Have you ever wondered how many Yellowstone place names there are?
Unsurprisingly, they number in the hundreds, from geysers to hot springs to creeks to tumbling cataracts. Furthermore, every one of these Yellowstone place names have a story behind them. From the most banal (Black Butte, Gray Spring) to the most poetic (whose heart does not stir at the sound of names like Dragon’s Mouth Spring, Dryad Lake, or Clepsydra Geyser) to the most unusual (what could a name like Zygomatic Arch mean?) and outright funny (what’s in a name? they say: well what do you say about something that’s name No Name Creek?) Yellowstone place names exhibit a range as rich as the things they designate, in the place they inhabit.
And hands down, the best guide to understanding the stories behind the many names within Yellowstone is Lee H. Whittlesey’s Yellowstone Place Names.
Whittlesey is currently the official Yellowstone National Park historian and author of several books about Yellowstone, including the bestselling Death in Yellowstone. His work encompasses some of the most comprehensive work done in Yellowstone history. Befitting his position, Whittlesey’s scholarship in Yellowstone Place Names is all-encompassing, with features ranging in every corner of the Park. As his first publication, it helped establish his credentials.
The entries in Yellowstone Place Names are thoughtfully cited and annotated, the writing crisp and clear. Whether it’s a big entry (such as Lake Yellowstone, National Park Mountain, and Old Faithful Geyser) or small (Hidden Falls, Cascade Creek), Whittlesey conveys a sense of thoughtfulness with each. Consider what he has to say about the origins of Zygomatic Arch:
This arch of sinter is in and over Silver Globe Geyser of Biscuit Basin in the Upper Geyser Basin. Park tour operator G.L. Henderson named Zygomatic Arch in 1887 because it reminded him of the bones that form the prominence of each cheek on a human face (YP Manual and Guide, 1888, p. 3) (269).
The only caveat (and it’s a minor caveat) is its size. The book length is lean, but at 11 inches long, it’s no pocket guide. Nonetheless, if you’re curious about the history of Yellowstone naming, this is an invaluable source.
You can order Yellowstone Place Names here.