A couple of weeks ago Atlas Obscura had a fascinating story about toponomy—the naming of places—and my adopted home province of Quebec. In 1997, the Quebec government decided to mark the 20th anniversary of the Charter of the French Language (known popularly around here as Bill 101) by naming 101 islands in the Caniapiscau Reservoir in northern Quebec after significant works of Quebec literature—the names of novels, short stories, poems and plays, as well as expressions taken from those works. Quebec’s Commission de toponymie called the archipelago le Jardin au Bout du Monde (the Garden at the Top of the World). Controversy ensued, as it tends to do in this province: as you might expect from a project commemorating Bill 101, the names came from exclusively francophone works; works by Quebec anglophones were ignored. And the indigenous communities pointed out that the islands were mountains before the reservoir was flooded in the early 1980s, and those mountains had indigenous names. See Atlas Obscura for the full story. [WMS]
There are about 100,000 lakes of any size in Manitoba, according to a provincial survey from the 1970s. About 10,000 have been named to date; so there’s 90,000 to go.
Here’s a long read from the Winnipeg Free Press on the work of Manitoba’s provincial toponymist, Des Kappel, who’s responsible for naming geographical features in my home province. With a substantial bit on the province’s commemorative project naming features after Manitoba’s casualties in the First and Second World Wars, and the unusual exception made for a living NHL hockey player. [WMS]
The firm of Strumpshaw, Tincleton & Giggleswick produces whimsical maps of funny place names, including the Magnificently Rude Map of World Place Names, which shows where on the globe there are places with names that mean Naughty Things in English. Because we are 12 years old. [Buzzfeed]
A decade ago Mark Monmonier published From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow, the definitive treatment on toponyms and the controversies behind naming places (here’s my review). Now we have an Australian entry: Eamon Evans’s Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else: The Stories Behind Australia’s Weird and Wonderful Place Names, which came out last week. The book, Joshua Nash reports for Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service, “charts place names from the serious – the many names for Australia, for example—to the jocular, like Australia’s many rude and dirty topographic monikers.”
Many of Evans’s humorous stories go a way to responding to some of the scientific inadequacies and toponymic foibles so common in place naming studies. And after I’ve spent almost a decade inundated with often sterile and uninspirational place name theory and how it may fit within more general research in onomastics, the study of proper names, Evans’s tongue-in-cheek take is more than welcome.
I get the distinct impression that this is a less-serious work of scholarship than Monmonier’s. [WMS]
As is often the case with disputed boundaries, what online maps show depends on who they’re showing it to. So when it comes to Crimea, which annexation by Russia two years ago many countries refuse to recognize (not least of which Ukraine!), Google Maps shows Crimea as Russian territory to Russian users, as Ukrainian territory to Ukrainian users, and disputed territory to everyone else. As the Washington Post reports, that didn’t stop Google from getting in trouble with Russia last month, when Google changed Crimean names in all versions of Google Maps to conform with a 2015 Ukrainian law that removed Soviet names from Ukrainian territory. Russian Crimean politicians called it “Russophobic” and “topographical cretinism,” according to the Post; by last Friday, though, the name changes had apparently been reverted. [WMS]
A Washington state senator, Pramila Jayapal, is pushing for some three dozen racially charged place names to be changed (her press release). A list and map of the place names is here. From the Crosscut article:
Changing place names can be a laborious process. The Washington State Committee on Geographic Names reviews proposals, and recommends changes to the Washington State Board on Geographic Names. Both operate under DNR and cannot initiate changes on their own. To do that, the board seeks input from the public, tribes, historians, historical societies, scholars, and political entities such as county commissions, etc. who can support, oppose or remain neutral on a name change. Citizens can nominate new names that must have relevance. The names board then makes a final judgment.
Once a name is changed on state maps, it goes to the federal level for consideration by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which oversees the federal name database. That database is the source of names on national maps and databases, ranging from the Park Service to Google.
Relevant to this issue is Mark Monmonier’s 2006 book, From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim and Inflame (Amazon, iBooks), which I reviewed when it was released: its third chapter deals with removing racially pejorative names from the map. [via]
Arun Ganesh talks about making a multilingual map of India: “Hardly anyone in India even knows that OSM can handle regional languages, simply because its not visible anywhere on the map. After some recent interest from the community in making regional language maps for openstreetmap.in, I decided to give this a shot to make a multilingual place map for India using OSM and Mapbox Studio that I have been playing with recently.”