A hydronym is a proper name of a body of water. Hydronymy is the study of hydronyms and of how bodies of water receive their names and how they are transmitted through history. It can apply to rivers, lakes, and even oceanic elements.

More than most toponyms, as linguistic items hydronyms are very conservative, with successor peoples often retaining the name given a body of water. For example, Mississippi
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 has passed from Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 to contemporary Americans (and then to other languages). The names of large rivers are especially conserved, while the local names of small streams are less so.

As an example of hydronymy as a historical tool Kenneth Jackson
Kenneth H. Jackson
Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson was an English linguist and a translator who specialised in the Celtic languages. He demonstrated how the text of the Ulster Cycle of tales, written circa AD 1100, preserves an oral tradition originating some six centuries earlier and reflects Celtic Irish society of the...

 identified a river-name pattern against which to fit the story of the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 invasion of Britain and the pockets of survival of native British culture. Even in the eastern area of the heaviest and early Saxon settlement, major rivers like the Thames and the Trent
-Places:* Trento in northern Italy, site of the Council of Trent* Trent, Dorset, England, United Kingdom* Trent, Germany, a municipality on the island of Rügen* Trent, California, USA* Trent, Kentucky, USA* Trent, South Dakota, USA* Trent, Texas, USA...

 preserve their pre-Saxon names. Jackson constructed a river map of Britain that enabled three principal areas of English settlement: the river valleys draining eastward, where British survivals are limited to the largest rivers, and Saxon settlement was early and dense, the highland spine, and a third region in which British hydronyms apply even to the smaller streams.

Often a given body of water will have several entirely different names given to it by different peoples living along its shores. For example, and are the Czech
Czech language
Czech is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian in English until the late 19th century...

 and German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 names, respectively, for the same river in central Europe
Central Europe
Central Europe or alternatively Middle Europe is a region of the European continent lying between the variously defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe...


Hydronyms from various languages can all share a common etymon. For example, the Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

, Don, Dniester
The Dniester is a river in Eastern Europe. It runs through Ukraine and Moldova and separates most of Moldova's territory from the breakaway de facto state of Transnistria.-Names:...

, Dnieper and Donets rivers all contain the Scythian name for "river" (cf. , "river, water" in modern Ossetic).

It is possible for a toponym to become a hydronym: for example, the River Liffey
River Liffey
The Liffey is a river in Ireland, which flows through the centre of Dublin. Its major tributaries include the River Dodder, the River Poddle and the River Camac. The river supplies much of Dublin's water, and a range of recreational opportunities.-Name:The river was previously named An Ruirthech,...

 takes its name from the plain on which it stands, called Liphe or Life; the river itself was originally called An Ruirthech. An unusual example is the River Cam
River Cam
The River Cam is a tributary of the River Great Ouse in the east of England. The two rivers join to the south of Ely at Pope's Corner. The Great Ouse connects the Cam to England's canal system and to the North Sea at King's Lynn...

 - it was originally called the Granta, but when the town of Grantebrycge became Cambridge
The city of Cambridge is a university town and the administrative centre of the county of Cambridgeshire, England. It lies in East Anglia about north of London. Cambridge is at the heart of the high-technology centre known as Silicon Fen – a play on Silicon Valley and the fens surrounding the...

, the river's name changed to match the toponym.
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