Great Land of the Tattooed     A land of springs       The Gentle One

                          Under the Oaks         I Don't Know!      New Wild Boar Village

    The Boat Destroyer               Here are People        The Awesome

                       Green Hollow            Joyful Bay           Go and Milk! 

The Atlas of True Names is a pet project by two German cartographers, the husband and wife team of Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust. They wanted to make an map that would give the entymological roots of place names -- so they did. It looks just like a normal world fold-out map, but where you would usually see Mexico, you now see Navel of the Moon; London is now the Hillfort.

Apparently Stephan Hormes has long been taken with J.R.R. Tolkien's maps of the Middle Earth, and it occurred to him that if you took the root meanings of the names of modern-day cities, towns, seas, and rivers that you would come up with something that had the same simple, romantic aura as Tolkien's maps. Whether or not you are a Tolkien fan or an etymology buff, this atlas is entertaining and interesting. I hope that at some point in the future they will expand it from being just a large fold-out map and make it a true atlas.

Have no worries, although this is a German project it is also published in English. It doesn't seem to be available through Amazon, however. If you want a copy you'll have to go to their web-site, here. They have maps in English and German, of the entire world, of Europe, and of a few select European cities (I believe these last are only available in German). They cost five pounds each, plus shipping.

Unfortunately, finding the correct etymologies of place names is a difficult task, and many of the given true-names have been contested by the wordnerds of the world. Before you start explaining to your Mexican friends that Yucatán means "I don't understand you" you might want to look into competing theories. And unfortunately, the authors give no indication which etymologies are based on clear documentation and which have simply been floating around for so long that they are generally accepted on faith. The Atlas of True Names is more for amusement than an actual etymological reference book. It does however have an etymology section that explains the proposed roots of the true-name, making it much easier to check on the ones you suspect as being specious.


You can order a copy and see selections of the maps at:
http://www.kalimedia.com/Atlas_of_True_Names.html

For further reading, including a good discussion of possible errors, you should check out:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=861#more-861

You can also check out the New York Times review of the atlas at:
http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/21/in-place-names-old-meanings-made-new/index.html?hp

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