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Place Names

  • By: Derek H. Alderman
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

Place names (or toponyms) are used to identify and differentiate geographic features, both human-made (e.g., countries, cities, and streets) and physically based (e.g., mountains, lakes, and rivers). Toponyms are systems of spatial reference and symbolic expression. They are one of the most fundamental ways in which people connect with places. Traditionally, geographers have classified and mapped names as artifacts; however, newer research emphasizes the politics of place naming.

Place Name as Spatial Reference

Place names facilitate the identification and physical navigation of the landscape, using a single word or series of words to distinguish one place from another. As part of the larger structure of language, toponyms permeate our daily vocabulary, both verbal and visual. They are found on road signs, advertising billboards, and addresses. Place ...

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