The Atlas of True NamesWe know that all words have origins, and place names probably have some of the most interesting origins.

When I attended school in London as a child, we learned about the history of the city partly through place and street names – Pudding Lane for example, was where the Great Fire of London started, and Rotten Row is a corruption of ‘route du roi’ (road of king). (If you’re interested in this subject, check out this website).

The Atlas of True Names is a set of world maps where the traditional names of cities, countries and geographical features have been replaced with words showing their origins and literal meanings. The results are surprising and intriguing, with London renamed the somewhat less substantial “Unfordable River Town” and Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, becoming “Sibling Love”.

As some language commentators have pointed out though, it’s best not to take the map too seriously – some of the etymology may be disputed or incorrect. As a way to look at the world in a different light and discover the fun of words though, it’s a great resource. And as the cartographers say:

“We wanted to let the Earth tells its own story,” Stephan Hormes, who produced the maps together with his wife Silke Peust, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “The names give you an insight into what the people saw when they first looked at a place, almost with the eyes of children. Through the maps, we wanted to show what they saw.” (Source: Der Spiegel)

Take a look at a slideshow of the maps here.