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Word Nerd: Coffenbury

By Ryan Hume

Published on May 4, 2017 9:40AM




1. Coffenbury Lake: a long, shallow dune lake in Fort Stevens State Park with no inlets or outlets. Popular for family outings, there are two swimming areas, a boat launch, a picnic area and restrooms. The 2.5-mile-loop Coffenbury Lake Trail circles out from the lake. Surrounded by dense forest, the lake is stocked with trout and popular with anglers.


Coffenbury, a variant of the Anglo-Saxon surname, Coffinbury or Coffinberry, is most likely an occupational surname given to undertakers. Though there is no clear evidence of its origin, applying names to people based on their livelihood was a common practice. Coffin entered English prior to 1338 borrowed from the Old French, cofin, which meant “sarcophagus.” Despite its origin, the term in English originally applied to a basket or a chest. The first known reference in English to the term applying to a burial casket would be nearly two hundred years later in 1525. Bury comes out the Old English byrgan, which is a cognate with the Old High German verb bergan, meaning “to protect” or “to conceal.” The North Coast lake is named in honor of George Washington Coffenbury, an early pioneer who emigrated from Illinois to become a four-term county judge in Clatsop County following the creation of the Oregon Territorial Court in 1849.

“Years later, [Chris] Lang has returned to begin working on his fourth feature film: ‘Coffenbury Lake.’ Though not the same lake as the one that inspired the film, the name ‘Coffenbury’ and the atmosphere — surrounding trees with green moss dangling from their limbs — seemed apt for a horror movie, Lang said.”

—​Jack Heffernan, “At Coffenbury Lake, horror is in the name,” The Daily Astorian, April 20, 2017

“The Mayflower took the Coffenbury funeral party round to Greenwood yesterday.”

—“Along the Water Front,” The Daily Astorian, July 16, 1895, P. 3


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