• waterfalls;
  • place names;
  • hydronyms;
  • George R. Stewart;
  • typology


As features of the landscape, waterfalls have been studied extensively by geographers, but the names given to these landforms have received relatively little scholarly attention. This paper examines the naming of waterfalls and addresses the question of classifying these hydronyms. The subject is considered in a global historical context, focusing on place names in the anglophone world. Until the 18th and 19th centuries, relatively few waterfalls were named. With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, water power rose in economic importance, and at the same time, there was a growing scientific and aesthetic engagement with the landscape. These developments are suggested as reasons for the increased interest in waterfalls which were then being recorded in topographical literature and on maps, individual names being given to increasing numbers of falls. European exploration added to the knowledge of the world's waterfalls, many of which were given names by their ‘discoverers’. This naming process accelerated with the growth of domestic and overseas tourism which exploited scenic resources such as waterfalls. Until now, research on the names of waterfalls has been fragmentary, and the classification of these hydronyms has been neglected. This paper demonstrates that waterfall names can be classified in accordance with a recognised toponymic typology. Using examples drawn from waterfall guidebooks, databases, maps, and other sources, the following discussion supports George Stewart's claim that his toponymic classification is valid for place names of all kinds.