In this photo from the Alaska Volcano Observatory/U.S. Geological Survey, Augustine Volcano spews steam Thursday. The volcano and island it sits on have been called by many names throughout history.
Photo by Game McGimsey, AVO/USGS
Although sometimes holy by popular reference, behaviorally and officially Augustine Volcano is no saint.
Many names have staked a claim to the volcano and it was first known as St. Augustine after Capt. James Cook sailed past it on St. Augustine’s Day in 1778 and named it accordingly.
Aurelius Augustinus, more commonly known as St. Augustine of Hippo, is a fourth century philosopher celebrated for his role in fusing Greek philosophical tradition with Christian doctrine.
Cook actually named the entire land mass as “St. Augustine Island,” rather than referring to the volcano specifically, but the name has been understood as applying to the volcano, as well, according to the Dictionary of Alaska Names by Donald J. Orth.
Orth’s dictionary, also known as Geological Survey Professional Paper 567, lists modern geographic names officially recognized for use on federal maps, but also lists previous official and unofficial geographic names.
Although the dictionary recognizes the volcano has been known as St. Augustine, it does not explain why the saint has been dropped.
“I don’t know that there was any concerted effort to drop saint,” said Chris Waythomas, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. “Typically the way this goes is that the simplest name sticks.”
“Other names might have been attached to it by various people, but for now what’s in the dictionary, which is our reference, is Augustine Island and Augustine Volcano,” Waythomas said.
Of the names that did not adhere to Kamishak Bay’s grumpy peak, Orth’s dictionary lists Mount Chinabora, Mount St. Augustin, Mount St. Augustine, Mount San Augustine, Pan de Azucar and Pilon de Azucar.
Orth’s dictionary says the volcano was named Pan de Azucar, meaning sugar loaf, in 1779 by Don Ignacio Arteaga, a Spanish explorer. Perhaps the volcano’s snowy peak reminded him of sugar-powdered confection.
The dictionary does not explain how the volcano become known as Mount Chinabora or what it means, but Augustine Island was once known by a similar name.
Augustine Island, which has sat through a few name changes of its own, was once known as Ostrov Chernoburoy. According to Orth’s dictionary Chernoburoy was derived from the Russian words chernyy, meaning black, and buryy, meaning brown.
In 1896, reports by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, the USGS’s predecessor, named the island as Blackbrown Island.
A record of popular names can be used to illuminate social and geographic history, but a single name is chosen and made official to create consistency and can eliminate the confusion that can be created by multiple names.
“Who has the authority to do this?” Waythomas said. “Well, the people that make the maps ... you’ve got to standardize things at some point.”
Today the final word on geographic names for maps is given to USGS.
A days-long steady eruption of steam and ash spewed from the volcano starting Jan. 28 with stronger eruptions that sent particles nearly five miles into the sky.
Since Feb. 1 the AVO has set Augustine Volcano’s status at orange, meaning an eruption could occur at any time.
For more information on Augustine Volcano’s status and activity, visit the AVO Web site at www.avo.alaska.edu.
For ashfall and air pollution warnings, visit the National Weather Service Web site at pafc.arh.noaa.gov.
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