The Atlas of True Names Restores Modern Cities to Their Middle Earth-ish Roots

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I was born in the City of the Flow­land Peo­ple, made my way to Stink Onion upon reach­ing matu­ri­ty, then onward to New Yew Tree Vil­lage where I have lived for the last 217 moons.

Look up some of your key co-ordi­nates in The Atlas of True Names and you too can have a per­son­al his­to­ry as myth­ic-sound­ing as mine. The maps—for the UK, USA, Cana­da, and World—replace mod­ern geo­graph­i­cal names with the orig­i­nal ety­mo­log­i­cal roots of cities, coun­tries, and bod­ies of water, trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish. Their web­site picks the “Sahara desert” to illus­trate the true name selec­tion process. Their cho­sen label “The Tawny One” has its basis in es-sahra, trans­lat­ed from the Ara­bic as “the fawn col­ored desert”. It would be inter­est­ing to learn how many pro­fes­sion­al trans­la­tors lent a hand with the ety­mo­log­i­cal pars­ing. There are a lot of lan­guages in this world and we all know the hav­oc Google Trans­late can wreak.

Mar­ried car­tog­ra­phers (and Lord of the Rings fans) Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust acknowl­edge that there could be alter­nates to their trans­la­tions. This should come as a relief to the civic boost­ers of Philadel­phia. Quib­blers will no doubt enjoy tak­ing issue with Hormes and Peust’s choic­es. Hope­ful­ly, any result­ing inter­net brawls will take place on a higher—and dustier—plateau than those where vul­tures pick hap­less celebri­ties to shreds.

Order one of these maps and pack it along on your sum­mer road trip. Even if younger fam­i­ly mem­bers can’t be both­ered to learn how to nav­i­gate with­out a phone, the nar­ra­tive­ly rich names are sure to leav­en those long hours in the car. (How bad­ly do you have to go, Jason? Can you hold out until Table or should Dad­dy pull over in the Val­ley of the Dark­land Dweller?) 

It’s liv­ing his­to­ry in trav­el ver­sion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dis­cov­er J.R.R. Tolkien’s Per­son­al Book Cov­er Designs for The Lord of the Rings Tril­o­gy

Down­load Eight Free Lec­tures on The Hob­bit by “The Tolkien Pro­fes­sor,” Corey Olsen

Willie Nel­son Audi­tions for The Hob­bit Film Sequel, Turns 80 Today

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the author of sev­en books includ­ing the increas­ing­ly obso­lete Zinester’s Guide to NYC and No Touch Mon­key! and Oth­er Trav­el Lessons Learned Too Late. Fol­low her @AyunHallliday

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  • John Conolley says:

    Stink Onions is a bad trans­la­tions. Lin­guists are now say­ing Chica­go was named for ramps, not onions.

  • Chase Neal says:

    Ety­mol­o­gy, (OGr. ety­mon “true sense” and logos “speech, ora­tion, dis­course, word”) is the study of the ori­gin and his­to­ry of words. For the first time, the Atlas of True Names uses ety­mol­o­gy to give us an unusu­al insight into famil­iar geo­graph­i­cal names – with intrigu­ing results.….. Once the names have been tak­en back to their roots and trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish, it is imme­di­ate­ly appar­ent that our world has an extra­or­di­nary affin­i­ty with Mid­dle Earth, the myth­i­cal con­ti­nent where the events of Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are played out. 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 Fear­some”. The Atlas of True Names restores an ele­ment of enchant­ment to the world we all think we know so well. It takes the read­er on a jour­ney into the unknown – a unique explo­ration of unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ry in that famil­iar place we all know as ‘home’. Take a look at the world through fresh eyes!

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