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Naming Caves


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by Jim Neiland, Mount St. Helens NVM

Caves are named in a variety of ways. Traditional names, those in popular use by residents of an area, are the first choice when assembling inventory data. It is traditional for the discoverer, or the first person to publish the first account or map of a cave, to name the cave. This privilege is drawn mostly from the need to distinguish a newly discovered cave from others in the area. Published accounts are especially important for establishing a cave's early history, its discovery, and naming. It is common for caves to be discovered independently many times before a published account establishes a name. The earliest published name is the one, which should be used. A listing of all names applied to a single cave should be recorded in the cave file as an historical reference.

Confusion often arises when naming individual segments of lava tube caves. Distinction between individual lava tube caves is complicated by progressive collapse creating new openings to, or segmenting, known caves. For example, the usual type of opening, a collapse, often creates more than one opening and the question arises: Is the sink part of a single cave, or does it separate two caves? The international Union of Speleology has suggested a partial solution: "If the sink’s largest dimension measured horizontally exceeds its depth, the tube is segmented, resulting in multiple caves. All parts of a segment which can be traversed by an individual, without passing through a segmenting sinks, constitute a single cave." (IUS 1979)

If a new name is to be applied to a cave there are two rules, which should be followed. First, never name a cave after a living person. Secondly, never name a cave after a geographic feature, which discloses the cave's location. If your proposed name passes the test of these two rules, it is an acceptable name. There are many named caves which do not meet these two rules. Those already named should remain as they are.

The State Board on Geographic Names is of little help when establishing cave names, since a very low percentage of cave names are listed; for the State of Washington, under 1%. Providing cave names for listing, along with required location date, may violate the confidentiality provisions of the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act. Cave names will not be submitted to the Board on Geographic Names, except when doing so would further the purposes of the act, and would not jeopardize caves or cave resources by disclosure of location information.

Jim Nieland (retired)
Mount St. Helens NVM
42218 NE Yale Bridge Road
Amboy, WA 98601
Recreation Planner/Region-6 Cave Management Specialist
(360) 449-7846 Fax: (360) 449-7801




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