incorporation of any changes thus wrought into the language of the people. In pursuing this inquiry I have directed my attention to the names imposed by the settlers on the natural features of the land and the more familiar living objects, such as plants, mammals and birds. These were obvious features in the physical environment, a knowledge of which was often of the first moment to the pioneer, and