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John Peabody Harrington papers: Records relating to state names, province names, and other geographical names, 1938-1959

Catalog Data

Harrington, John Peabody 1884-1961  Search this
Haas, Mary R (Mary Rosamond) 1910-1996  Search this
Siebert, Frank T (Frank Thomas) 1912-1998  Search this
Voegelin, C. F (Charles Frederick) 1906-1986  Search this
Physical description:
20 boxes
Field notes
Québec (Province)
Truk Lagoon (Micronesia)
Central America
South America
West Indies
United States
Microfilm and digital surrogates of microfilm are available. See Volume 8, reels 12-20. Reel 12 also contains materials from other subseries. Only original documents created by Harrington, his collaborators and field assistants, or notes given to him were microfilmed.
John P. Harrington's attention was drawn to the subject of state names when, in his capacity as ethnologist at the Bureau of American Ethnology, he was called upon to respond to many inquiries regarding the origin of names given to various states. By the summer of 1938, Harrington had plans to undertake a comprehensive study of all the state names. In July he began the intermittent collection of relevant data during interviews with colleagues at the B.A.E. and with several American Indians who were employed in Washington, D.C. In a letter of January 22, 1939, to his nephew Arthur, Harrington stated that his superiors wanted him "to prepare a book on the meaning of state names." He reported, further, that he had already worked out the etymologies of several names. That Spring, he was authorized by bureau chief Matthew W. Stirling to travel to California, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Mexico, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wisconsin for the purpose of completing a publication on state names. Harrington obtained relevant linguistic data from C. F. Voegelin in Washington, D.C., just before leaving for the field, and from Leonard Bloomfield en route. From June through October of 1939, he collected information from native speakers of Papago, Delaware, Shawnee, Caddo, Lakota, Chippewa, and Navaho.
Later in 1939, Harrington compiled primary data regarding Canadian provinces during fieldwork with Cree, Sarsi, and Chippewan speakers in Alberta and British Columbia. In April of 1940 he requested permission to make another trip to Oklahoma. On this occasion he met with linguists Mary R. Haas, Carl Voegelin, and Frank T. Siebert, Jr., and a number of informants. A trip to study the Aleut language in Unalaska in 1941 encompassed work on the name "Alaska." Then, in 1949, 1950, and 1951, Harrington made trips to Maine, Oklahoma, and the Yucatan, obtaining data on the names "Massachusetts" and "Missouri" and the state names of Mexico.
Information which Harrington ultimately drew together into discrete files on California placenames was gleaned from numerous native speakers during fieldwork throughout the 1930s and 1940s and from the mid-to-Iate 1950s. Most of the data he gathered was on the Chumash and Uto-Aztecan languages.
Beginning in 1938, Harrington also initiated an extensive correspondence regarding the etymology and historical background of state names of both Indian and non-Indian origin. In the 1940s and early 1950s he broadened the scope of this exchange of letters to include his search for information on Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. protectorates.
During his emeritus years the focus of Harrington's correspondence was on California placenames, particularly those in the Los Angeles area. His files indicate that he wrote over two hundred letters to such sources of information as Chambers of Commerce, postmasters, and old-time California residents, searching out the location of numerous places and the origin of their names.
From 1939 through his retirement years, Harrington envisioned the publication of a number of short articles and longer papers on various aspects of his study of geographic names. However, only three appeared in print: "The Origin of Our State Names" appeared in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences in 1944; "Peculiarly Difficult Names in North and South America" was published in the July 1945 issue of Acta Americana; and "Our State Names" was included in the Smithsonian Report for 1954, Publication 4205, in 1955.
Electronic inventory available. Consult with archivist. For a comprehensive description of these materials, see "The papers of John Peabody Harrington in the Smithsonian Institution, 1907-1957, Volume 8, A guide to: Notes and Writings on Special Linguistic Studies," edited by Elaine L. Mills, Louise G. Mills, and Ann J. Brickfield.
This subseries of the Notes and writings on special linguistic studies series primarily contains files on the origin of state names which Harrington compiled during a study spanning the years 1938 to 1959. It also encompasses some material on areas outside the United States, as well as a portion of the detailed records on California placenames which Harrington accumulated throughout his career and organized in a more systematic fashion in 1947 and again during his retirement years.
The first major section of material on geographic names includes linguistic, historical, and ethnological notes related to each individual state and to certain possessions or protectorates of the United States. A less extensive Canadian section forms part of this group. The origin of a small number of placenames is included for some of the states and Canada.
A file of writings includes drafts and related materials for seven proposed papers based on these data. They vary in length from a paragraph or two on specific states to typescripts presenting more comprehensive treatments of names in the United States and Canada.
Additional sections contain more extensive notes and drafts relating to the names "California," "Massachusetts," "Missouri," and "Quebec." Detailed surveys of placenames in southern California are also filed here.
There is another group of records relating to Central and South America and to West Indian island names. Two very brief but unpublished articles were prepared on the names "Formosa" and "Truk."
The last section is a file of short articles on placenames and geographical terminology. It also includes reviews of several books and articles which Harrington read in conjunction with this study.
Cite as:
Notes and writings on special linguistic studies: Records relating to state names, province names, and other geographical names, John Peabody Harrington papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Repository Loc.:
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, Suitland, Maryland
Names, Geographical  Search this
Toponymy  Search this
Language and languages--Documentation  Search this
Linguistics  Search this
Local number:
Accession #1976-95
Restrictions & Rights:
No restrictions on access
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John Peabody Harrington papers: Notes and writings on special linguistic studies, 1907-1957
Data Source:
National Anthropological Archives