by: Jennifer Rook
may live in Uintah County, but you camp, fish, hike and hunt in the Uinta National Forest. So, is it Uinta without an 'H' at the end or Uintah with an 'H'? As you can see, there are two different spellings for the word Uinta. So, how do we know when to spell Uinta with or without the letter 'H' at the end? What's the story behind that?
Western Heritage Museum director, Evan Baker, explains, "We spell Uinta without an 'H' whenever referring to a geographical feature. We live in the Uinta Basin, fish in the Uinta River, climb the Uinta Mountains, and enjoy the Uinta National Forest. If something is a natural, geographical feature, the spelling is always without the 'H'. If something is man-made; however, we put the letter 'H' at the end of the word. Such as 'Uintah County', 'Uintah School District' or other organizations/features thought up by man. If we were to create, say, a new reservoir, we could name it Uintah Reservoir and place the letter 'H' at the end of the word Uinta. That is unless we named it Uinta Basin Reservoir, in which case it would retain the correct geographical spelling without the "H' -- for the geographical feature."
So, who set up these rules anyway? "The federal government set up the basic rules for determining which spelling to use for the word Uinta. As the American West was expanding and names were being created the government realized they needed to standardize the naming system. It's always been an issue." reveals Baker.
The organization charged with clarifying the spelling turned out to be the USGS, or United States Board on Geographic Names. They began working in the late 1800's to unify spellings. Information on the USGS website states, "The original program of names standardization addressed the complex issues of domestic geographic feature names during the surge of exploration, mining, and settlement of western territories after the American Civil War. Inconsistencies and contradictions among many names, spellings, and applications became a serious problem to surveyors, map makers, and scientists who required uniform, non-conflicting geographic nomenclature. President Benjamin Harrison signed an Executive Order establishing the Board and giving it authority to resolve unsettled geographic names questions. Decisions of the Board were accepted as binding by all departments and agencies of the Federal Government."
After many arguments and repeated misspellings of Uinta Basin, which Mr. Baker and retired Uintah County Historian, Doris Burton take umbrage to, Baker contacted the USGS to clarify accuracy of local spellings; Uinta vs Uintah. The reply he received states, "Uintah, a variant of Uinta, is applied to political entities, whereas Uinta without the 'h' is applied to natural features and to the Uinta Utes." Baker goes on to explain that their reply reinforced the fact that "Names of other features being derived from a physical feature (such as Uinta Basin) should continue to be spelled without 'h' at the end of Uinta". For example, Uintah Basin Standard should be spelled Uinta Basin Standard without the 'h'. If it is spelled with the 'h' it goes against common naming practices" and accepted rules.
So, citizens of the Uinta Basin, we have been informed. The Uinta Basin has no 'h' in its spelling and names for geographical features also have no 'h'. Those are the facts, folks. That's the story and we're stickin' to it!