I was looking up a French town on Google Maps, when it struck me. There are bays shown as "Bay of ..." on the map, as well others listed as "... Bay". Their naming seems to be consistent with the naming in other maps I checked.

Likewise we have most seas listed as "... Sea" (e.g. Caribbean Sea), but some oddballs like the Sea of Okhotsk. This also can be noticed in the naming of gulfs.

I simply can't figure out the rule. Here is a link to the list of seas on Wikipedia.

(On a random note, this is probably coincidental, but the names of bays I can think of off the top of my head that end in "Bay" are all in America.)

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    Some examples of bays outside the US can be found in: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Bays_of_Europe, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Bays_of_Australia. Jan 26, 2014 at 20:28
  • Thank you so much. It seems it is not only an American thing.
    – Andra
    Jan 26, 2014 at 20:35
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    @DamkerngT. No bay in France is going to put the name first and the word 'baie' second because that is not the way that French forms the genitive case. Hudson's Bay in French becomes 'Le baie d'Hudson'. But French is not the only language here. There are instances in Britain, such as Isle of Man. I am of the view, however, that Americans do have a tendency with many things to put the name first, where we perhaps wouldn't. For example all rivers in America are named in this way, Hudson River, Mississippi River etc, where we say the River Thames, the River Trent, the River Clyde etc.
    – WS2
    Jan 26, 2014 at 21:15
  • Hudson Bay is named after the English explorer who "discovered" it- Henry Hudson (in an ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage, ca. 1610). Jan 26, 2014 at 22:52
  • @WS2 The Rio Grande begs to differ, as does Michigan's River Rouge. Borrowed from Spanish and French, respectively, but it would not be accurate to say ''all'' rivers in America are named thus. Jan 27, 2014 at 5:28

2 Answers 2


There is not so much a firm rule with proper place-names as there is traditional nomenclature. While one can conjure a rule, even the most accurate of such would still likely have some exception, in either geography or fiction.

With that said, the example you note all infer a common rule for their construction: Bodies of water that are named for an adjacent locale are 'of' that locale, while those named for themselves are not.

  • The Hudson Bay and seas Mediterranean and Caspian are named for themselves. There are no adjacent locations named Hudson, Mediterranean, or Capsian.

  • The Bay of Biscany is adjacent to Biscany, while the Seas of Japan and Okhotsk are adjacent to Japan and Okhotsk.

Again, this is only an inferred rule, and you will likely find exceptions that follow some other naming convention if you look hard enough.

  • Did an "n" slip into Bascay by accident, or is that an intentional alternate spelling?
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 27, 2014 at 1:32
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    Are you sure your generalization is really a generalization: none of Lake Geneva, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie have 'of', despite being adjacent to these places. In fact, in English, there are very few lakes formed with 'of' at all. To the extent that the Indian Ocean was named because of India, it also doesn't use 'of'. There is only one bay in the US which uses 'of', despite the fact that some bays are near major landmarks: San Francisco Bay, San Diego Bay, Tampa Bay, Hilo Bay, Newark Bay etc.
    – Alan Munn
    Jan 27, 2014 at 4:31
  • @AlanMunn: You are confusing cause and effect in many of those examples. All of Ontario, Erie, and Michigan received their name after the eponymous adjacent body of water was named, and in fact were named after said body of water. Jan 27, 2014 at 5:51
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    @PieterGeerkens I'm not confusing anything. I'm just observing that the 'of' genitive form is simply doesn't correlate with 'adjacent place'. Now, it's entirely possible that some places were named after their bodies of water and not vice versa, but the answer provides no evidence that the supposed rule is in fact correct. Given the distinct lack of 'of' genitive names in English, it seems unlikely to be true, that's all.
    – Alan Munn
    Jan 27, 2014 at 11:03
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    @DougM cough Lake Geneva cough ... if it's not the actual rule, then don't present it as such.
    – yo'
    Jan 27, 2014 at 16:14

Captain Cook named a bay in Australia 'Botany Bay' for its abundant plant life at the time.

Euphony within a language and translation from another language may also influence the form of a name. In Cuba there is a bay whose Spanish name is Bahía de Cochinos, and in English this is rendered "Bay of Pigs." It would be possible to translate this as "Pigs Bay" (interestingly, this does not refer to farm animals, but to a type of local fish), but a preference for the longer form may emerge among English speakers because of the strong trochee sound of "Bay of Pigs."

  • I converted this to a comment, then unconverted it. I think you have an answer here after all (euphonia), but it needs to be clearer that you are talking about this as a general case.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 27, 2014 at 13:59

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