A few thoughts on the eosoteric subject of toponymy

A study in the etymological motive behind South Baymouth

To the Expositor:

As one of those citizens who has recently moved to the Island and is commonly referred to as, “you people,” it is with much trepidation I broach the subject of toponymy. However, your recent editorial on the spelling of Wiikwemkoong and its subsequent change of name by Canada Post, has emboldened me to put forth  my thoughts on the subject of my own, home hamlet, South Baymouth.

Should someone show you a map of an island with two bays, and ask you to mark the location of a community called South Baymouth, you would most likely consider two locations. You would look at the mouths of the two bays and locate the community on the south side of one of them. It could be in either bay. North Baymouth would be sited on the north side of the bay mouth.

Let us suppose the two bays on the maps were named. One “North Bay,” the other “South Bay.” Even with this information, “South Baymouth” could still be located in either bay. 

But now, if asked to locate “South Bay Mouth,” one would be inclined to locate it at the mouth of South Bay. Even if the bays were unnamed, one would still be able to identify the likely location of a community called South Bay Mouth. In fact, Southbay Mouth, would be descriptively more accurate than South Baymouth.

This interpretation of “South Bay Mouth,” is also reflected in its pronunciation by local inhabitants. Ask most, the name of the community, and quite clearly, “South Bay Mouth,” is pronounced with emphasis on all three words, as opposed to “South Baymouth” which comes across as two words. I’m not sure when the change took place. There’s a “Brown’s Shell South Bay Mouth” sign at the junction of Hwy. 6 and Sideroad 10, in Tehkummah, and some early tourist posters on the Chi-Cheemaun showed both spellings. My guess is, the die was cast once Canada Post made the decision. 

I do think names are important, particularly where they reflect in some way, the etymological motive behind the naming of the place. However, I’d totally understand if the general consensus is that we have more pressing issues to address. Certainly, most people I discuss this with think I’m nuts.  


David Samuels
South Bay Mouth