How are the names of roads, streets and other places on the map determined? In Vancouver, British Columbia, the process was until very recently pretty ad hoc and informal, until the formation, in 2012, of the city’s Civic Asset Naming Committee. The Tyee looks at the workings of that committee and the issues around naming and renaming places in Vancouver—where thanks to a legacy of colonialism, some names are rather more fraught than others.
Online maps are giving ghost towns a new life, of sorts. The Daily Southtown’s Ted Slowik looks at the case of Gilletts, Illinois, a forgotten milk stop on the Rock Island line. But thanks to its listing in the USGS’s Geographic Names Information System and the fact that it’s surrounded on all sides by medium-sized cities and towns, doing a search on Gilletts generates all kinds of results.
Shopping for a new home? A search on Zillow produces 12 results of homes for sale near Gilletts. Trulia, another real estate website, generates 84 results.
Searching for a job? The website Indeed shows 718 employment opportunities within 5 miles of Gilletts. Another site, Simply Hired, shows 563 jobs available within 5 miles of Gilletts.
You can find Gilletts on Mapquest. You can get the forecast for Gilletts on AccuWeather’s website. If you’re looking for a hotel room, Booking.com can show you more than 70 rooms available and their distance in miles from downtown Gilletts.
Except there is no downtown Gilletts, since it was never anything more than a depot where trains stopped to pick up milk that local farmers sold to markets in Chicago and elsewhere.
But according to Yelp, there are 115 places to eat, 233 things to do and 353 places to shop within striking distance of Gilletts.
The same is no doubt true with any named point on the map, and to be honest this is probably how it should be. Web services are providing results based on proximity to a given location: there’s no judgment about the significance of that location. You’re the one who put the ghost town’s name into the search engine: here you go.
I’ve mentioned Coming Home to Indigenous Place Names in Canada, a wall map of Canadian place names in indigenous languages, before. I’ve since received a review copy and have been able to examine it in some detail. One thing that struck me is the following statement, which appears on the map.
The place names in this map are the intellectual and cultural property of the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities on whose territories they are located. The names may not be mapped, copied, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the Nations, communities, and organizations who are their caretakers.
This isn’t an injunction not to use the names indicated on the map: that would be weird. Nor is it an assertion of copyright over geographical data: if you know anything about trap streets, you know that facts cannot be copyrighted. It’s an injunction not to replicate these names: not to compile them, not to add them to a database of toponyms, not to have them pass out of the control of the communities who shared those names with the mapmaker. This is, in other words, about protecting indigenous intellectual property from exploitation, and preventing this map from being a tool to strip-mine the cultural heritage of the communities who shared their information.
The 42×33-inch paper map is sold out as in rolled format but still available folded (and, as I said, as a PDF); if you need a rolled map to put on your wall, a second printing is tentatively scheduled for next month.
Previously: Indigenous Place Names in Canada.
Google is assigning names to neighbourhoods that, the New York Times reports, have little basis in reality—but once on Google Maps, those names swiftly come into a popular usage they never had before. The East Cut, in San Francisco, was the product of a branding agency; Fiskhorn, in Detroit, is actually a misspelling of Fishkorn, taken from a typo in the source map. (Searching for “Fishkorn” works just as well, though.) How such names end up on Google Maps, and therefore get a certain canonicity, is what’s interesting: it seems to be the result of a tech giant processing diverse data with remote fact checkers and not much in the way of local knowledge. [Boing Boing]
The University of Maine’s Canadian-American Center has published a map of indigenous place names in Canada:
Commissioned by Dr. Stephen J. Hornsby, Director of the Canadian-American Center, Coming Home to Indigenous Place Names in Canada was researched and designed by Dr. Margaret Wickens Pearce. The map depicts Indigenous place names across Canada, shared by permission of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities and people. The names express territorial rights and describe the shapes, sounds, and stories of sovereign lands. The names mark the locations of the gathering places, the communities, the places of danger and beauty, and the places where treaties were signed. The names are ancient and recent, both in and outside of time, and they express and assert the Indigenous presence across the Canadian landscape in Indigenous languages.
Previously: Mi’kmaw Place Names Digital Atlas.
The official Pyeongchang 2018 website has maps of the various facilities for the Winter Games, though except for the Pyeongchang Olympic Plaza and Gangneung Olympic Park maps, there isn’t a lot of detail. Some of that is ameliorated by this Story Map of Olympic venues, which makes use of DigitalGlobe satellite imagery; the interface is a little less than obvious, but you can navigate around each facility. See also Explore Pyeongchang in Google Earth (Chrome required). [Maps Mania]
There’s an interesting story behind the name of Pyeongchang (평창군). It’s often spelled PyeongChang, which is odd because you don’t expect camel case in romanized Korean; and before 2000 it was spelled Pyongchang. Both changes have an explanation: as The New York Times explains, “it was often confused with Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. So in 2000, the town added a letter, capitalized another and changed its name to ‘PyeongChang,’ though most foreign news agencies declined to use the capital C.” [CityLab]
Speaking of toponyms. As I watch more Olympics coverage than is strictly good for me, I can’t help but notice the CBC’s sports commentators make frequent reference to the “East Sea”—the body of water that Gangneung, which hosts a number of ice venues, is on the coast of. It’s better known as the Sea of Japan, but as I’ve mentioned before, that name is disputed by Korea, where there’s a push to have it called the East Sea (동해), reflecting longstanding Korean practice. CBC’s use of the name is likely simply good manners.
The year 2017 is almost at an end, but two more map books, published last month, have just come to my attention (via, as usual, the WMS’s indefatigable Bert Johnson). These, then, are very late additions to the Map Books of 2017 page:
Sad Topographies by Damien Rudd (Simon & Schuster), who “journeys across continents in search of the world’s most joyless place names and their fascinating etymologies.” This appears to be an outgrowth of the author’s sadtopographies Instagram account.1
New Lines: Critical GIS and the Trouble of the Map by Matthew W. Wilson (University of Minnesota Press). “Seeking to bridge a foundational divide within the discipline of geography—between cultural and human geographers and practitioners of Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—Wilson suggests that GIS practitioners may operate within a critical vacuum and may not fully contend with their placement within broader networks, the politics of mapping, the rise of the digital humanities, the activist possibilities of appropriating GIS technologies, and more.”
Streams in Great Britain have many different names—brook, burn, stream, water—and it turns out that the variations are regional. On Twitter, Ben Smith has been posting maps of Britain’s obscure and idiosyncratic stream names. Atlas Obscura has more, and also points to Phil Taylor doing something similar with Britain’s lakes. Language maps, meet toponyms. [Benjamin Hennig]
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.
Last year Eleanor Lutz published a medieval map of Mars that, while not strictly medieval in style, was a magnificent application of an ostensibly old aesthetic to a very modern map subject. Now she’s produced a sequel: The Goddesses of Venus is an annotated map that explores the etymological origins of each of Venus’s features, nearly all of which are named after women or female mythological figures. [Kottke]
Previously: ‘Here There Be Robots’: Eleanor Lutz’s Map of Mars.
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]
A guide to Mi’kmaw place names in Nova Scotia, the Mi’kmaw Place Names Digital Atlas was unveiled last year. It’s “an interactive map showing more than 700 place names throughout Nova Scotia, and includes pronunciation, etymology, and other features, such as video interviews with Mi’kmaw Elders.” Flash required (really?). [CBC News]
A decade ago Mark Monmonier published
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]