20 Dec

Geographical Review Article Preview: The Rocky Mountains and the Southwest: Using Feature Names to Study Two Iconic Subregions in the American West Geographical

Author Name: Christopher Holtkamp; Russell Weaver, PhD; David R. Butler, PhD

Article Title, Issue and Volume:   The Rocky Mountains and the Southwest: Using Feature Names to Study Two Iconic Subregions in the American West Geographical Review 108.3

What is the main purpose of your study?

People who pass through, or settle in, a region leave traces of their presence on the landscape. The words they use to identify features become embedded in that place and can become a means of identifying that particular region. This foundation of historical identity then influences behaviors today as people begin to see a value in identifying with that region.

This study explores the unique language that serves to identify the Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions of the larger American West. It then discusses how that identity, rooted in the history of these places, has influenced current behavior as businesses embrace regional identity through incorporating ‘Rocky Mountain’ and ‘Southwest’ into their business names. Our findings indicate there is a strong relationship between the concentration of place names we used to define these regions and businesses that also identify with these regions through their names.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?

Our work contributes to the understanding of how regional identity develops and what factors may influence that development. It also provides insight into how businesses see value in identifying with a particular place or region through their choice of business name.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

Utilizing feature names to delineate regional boundaries has a long history. Terry Jordan-Bychkov used place names to show Appalachian influence on the Texas Hill Country in 1970. Wilbur Zelinsky utilized vernacular to define cultural regions in the United States in 1980. John Reed used business names to define ‘Dixie’ and the ‘South’ in 1976 and his methods were replicated by Christopher Cooper and Gibbs Knotts in 2010 to show how that perceptual region had changed over time, particularly with the decline of the term ‘Dixie’. More recent work includes a publication by two of this article’s authors that utilized place names to define Appalachia, published in 2016.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?

The boundaries of the Rocky Mountains and Southwest, as defined by the selected feature names, strongly correlate with the physiographic boundaries of the regions. This may indicate a relationship between the physical and cultural environments (see Figure 4 attached).

The concentration of regional business names is strongly related to the concentration of regional feature names. This may be an indication that businesses see a value in regional identification and so choose to leverage that through their name selection (see Figure 6 attached).

There are two areas that indicate an overlap between our cultural boundaries, central Utah and Northern New Mexico. These areas show the diffusion of cultural traces over the landscape and that it is difficult to draw hard boundaries for cultural regions.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?

This article contributes to the literature of how we conceptualize regions and how we define them. It also contributes to our understanding of how place and identity influence behavior. In this case, it is how businesses respond to, and contribute to, regional identity by adopting the region name into their business name.

It also presents an opportunity for further research into Rocky Mountain culture. As discussed, we had a challenge in finding unique Rocky Mountain terms and ended up with terms that seemed to identify mountain regions more broadly. There can be further research into the Rocky Mountain region to identify unique cultural identifiers that may offer further clarification of our research.

How does your research help us think about Geography?

While geographers can spend a lifetime arguing about what Geography is, to non-Geographers, it is about places. This research contributes to how we think about place, and the different ways that we can define place boundaries. When feature names change, that is a clear indication that a person has entered a different place, with its own unique history and culture.

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Click here to read the abstract of this article on the Wiley Online Library.