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10 Feb 2010 by Guest Blogger in Nature and Culture
Region: Avalon

Source: Ed Kirby, Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Nicky's Nose Cove. It's over in Green Bay which is in Notre Dame Bay which is on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. You can't miss it. No relation to Jerry's Nose over around Port au Port, though.

Who named these places? Toogood Arm. Heart's Content. Come By Chance. Cupids. Ferryland. Joe Batt's Arm. Old Shop. Deep Bight. Open Hall. Happy Adventure. Famish Gut. Bareneed. Nippers Harbour. River of Ponds. Point of Bay. There are scores of place names in Newfoundland and Labrador that provide insight into how our early settlers thought, what they made fun of, and the unique lens through which they saw the world.

Colourful place names fill the Newfoundland and Labrador volume of The Canada Gazetteer, Canada's official list of towns, villages, capes, rocks, mountains and sunkers. It's one of the funniest books in print, right up there with the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

Who christened Heart's Content, Heart's Delight, Heart's Desire, Little Heart's Ease and Cupids? You'd swear old St. Valentinus himself was an early settler. Was there a bit of luck involved in naming Come By Chance? Is Toogood Arm too good to be true? Are the natives of Heart's Content all that pleased with their lives? Was Joe Batt really a deserter from one of Captain Cook's voyages here in the 1760s? That's the folklore associated with the name Joe Batt's Arm. The stories about the names of these places are often as good as the names themselves.

There are many communities named for saints, including a couple not on the heavenly register, such as St. Shotts. Who was he, or she? And, of course, there's Angels Cove, Lourdes, Trinity Bay, and Conception Bay. The other side of the ledger is well represented by the likes of Devils Dancing Table, Devils Point, and Devils Kitchen Hill.

St. John's, the provincial capital, is named for the day, June 24, when John Cabot landed at Cape Bonavista in 1497. Bonavista is a strange reconstruction, and certainly not Italian (which is Cabot's native tongue). It's closer to Boavista, a fishing port in Portugal.

Scores of French names attest to the long habitation of French fishermen here. Isle aux Morts – Island of the Dead, in English – Point La Haye, Baie Verte (a.k.a. Green Bay), Conche, La Scie, Port au Choix (Port of Nuts or Port of Choice?) and even Fleur-de-Lys survive to this day, although official French presence ended in 1904. Grand Bruit means "great noise" – made by the spectacular waterfall in the remote south coast village. Rose Blanche describes the colour of the rocks in that town.

Many names were given to new surroundings by homesick immigrants – Ireland's Eye, Highlands, and Britannia. And some came from the nationality of those who fished from a particular harbour – Frenchman's Cove, Portugal Cove, English Harbour West, Port aux Basques and Spanish Room (a 'room' is the land-based property of a fishing operation.)

The Scots brought Heatherton, Lochleven and Highlands to the Codroy Valley in Southwest Newfoundland. The Irish were good importers, too, with such entries as Kilbride, St. Patrick's, Patrick's Cove, Ireland's Eye and O'Donnell's. And don't forget Spaniard's Bay, Harbour Breton, Turk's Cove, and English Harbour West, although there were no Turks here, just some Barbary pirates.

Famish Gut is a lovely piece of water, despite its name, and Bareneed is a prosperous little place, so there's more than a bit of black humour involved in some names, like Toogood Arm. Does Nippers Harbour say something about mosquitoes? There were two communities called Mosquito, both now abandoned. The French got into the spirit, too, with Tête de Vache – Cow Head.

Many names are repeated, especially in geographic features. There are, for instance, 42 places called White Point, 13 named Three Corner Pond, 27 Northwest Arms, and the granddaddy of them all, Long Pond, with 82. And if you think P.E.I. has the only Charlottetown, we've got two – one on the Island of Newfoundland and one on Labrador.

Resources figure prominently in names. Caplin Cove, Seal Cove, Black Duck Cove, Woody Point, Meadows, Birchy Cove, Ochre Pit Cove, Woodville, Lead Cove all speak to places where a living might be made, or food sought.

Bay Bulls would seem to have something to do with agriculture, but it's actually a corruption of the French name for the place – Baie Boules, so called because there were so many bullbirds there centuries ago, and the French for bullbird is boule.

Bay D'Espoir is pronounced 'bay despair,' but in French it means 'bay of hope.'

Spelling is not always a good guide to pronunciation. Pouch Cove is 'pooch cove.' Badger's Quay is 'badger's key.' Boswarlos is 'boss wallace.' Francois is 'fransway.' And Quirpon is 'carpoon.' In many cases, a French, Spanish or Portuguese word has been mangled in the translation, or the name is so old that English pronunciation has changed over the years.

Then there are names for which no explanation seems possible: Chase Me Further Pond, Pick Eyes, Loo Cove, Poor Shoal, Hell Fire Pond, Cuff Tickle (all of which may well have been named by a wit from Clowns Cove).

Ever seen a Fox Roost? How often have you been to Seldom? Little Seldom? You get the idea.The main thing is to have a bit of fun with it all…