Whatchamacallit: The Science of Place Names


| May-June 2009

In the hierarchy of sexy sciences, toponymy—the science of place names—ranks pretty low. But consider this: In the coming year, a rapidly urbanizing China will require 20,000 new place names. And somebody, somewhere has to put them on the map.

If a location isn’t consistently or correctly labeled, it can cause problems for humanitarian organizations, as it did in 2005 when aid workers couldn’t get help to areas in Pakistan ravaged by an earthquake. To prevent this sort of identity crisis, the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names works to standardize the naming process and make information accessible across municipalities, countries, and languages.

Fortunately, the process does not require homogenization, reports Canadian Geographic (Jan.-Feb. 2009). For instance, geographers in the Great White North met with Inuit elders to document and preserve “descriptive” place names, like Nunavut’s Qakuqtannguaq—known locally as the “fake white islands.”



Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $40.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $45 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!




Facebook Instagram Twitter