Google’s Invented Neighbourhoods

Google Maps (screenshots)

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]

Indigenous Place Names in Canada

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.

The map is available for purchase; a PDF is available for download for personal or educational use. [MAPS-L]

Previously: Mi’kmaw Place Names Digital Atlas.

The Pyeongchang Winter Games: Maps and Toponyms

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.

Two More Books for 2017

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.”

Ben Smith’s Maps of British Stream Names

Ben Smith

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]

Le Jardin au Bout du Monde

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]

Eleanor Lutz’s Goddesses of Venus

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.

Manitoba: 100,000 Lakes, 90,000 Still to Be Named

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]

Mi’kmaw Place Names Digital Atlas

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]

Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else: A Book on Australian Toponyms

mount-buggeryA 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]

Russia Accuses Google Maps of ‘Topographical Cretinism’ Over Crimea

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]

Washington State Senator Seeks Removal of Offensive Place Names

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]

A Multilingual Map of India

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.”