English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Why are some lakes called "X Lake" and others called "Lake X"? Is there some sort of linguistic reason behind the naming?

Lake First

  • Lake Michigan
  • Lake Union (Seattle)

Lake Last

  • Great Salt Lake
  • Green Lake (Seattle)
share|improve this question
No rhyme or reason. – Gnawme Aug 6 '13 at 5:19
It is rather odd, considering that the first option doesn't appear to be available for other bodies of water. There is no Ocean Enormous, Sea Splendid, Tarn Turnip, Mere Marvellous (Mere Chance doesn't count), Pool Pretty, Pond Postfix or Puddle Piddle. Move up to the Moon, though, and it's the other way round: Ocean of Absurdity and Sea of Senescence. – Brian Hooper Aug 6 '13 at 5:49
Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/69657/14666 – Kris Aug 6 '13 at 6:11
Did you notice that the words after Lake are nouns, whereas the ones before are adjectives? (Well, nouns could be used as adjectives as well, that's a different matter I suppose.) – Kris Aug 6 '13 at 6:14
@BrianHooper Here's a counterexample to your observation: Bay of Biscay – congusbongus Aug 6 '13 at 7:15

Generally, nouns go after Lake, River or Sea while adjectives precede. There may be exceptions, I'm not sure.

Also, nouns as a rule could be used in adjectival sense.

Both the classes of OP's examples match the above logic. However, again, there could be exceptions.

share|improve this answer
Well, there's Mono Lake (in Mono County, California) and Crater Lake (in Oregon) and Possum Kingdom Lake (in Texas) for three examples of one or more nouns before Lake, and Lake Superior (on the U.S.–Canadian border) and Lake Placid (in New York) for two examples of an adjective after Lake. – Sven Yargs Aug 6 '13 at 17:58
I might add that lakes named after particular people are likewise handled differently in different instances, for no obvious reason: Lake Champlain (on the New York–Vermont border), but Donner Lake (in California). – Sven Yargs Aug 6 '13 at 18:08
@SvenYargs Mono Lake, etc.: "nouns as a rule could be used in adjectival sense." Think of "The (name) Act," a Bill attributed to a person, after it's passed. – Kris Aug 7 '13 at 7:04

The only rule is "there is no rule." Witness, behind Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River in Arizona, both "Roosevelt Lake" and "Lake Roosevelt." I think it's common usage, somewhat aided by the perception of size. Green LAKE is smaller than LAKE Union. Of course, there is some arguement for the Noun vs Adjective logic. If Green Lake were named for Richard Green, would it then be Lake Green? Possibly.

share|improve this answer

In Indiana, "Lake" comes before lakes with a certain number of acres while it is after for smaller ones. However, no one has been able to tell me what the cut off number is yet. Examples for where I am are Lake Wawasee and Lake Tippecanoe.They are the only 2 lakes in Koscisuko County with the word "Lake" before the name and they are the two biggest. There are more than 100 lakes in the county. Lake Wawasee is the largest natural lake in Indiana.

share|improve this answer
That's really interesting - do you have any research to back this up? – Nicole May 11 '15 at 19:34

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.