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What's in a Name?

Published 23rd September 2014 by The Times Atlas

The newly named Queen Elizabeth Land in Antarctica, and Mount Obama, the highest point on Antigua, are among 5,000 place name changes featured in the new 14th edition of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, published on 25th September 2014.

It’s not unusual for monarchs, presidents and explorers to have places or geographical features named after them. Examples among the 200,000+ features named in The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World range from the immediately obvious, such as Washington D.C. and Lake Victoria, to more surprising tributes like Colombia, which was named after explorer Christopher Columbus even though he never went there.

It’s not just famous people who inspire place names either. Truth or Consequences in New Mexico, formerly called Hot Springs, was renamed after a popular US game show after a vote by its citizens, on the promise of an annual ‘fiesta’ by the show.

However, like presidencies, monarchs and fame, place names can be short lived. As people fall out of favour it’s not unusual for their names to disappear from the map: St Petersburg (known locally as Sankt-Peterburg) was known as Leningrad between 1924 and 1991, after the Russian leader, a name which has disappeared in favour again of St Petersburg. Also in Russia, Volgograd, once known as Tsaritsyn, and then Stalingrad, may become Stalingrad once again as Vladimir Putin proposes holding a referendum to change the name.

Changes in the UK are rare: Wootton Bassett was renamed Royal Wootton Bassett – the first town in more than 100 years to receive the title ‘Royal’, in recognition of its efforts to honour the UK’s war dead. Staines has also been renamed Staines-Upon-Thames. In contrast, China is the most frequent name changer in the world at present. The country continually revises its local government system, which has a knock-on effect on how towns and villages are named.

The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World has an index of over 200,000 names, unrivalled in any other commercial atlas.

Fast Facts:

  • Some of the more unusual and bizarre names in the atlas include: Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump (tourist site, Canada), Fray Bentos (town, Uruguay), Devil’s Mother (hill, Ireland), Murderkill (river, USA), Disappointment Island (New Zealand), Blubberhouses (town, Yorkshire UK), Kissing (town, Germany) and Bing Bong (town, Australia).

  • The shortest place name in the atlas is Å, a settlement on the Lofoten Islands, Norway.

  • The longest town names in the atlas are Montigny-Mornay-Villeneuve-sur-Vingeanne (France) and Nossa Senhora da Graça de Póvoa e Meadas (Portugal).

  • The longest name that contains no vowels is Ysbyty Ystwyth, a village in Ceredigion, Wales.


    The new, completely revised and updated, edition of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World contains 320 pages of maps and illustrations which show the scale of the world’s physical features, states and territories in exceptional detail, unconstrained by the limits of a screen.

    Find out more

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