Place Names

The Weather West Blog Community and the Possible End of the Great California Drought

One of my favorite blogs is Weather West: California Weather and Climate Perspectives, run by meteorologist Daniel Swain. Posting once or twice a month, Swain focuses on current and upcoming weather events and conditions. He delves into meteorological complexities but writes in an accessible manner that can be easily understood by non-specialists. More important for the concerns of GeoCurrents, Swain’s posts are always illustrated with informative and often striking maps. For those who appreciate the aesthetic properties of cartography, it can be difficult to beat meteorological mapping. I often find

Mapping the Terms Used for First-Order Administrative Divisions

Term Used for First-Order Administrative Divisions MapIn 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 such terms are listed on Statoids, the most authoritative website on the matter. As a result, it is easy to get confused.

As… – Read More

The On-Going Japan Sea/East Sea Naming Controversy

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 name regarded by most Koreans as an unjust colonialist construct. The South Korean government does not officially object to the term “Sea of Japan” per se

Scotland’s Past and Future Mapped

British Isles 400 CE Map from Talessman's Atlas

British Isles 400 CE Map from Talessman's AtlasThe 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 found in his maps—although if one wants to see real complexity, Lessman’s depiction of the same area in… – Read More

Is Geography Reducible to Country Names and Locations?

Africa Quiz from the Christian Science Monitor

Africa Quiz from the Christian Science MonitorThe 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 more complicated, asking for the identification of the only African country that is not a member of the African Union (Morocco)… – Read More

African Country Names in Indigenous Languages

Africa in the Endonym MapAfter 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 of Africa, is reproduced here.) A table below the map provides the official name of each state in English, as well as the English names… – Read More

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

Map of Georgia Showing Different Names Used For the CountryNames 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, however, diplomats from a given country request that other governments change its name. In 1985, francophone Ivory Coast… – Read More

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

Map Showing Modern Ghana and the Old Empire of GhanaAs 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 1975, the leaders of Dahomey changed its name to Benin, even though the former Benin Empire (1440–1897 CE) was situated in… – Read More

The Many Meanings of “Guinea”

Map of the Three African "Guineas"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 or another, including the former Dutch Guinea and German Guinea in West Africa. The same article counts seven additional regions called “Guinea,” including one… – Read More

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

Map of Relocated African Place NamesSeveral 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, confusion can result.

The historical displacement of place names is especially pronounced in Africa. “Africa” itself is a prime example. “Afri” was originally a… – Read More

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

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 – Read More