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Articles in Place Names

Mapping the Terms Used for First-Order Administrative Divisions

By Martin W. Lewis | July 30, 2013 | 35 Comments

In examining the various countries of the world, I am often unsure what to call their main administrative divisions. Recently, I found myself writing about Peruvian departments but then wondered whether they might be called provinces instead. As it turns out, Peru is split into regions. Other countries are divided into districts, counties, governorates, divisions, and so on. Around twenty …

The On-Going Japan Sea/East Sea Naming Controversy

By Martin W. Lewis | June 22, 2012 | 15 Comments

The South Korean government was severely disappointed by the April 2012 meeting of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), as the global body responsible for standardizing the world’s maritime place-names declined to change the name of the sea sandwiched between Korea and Japan. The IHO will continue to refer to this stretch of the ocean as the “Sea of Japan,” a …

Scotland’s Past and Future Mapped

By Martin W. Lewis | April 6, 2012 | 23 Comments
British Isles 400 CE Map from Talessman's Atlas

The best on-line source of maps of pre-modern world history is Thomas Lessman’s Talessman’s Atlas of World History, hands-down. Lessman’s maps are well designed, aesthetically pleasing, and comprehensive. I have posted a magnified detail of his map of the world in the year 800 CE, depicting the British Isles. I do this in part to show the level of specificity …

Is Geography Reducible to Country Names and Locations?

By Martin W. Lewis | February 27, 2012 | 4 Comments
Africa Quiz from the Christian Science Monitor

The Christian Science Monitor asks its readers, “Think you know Africa? Take our geography quiz.” In the quiz, 16 of 20 questions merely ask for the name of a country indicated on a map. One question asks the name of a mountain range, and two ask for the names of cities shown in photographs. The final question is a bit …

The South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea?

By Martin W. Lewis | February 9, 2012 | 3 Comments

As the struggle for the Spratly Islands heats up, basic place names are coming into play. In the Philippines, news outlets and various official agencies now insist…

African Country Names in Indigenous Languages

By Martin W. Lewis | December 16, 2011 | 2 Comments
Mark Karan's Spread of Sango Map and Book Cover

After the recent GeoCurrents post on country names, Asya Pereltsvaig brought my attention to an interesting website called Endonym Map. The site features a single world map that shows the names of countries and dependent territories in their own official or national languages, as expressed in the script used for those languages. (A detail of the Endonym Map, showing most …

What’s in a (Country) Name: The Georgia/Grúziya Controversy

By Martin W. Lewis | December 12, 2011 | 23 Comments
List of YouTube Languages

Names of countries in foreign languages (exonyms) often bear no relationship to the names of the same countries in their own official language or languages (endonyms). Such differences are generally accepted without complaint; the fact that English speakers refer to Deutschland as Germany and Nihon as Japan is not a problem for the governments or the people of those countries.
Occasionally, …

Ethnic Politics and the Relocation of Ghana, Benin, and Mauritania

By Martin W. Lewis | December 10, 2011 | 7 Comments
Map of French West Africa from 1936

As was recently mentioned in the GeoCurrents discussion forum, the names of several modern African countries were derived from former African kingdoms (or empires) located in different places. When the British Gold Coast gained independence in 1957, for example, it was rechristened Ghana, a name borrowed from the Ghana Empire (830-1235 CE) in what is now Mali and Mauritania. In …

The Many Meanings of “Guinea”

By Martin W. Lewis | December 7, 2011 | 11 Comments
Map of West Africa Showing Guinea

Few place-names have been used to refer to more distinct places than “Guinea.” Four countries now share the name, three in western Africa (Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea), and one in the western Pacific (Papua New Guinea). Historically, several other places were referenced by the name as well. The Wikipedia disambiguation page lists thirteen “countries” called “Guinea,” in one form …

The Migration of Place Names: Africa, Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan

By Martin W. Lewis | December 5, 2011 | 11 Comments
Wikipedia Map of the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea

Several weeks ago, GeoCurrents noted that the place name “Afghanistan” had been geographically displaced, as it originally referred to a region in what is now northwestern Pakistan. Left unsaid was the fact that such toponymic displacement is common. Over time, the areas denoted by place names often expand, contract, or move laterally. If one is not aware of such dislocations, …

What’s In A (Place) Name? The Gulf Controversy

By Martin W. Lewis | January 20, 2010 | 4 Comments

In mid-January 2010, the Islamic Solidarity Games—scheduled to take place in Tehran in April—were cancelled over a toponymic dispute. The Iranian organizers of the athletic competition insisted on labeling the body of water located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula the “Persian Gulf” in their promotional materials. The event’s organizing committee, based in Saudi Arabia

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