What’s in a name?

By Dillon Watt

Often, when it comes to the names of places, the best are those that are (very) unofficial, self-given ones. These names only have any meaning at all to a small group of people, and usually arose from some hilarious incident at the spot. Rickshaw Ridge, for example, is now a standard title among my friends and I.

It’s a long story.

Honeymoon Pass, courtesy of Dillon Watt.

Honeymoon Pass, courtesy of Dillon Watt.

But there are plenty of interesting official place names in our corner of the Rockies as well, from Narao Peak (a translation from a Stoney phrase for ‘hit in the stomach’), to the lake south of Jasper called Committee Punch Bowl (named for a fur-trade era tradition). So whether you’re feeling more inclined toward Honeymoon Pass and Paradise Valley, or Fatigue Pass and Desolation Valley, here is a list of a few well-named places that are worth checking out.

The Stuff of Legend

Cuthead Lake/Cuthead Creek: Feeding the Cascade River east of its headwaters, Cuthead was named for  a Cree man who had eloped with a Stoney woman and was caught and beheaded here.

Panther River: The name was officially approved in 1912 after a First Nations name which had meant ‘the river where the cougar was killed.’

Lost Horse Creek: Perhaps a less exciting narrative than the two above, the creek was named for an incident where Pat Brewster was said to have lost his pack horse.

Call It Like It Is

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Cone Mountain, courtesy Dillon Watt.

Cone Mountain, courtesy Dillon Watt.

Sometimes there is value in a more literal name:

Purchase Block Mountain: West of Flint’s Park.


Cone Mountain: Near Spray Lakes.

Tilted Mountain: Baker Lake area.

Trident Lake: Found in the upper Clearwater Valley, three streams near the lake form the namesake shape.

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The Egyptian Connection: After the Topographical Survey named Scarab Lake in 1922 for its resemblance in shape to a sacred beetle of ancient Egypt, naming of most other nearby features followed suit. Here you’ll find Egypt, Mummy, Pharaoh, and Sphinx Lakes, as well as Pharaoh Creek and Pharaoh Peaks.

Scarab Lake, courtesy of Dillon Watt.

Scarab Lake, courtesy of Dillon Watt.

Purchase Fossil Mountain: This mountain sets the tone for the nearby Brachiopod Mountain and Anthozoan Mountain, among other

taxonomy-inspired names in the area.

Minnewanka: While the name comes from a First Nations reference to water spirits, the lake is also surrounded by the Ghost River, Devil’s Gap, and Phantom Crag, with Apparition Mountain just to the north.

While the map might place you at Scotch Camp or Belgium Lake, Verdant Creek or Golden Valley, Valley of the Hidden Lakes or Valley of the Rocks, here’s to some amazing places and the stories behind them.




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Dillon Watt

Dillon Watt

Dillon Watt is an avid outdoorsman and writer based in Banff, AB.

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