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Immigrants vs. emigrants

I went to Emigrant Lake in Ashland recently, and I was surprised by the name. I looked it up in my encyclopedia/dictionary, and "emigrant" was defined as one who leaves one's country or region to settle in another. Immigrant, on the other hand, is one who enters a country to settle permanently. It just seemed strange to me. Can you tell me the origin of the name?

— Ruth Roberts, via email

Well, Ruth, the whole emigrant/immigrant thing is sort of a tomato/to-mah-to thing ... which reads horribly when written.

A person can be both an immigrant and an emigrant at the same time depending on whether they're described by where they're going versus where they're coming from.

An example would be "Jack and Jill" emigrated from the valley when they immigrated to the hill.

In the case of Emigrant Lake, this seems to have happened, or at least with its predecessor, Emigrant Creek. According to the seventh edition of Oregon Geographic Names, our "go-to" source in matters such as these, emigrants from back east crossed over the Cascade range and followed the creek down into the Rogue Valley to settle in the 1800s. They named the creek "Emigrant," apparently because they still viewed themselves as emigrants when they did so.

Emigrant Lake began when Emigrant Creek was dammed for irrigation in 1926. The subsequent lake kept the name and was enlarged even further when the dam was raised in 1960.

Hope that helps, Ruth.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com.