A lake by any other name: Warners Lake association lobbies for name change 

An undated postcard lists the lake’s name as Warner’s Lake, with an apostrophe. 

BERNE — Warner Lake in Berne will be officially named Warners Lake if the Warners Lake Improvement Association is successful in its appeal to the United States Board on Geographic Names.

Formed in 1890, the Board on Geographic names is the preeminent authority of locative nomenclature, deciding — with local input — on the names of everything from state parks to small towns to continents. So that it apparently made an error in 1900 on a topographic map of Warner Lake in Berne by omitting the “s” is a big deal, says Warner Lake camp owner Chris Albright.

“It’s commonly called Warners Lake by almost everyone who refers to it,” Albright said. 

Albright is a member of the Warners Lake Improvement Association, which oversees the lake and passed a resolution last August to pursue a name change, with Albright at the helm. 

“We just felt that we wanted to make sure all the entities were in line on what the name is,” Albright said. 

To do so, Albright had to submit an application to the U.S. Geological Survey, which will then present the association’s reasoning to the Board on Geographic Names, which will issue a determination. Albright said that his application includes two maps from the 19th Century that each list the lake as Warners Lake.

Albright said the USGS also requested letters from New York State, Albany County, and Berne that recommend the name change, along with input from Berne’s town historian, Kathleen Putzig. 

“There’s a map from 1855, I think it is, that names it [Warner’s Lake],” Putzig told The Enterprise. “But the ‘apostrophe s’ bumps off the lake, so it looks like Warner Lake … That’s my documentary proof.” 


 — Map from Chris Albright
This 1854 map lists Warner Lake as Warners Lake. Former Berne supervisor Kevin Crosier referenced this and other maps that spell the town “Bern” when asking if precedent is a strong enough reason to change the name of a location.


Also supporting the change is that New York State recognizes the water as Warners Lake, according to a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation map, along with historic postcards, Albright said, and, as The Enterprise discovered, old news articles, all of which vary between Warners and Warner’s. 

Warner Lake is named for the Warner family that settled the area around the lake in the 18th Century, according to information compiled by local historian Willard Osterhout and hosted on the Enterprise website. 

The Warners/Warner’s discrepancy is all but moot, though, as the Board on Geographic Names somewhat infamously avoids the possessive case when issuing monikers, with few exceptions.

Enterprise inquiries on the matter went unanswered by the board, but the question has apparently been asked enough that it’s the first entry on the USGS “Frequently Asked Questions” webpage.

“Since its inception in 1890,” the entry reads, “the [Board on Geographic Names] has discouraged the use of the possessive form — the genitive apostrophe and the ‘s’. The possessive form using an ‘s’ is allowed, but the apostrophe is almost always removed. The BGN's archives contain no indication of the reason for this policy. However, there are many names in the GNIS database that do carry the genitive apostrophe, because the BGN chooses not to apply its policies to some types of features.”

According to the USGS, just five geographic locations across the United States enjoy a genitive name: Martha’s Vineyard (Massachusetts), Ike’s Point (New Jersey), John E’s Pond (Rhode Island), Carlos Elmer’s Joshua View (Arizona), and Clark’s Mountain (Oregon).

Martha’s Vineyard is the result of a strong public campaign, the site says, while the ensuing three require punctuation to avoid confusion. Clark’s Mountain was allowed so as to retain reference to explorer William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame. 

That the board would apparently allow some possessive nominations without consequence but still cite its policy in the majority of cases has apparently motivated speculation around what practical reason the board has to do so. 

“Myths attempting to explain the policy,” the entry reads, “include the idea that the apostrophe looks too much like a rock in water when printed on a map, and is therefore a hazard, or that in the days of ‘stick-up type’ for maps, the apostrophe would become lost and create confusion. The probable explanation is that the BGN does not want to show possession for natural features because, ‘ownership of a feature is not in and of itself a reason to name a feature or change its name.’”

Which is just as well, since most people involved in a discussion on Facebook, Putzig said, weren’t concerned that Warners, while phonetically accurate, would technically be a deviation from the lake’s namesake.

“The universal opinion,” Putzig said, “seems to be that everyone calls it Warner’s Lake because it rolls off the tongue better … There wasn’t a lot of disagreement about what it’s called. The discussion was about what it was called first, and why we’re spending so much time fussing about this when there’s more important stuff going on in the world. Those were the two comments I saw the most on Facebook.” 

Former Berne supervisor Kevin Crosier, meanwhile, worries that what is being treated as a trivial issue might have profound legal implications.

He told The Enterprise that, if there’s a name change, some documents that rely on locative information might become incongruent, and therefore invalid.

Crosier gave liquor licenses as an example, and wondered if the name of the street along Warner Lake — Warners Lake Road — were changed, if it would invalidate the license of Maple on the Lake, a restaurant there.

The Enterprise could not reach the New York State Liquor Authority for clarification.

In May, The Enterprise reported that state Senate 46th District candidate Gary Greenberg lost his position on the ballot after several of his nominating petition’s signatures were deemed invalid by the New York State Board of Elections, many because of minor spelling errors or mistakes in the signee’s own address.

“There’s people that think they live in [the village of] Voorheesville and it’s [the town of] New Scotland,” Greenberg told The Enterprise at the time. “Or they put Slingerlands, their mailing address, but they live in Guilderland.”

So while Shakespeare might argue that a lake by any other name is just that, Crosier has urged that residents be cautious when dealing with federal designations.

“They say, ‘Don’t fool with Mother Nature,” Crosier said. “Well, don’t fool with Mother History.” 

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