Are there other names which mean essentially the same thing. If there is a univeral process that goes into the making of a chowder that distinguishes a chowder, what is it? Are there some sorts of food produce conducive to "chowdering" and others that are not? Is there a list of chowder types somewhere? I ask because I sense that all of those elements would go into a good definition--not just a dictionary definition--of what makes for good chowders.
According to Food Network and chowhound.com, chowders are thick, usually cream- or milk-based soups with chunks of vegetables and/or fish. A cream soup is generally pureed, a thinner consistency and smooth, with no chunks of food.
Food Network also notes the regional aspects, in that the Northeast seafood-based chowders are more common, while further inland meat-based soups are more prevalent. http://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/chowder-and-soup/index.html
Chowder's roots are in the Northeast, with the most popular being New England Clam Chowder. It has been said that the soup took its name from a type of French cooking vessel, the chaudiere. But the French can't claim responsibility for this truly is an American tradition. Customarily, chowder included onion, potatoes, and cream. Nowadays, not all chowders adhere to these guidelines. New England Clam Chowder is sometimes made with milk, and Manhattan Clam Chowder doesn't have any milk or cream, but has a tomato base instead. As chowders pop up across the country, they have taken on many different ingredients but most people still expect a chunky, creamy soup. So whether it's corn chowder or seafood chowder, it will not be a smooth puree and it will not be thin and wimpy.
PreparedPantry.com describes chowder attributes:
A chowder is a thick, rich, chunky soup usually made with a white sauce base though Manhattan chowders have a tomato base. Originally, it was a fishermen’s stew made with seafood but today, vegetable chowders are common such as corn chowder and potato chowder.
Chowders typically have five parts:
The vegetables or seafood, the focal ingredient of the soup.
Ancillary ingredients which may include cream, diced onions, bacon, or herbs.
The cooking liquid—usually broth or stock.
A thickening agent—usually cornstarch, flour, or potatoes.
Seasonings including salt and pepper.
In tribute to French origins, can I suggest that chowders are soups that begin with a roux. Rhode Island chowder is thick but clear - it contains butter, but no cream or tomato. It does start with a butter/flour base.