Secretary Haaland Takes Action Against Derogatory Place Names

We’ve seen efforts to replace racist and offensive place names in the past, but in general they’ve happened at the state or provincial level. But on Friday U.S. interior secretary Deb Haaland took action at the federal level. She issued two orders designed to speed up the replacement of derogatory place names, the process for which to date has been on a case-by-case, complaint-based basis. One order declares “squaw” to be an offensive term and directs the Board of Geographic Names to change place names on federal lands that use the term; the other establishes a federal advisory committee on derogatory geographic names.

Previously: Maine Reviews Registry Containing Racist Place Names; Racist Place Names in Quebec, Removed in 2015, Remain on Maps; Washington State Senator Seeks Removal of Offensive Place Names; Review: From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow.

Approved and Rejected Place Names in Ontario

CBC News explores how places in Ontario receive new names. There are hundreds of thousands of unnamed places in the province, and at the rate new names are being approved by the Ontario Geographic Names Board, it’s likely to stay that way: 85 new names have been approved in the past five years. On the other hand, 54 proposed names were rejected for not failing to meet the rules, which the article digs into:

The Ontario Geographic Names Board is guided by a strict list of naming rules. Submissions can’t have the same name as another nearby feature. Bad words are not allowed, nor are names that could seem like advertisements.

When it comes to people, a name won’t be considered unless that person has been dead for at least five years. Even then, there’s niche criteria. The person needs to have left a legacy either locally, provincially or nationally.

There’s even a rule about not naming something to commemorate a victim of an accident or a tragedy if they didn’t leave some sort of other legacy.

Maine Reviews Registry Containing Racist Place Names

The Portland Press-Herald: “State officials have removed an official registry of Maine islands for review after the Press Herald inquired about how at least five privately owned islands and ledges still have names incorporating racial slurs, decades after they were forbidden under state law.” The registry is the Coastal Island Registry, which lists state- and privately owned islands; a 1977 Maine law explicitly banned place names with the n-word, and was later amended to include slurs against indigenous peoples. [Osher Map Library]

Previously: Racist Place Names in Quebec, Removed in 2015, Remain on Maps; Washington State Senator Seeks Removal of Offensive Place Names; Review: From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow.

Racist Place Names in Quebec, Removed in 2015, Remain on Maps

Despite the fact that Quebec’s Commission de toponomie removed 11 offensive place names, some involving the n-word or its French equivalent, in 2015, those names still appear on maps from third parties, including Google Maps. The commission says it asked Google to remove the names, but as the person behind a new petition to get the names changed points out, the offensive names have, with one exception, only been removed, not replaced. (The commission says they’re working on it.)

I imagine what’s at play here is that Google and other mapmakers would honour a request to change a name, but not to leave a previously named place unnamed; but then again I’d have thought they wouldn’t be so tone deaf. I expect this to change presently.

Previously: Le Jardin au Bout du Monde.

An Interview with Margaret Pearce, Mapmaker of Indigenous Place Names

Coming Home to Indigenous Place Names in Canada (map)

Coming Home to Indigenous Place Names in Canada, a wall map of indigenous place names in Canada, came out in 2018. A few days ago Design Feminism posted an interview with the mapmaker, Dr. Margaret Pearce, in which she talks about engaging with Indigenous communities, her design decisions, and other behind-the-scenes detail. [Leventhal]

Previously: Indigenous Place Names in Canada; Indigenous Place Names and Cultural Property.

Naming and Renaming Streets and Places in Vancouver

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.

Search Results for Forgotten Towns

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.

Indigenous Place Names and Cultural Property

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.

The PDF download page has similar language that is part of the map’s terms of use, which you have to agree to before downloading the map.

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’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]