Archive for December 7th, 2008

The atlas of true names

Ever wonder what the name of a place meant? Sometimes it’s easy, as in “San Francisco” being the name of a city named after St. Francis. Other times, however, it’s almost impossible to tell at a glance because the place-name is in an obscure or even dead language.

Enter the Atlas of True Names, featured in today’s entry at Strange Maps. As the post’s author explains:

Travellers, discoverers and cartographers have named the world around us so that we might find our way in it. The purpose of a place name, therefore, is to be as distinguishing as possible. But there is another, opposite force at work in toponymy: geographical and other similarities often lead to different places receiving similar names — even if these names are then modified by differences in language.The English city of Oxford and the Dutch city of Coevoorden (*) were named after river segments shallow enough to facilitate bovine transport.

This phenomenon becomes apparent when one digs up the ‘deep etymology’ of place names, as is done in The Atlas of True Names. The Atlas substitutes the original meanings of the world’s place names for the better-known, ossified toponyms.

Neat! I want a copy of this for myself. I love stuff like this.

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