What's in a name? Embarras River

What's in a name? Embarras River

Marsha Roll isn't embarrassed to admit her knowledge of the French language is limited to one word: "embarras."

Roll, the director of the Embarras River Basin Agency in Greenup, has lived in the shadows of the Embarras River, whose name was a source of controversy in previous generations. Some spelled it "embarrass" and others spelled it "embarras."

The 195-mile-long river that begins in Champaign and ends at the Wabash River in Lawrenceville was named by French settlers in the 18th century. In French, the word "embarras" means "obstacle," and those settlers faced many difficulties along the river such as blockages and logjams.

The controversy over the spelling was squashed in 1964 when the U.S. Geographic Names Information System, with the help of locals, settled on the current spelling for the sake of consistency.

"If there's conflict in a name or someone wants to change a name or name an unnamed feature, then they would submit a proposal to the board and the board would do research and check with the state's geographic names authority as well as the local counties and present all that information to the board members and they make a decision on official name and spelling for federal use," said Lou Yost, executive secretary for domestic names at the USGNIS.

With the spelling of the name established, the pronunciation of the Embarras River is something many still struggle with. It's pronounced "EM-BRAH."

"A lot of times people will say 'embarrass.' That's the most common way people try to pronounce it," Roll said. "I try to correct everybody because that's the name of our organization. It's just one of those things if you're from here, you know how to pronounce it."

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