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A map showing the original meanings of place names in North America

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Now this is impressive: It's called the Atlas of True Names, and it reveals the etymological origins and translations of familiar place names whose original meanings we've mostly forgotten. Looking at it, you'd think North America was some sort of fantasy novel.

The Atlas of True Names was compiled by cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust. The duo has, in addition to the map of the United States, also produced similar maps of Canada and the British Isles. And they're all available for purchase.


Hormes and Peust point out some of the more Tolkien-like place names:

Middle-earth’s evocative “Midgewater”, “Dead Marshes” and “Mount Doom” are strikingly similar in nature to Europe’s “Swirlwater”, “Darkford” or “Smoky Bay”, as revealed by the Atlas of True Names.

Many geographical names are clearly rooted in Man’s observation of his natural environment; the physical location of a settlement: “At the Foot of the Mountain” – Piedmont, the character of an important water course: “The Gentle One” – The Seine or even just the local vegetation: “Under the Oaks” – Potsdam.

Unsurprisingly, countries and landscapes often derive their names from the characteristics of the people who lived there: “Great Land of the Tattooed” – Great Britain, whilst local mythology and regional rulers also frequently leave their legacy: “Isle of the Monster’s Eye” – Peleponnese or “Illustrious Emperor” – Zaragoza.

Sometimes, it is impossible to deny the force of the Roman proverb ‘nomen est omen’. For instance Grozny - the Chechnyan capital which, over the last years, has been destroyed in so many wars, – translates as “The Awesome”.


Here are some sweet detailed images:


[Via Grist]