Warner Lake in Berne renamed: Warners Lake

Warner Lake, in Berne

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel
Warner Lake, in Berne, has been renamed Warners Lake to reflect local usage.

BERNE — The Warners Lake Improvement Association was successful in changing the name of Warner Lake, in Berne, to Warners Lake, a change that had to first be approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names, a subsidiary of the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The national board voted to approve the change at its Oct. 8 meeting.

Efforts to change the name officially began in August 2019, when the lake association voted on a resolution to change the name of the lake — named for the Warner family, which first settled the area around the lake in the 18th Century — to reflect colloquial usage. 

“It’s commonly called Warners Lake by almost everyone who refers to it,” lake association member Chris Albright told The Enterprise in July. 

The discrepancy arose, Albright said, when the Board on Geographic Names erroneously labeled the lake as Warner Lake on a 1900 topographic map. Because the board is the federal authority on place-names, it superseded local and New York State documents that vary between Warners and Warner’s.

Grammatically, the possessive Warner’s Lake would be the most correct usage for paying homage to the lake’s settlers, but the Board on Geographic Names refuses nearly all possessive names for places. In fact, the lake’s entry in the Geographic Names Information System explicitly states that the lake is not known as Warner’s Lake (or Werner’s, Werners, or Warner, for that matter).

The policy’s origins are unknown and theories attempting to explain it abound, but the board itself speculates that it’s because naming places after an owner would encourage changing the name of that place — or any place — each time ownership changes.

According to the board’s Principles, Policies, and Procedures, the board prefers to see a place or feature named after someone who was “an early or long-time resident; a developer, restorer, or maintainer of the feature; a donor of land to local, State, Tribal, or Federal governments; [or] a person who played a large part in protecting the land for public benefit.”

The board also tends to respect local usage, the document states, which is the philosophy Albright played to when he made the lake association’s proposal.

Albright’s application included two 19th-Century maps that name the lake Warners Lake, along with a supporting letter from Berne’s town historian, Kathleen Putzig, who also referenced a 19th-Century map.

“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.”

Incidentally, a road along the lake is already named Warners Road, likely because the U.S. Board on Geographic Names does not oversee the names of manmade features in most cases, which means that Albright and the lake association have little to do to make the area conform to the official change in name. 

“Nothing required that I am aware of,” Albright told The Enterprise of pursuant changes, adding that an email will probably go out to lake residents and camp owners notifying them of the change.

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