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)
  • 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
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    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
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    @BrianHooper Here's a counterexample to your observation: Bay of Biscay – congusbongus Aug 6 '13 at 7:15

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.


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.

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    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
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    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
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    @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

An observation from upstate New York where we have two Great Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario,and eleven Finger Lakes, all beginning with the name and ending in "Lake," such as Canandaigua Lake where I live. People in these parts say that lakes explored and named by the French start with "Lake" and lakes explored and named by the English end in "Lake." However, all these names originated from Native American languages. Some people might conclude that size is a factor because the huge Great Lakes all begin with the title "Lake," but two of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake, are over 40 miles long, so they are far from small. As for the lake names being nouns or adjectives, ours are both. Ontario means "beautiful" (adjective) while Canandaigua means "chosen place" (adjective/noun). In short, there appear to be many reasons for putting "lake" before or after the name. But I would say the best explanation is simply local custom.


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.

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

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