Everipedia Logo
Everipedia is now IQ.wiki - Join the IQ Brainlist and our Discord for early access to editing on the new platform and to participate in the beta testing.


Toponymy is the study of place names (toponyms), their origins, meanings, use and typology.[1]


The word "toponymy" is derived from the Greek words tópos (τόπος) "place" and ónoma (ὄνομα) "name". Toponymy is itself a branch of onomastics, the study of names of all kinds.[2] This includes the names of Places, Villages, Towns and cities.

Meaning and history

Toponym is the general name for any place or geographical entity.[3] Related, more specific types of toponym include hydronym for a body of water and oronym for a mountain or hill. A toponymist is one who studies toponymy.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "toponymy" first appeared in English in 1876; since then, toponym has come to replace "place-name" in professional discourse among geographers. It can be argued that the first toponymists were the storytellers and poets who explained the origin of specific place names as part of their tales; sometimes place-names served as the basis for the etiological legends. The process of folk etymology usually took over, whereby a false meaning was extracted from a name based on its structure or sounds. Thus, the toponym of Hellespont was explained by Greek poets as being named after Helle, daughter of Athamas, who drowned there as she crossed it with her brother Phrixus on a flying golden ram. The name, however, is probably derived from an older language, such as Pelasgian, which was unknown to those who explained its origin. George R. Stewart theorized, in his book Names on the Globe, that Hellespont originally meant something like "narrow Pontus" or "entrance to Pontus", "Pontus" being an ancient name for the region around the Black Sea, and by extension, for the sea itself.[4]

Place names provide the most useful geographical reference system in the world.

Consistency and accuracy are essential in referring to a place to prevent confusion in everyday business and recreation.

A toponymist, through well-established local principles and procedures developed in cooperation and consultation with the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN), applies the science of toponymy to establish officially recognized geographical names. A toponymist relies not only on maps and local histories, but interviews with local residents to determine names with established local usage. The exact application of a toponym, its specific language, its pronunciation, and its origins and meaning are all important facts to be recorded during name surveys.

Scholars have found that toponyms provide valuable insight into the historical geography of a particular region.

In 1954 F. M. Powicke said of place-name study that it "uses, enriches and tests the discoveries of archaeology and history and the rules of the philologists".[5] Toponyms not only illustrate ethnic settlement patterns, but they can also help identify discrete periods of immigration.[6][7][8]

Toponymists are responsible for the active preservation of their region's culture through its toponymy.

They typically ensure the ongoing development of a geographical names data base and associated publications, for recording and disseminating authoritative hard-copy and digital toponymic data.

This data may be disseminated in a wide variety of formats, including hard-copy topographic maps as well as digital formats such as geographic information systems and Google Maps.


In 2002, the United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names acknowledged that while common, the practice of naming geographical places after living persons could be problematic. As such, the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names recommends that it be avoided and that national authorities should set their own guidelines as to the time required after a person's death for the use of a commemorative name.[9]

In the same vein, authors Pinchevski and Torgovnik considers the naming of streets as a political act in which holders of the legitimate monopoly to name aspire to engrave their ideological views in the social space.[10] Similarly, the revisionist practice of renaming streets, as both the celebration of triumph and the repudiation of the old regime is another issue of toponymy.[11] Also, in the context of Slavic nationalism, the name of Saint Petersburg was changed to the more Slavic sounding Petrograd from 1914 to 1924,[12] then to Leningrad following the death of Vladimir Lenin and back to Saint-Peterburg in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. After 1830, in the wake of the Greek War of Independence and the establishment of an independent Greek state, Turkish, Slavic and Italian place names were Hellenized, as an effort of "toponymic cleansing". This nationalization of place names can also manifest itself in a postcolonial context.[13]

Frictions sometimes arise between countries because of toponymy, as illustrated by the Macedonia naming dispute in which Greece has claimed the name Macedonia, as well as the Persian Gulf naming dispute. Over the years, it has also been noted that a map producer used the name Persian Gulf in a 1977 map of Iran while retaining "Arabian Gulf" in another 1977 map focusing on the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, underlying the occasional spilling of place names issues into the economic sphere.[14]

Noted toponymists

  • Marcel Aurousseau

  • Andrew Breeze

  • William Bright

  • Richard Coates

  • Albert Dauzat

  • Eilert Ekwall

  • Yoel Elitzur

  • Margaret Gelling

  • Michel Grosclaude

  • Ernest Nègre

  • W. F. H. Nicolaisen

  • Oliver Padel

  • Robert L. Ramsay

  • Adrian Room

  • Charles Rostaing

  • Henry Schoolcraft

  • Walter Skeat

  • Albert Hugh Smith

  • Frank Stenton

  • George R. Stewart

  • Isaac Taylor

  • James Hammond Trumbull

  • William J. Watson

See also

  • Labeling (map design)

Related concepts
  • Toponymic surname

  • Planetary nomenclature

  • German toponymy

  • Germanic toponymy

  • Place names considered unusual

  • List of continent name etymologies

  • List of country name etymologies

  • List of etymologies of country subdivision names

  • Latin names of European rivers

  • Latin names of rivers

  • List of river name etymologies

  • Old European hydronymy

Regional toponymy
  • Biblical toponyms in the United States

  • Toponymy in the United Kingdom and Ireland Toponymical list of counties of the United Kingdom List of British places with Latin names List of generic forms in British place names List of places in the United Kingdom List of Roman place names in Britain Welsh place names Territorial designation

  • Place names in Irish

  • Celtic toponymy

  • Historical African place names

  • Japanese place names

  • Korean toponymy and list of place names

  • List of English exonyms for German toponyms

  • List of English exonyms for Italian toponyms

  • List of French exonyms for Dutch toponyms

  • List of French exonyms for German toponyms

  • List of French exonyms for Italian toponyms

  • List of German exonyms for places in Italy

  • German placename etymology

  • List of Latin place names in Europe

  • List of U.S. place names connected to Sweden

  • List of U.S. state name etymologies

  • List of U.S. state nicknames

  • Maghreb toponymy

  • Names of European cities in different languages

  • New Zealand place names

  • Place names in Sri Lanka

  • Roman place names

  • Toponyms of Finland

  • List of adjectival forms of place names

  • List of double placenames

  • List of long place names

  • List of names in English with counterintuitive pronunciations

  • List of places named after peace

  • List of places named after Lenin

  • List of places named after Stalin

  • List of places named for their main products

  • List of political entities named after people

  • List of renamed places in the United States

  • List of short place names

  • List of tautological place names

  • List of words derived from toponyms

  • Lists of things named after places

  • List of geographic acronyms and initialisms

  • List of geographic portmanteaus

  • List of geographic anagrams and ananyms

  • United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names

  • UNGEGN Toponymic Guidelines


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgOrmeling Sr., F.J. (16–18 October 1989). "Terms used in geographical names standardization". In Tichelaar, T.R. (ed.). Proceedings of the Workshop on Toponymy held in Cipanas, Indonesia. Cibinong: Bakosurtanal.CS1 maint: date format (link)
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Link//doi.org/10.1179%2F0027773814Z.000000000103Tent, Jan (29 April 2015). "Approaches to Research in Toponymy". Names. Tandfonline. 63 (2): 65–74. doi:10.1179/0027773814Z.000000000103.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgUnited Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, London, 10–31 May 1972. 1974. New York: United Nations. Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, p. 68.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgStewart, George Rippey (7 August 1975). Names on the Globe (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-501895-0.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgPowicke, reviewing Armstrong, Mawer, Stenton and Dickins The Place-Names of Cumberland (1950–53) in The English Historical Review 69 (April 1954), p 312.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgMcDavid, R.I. (1958). "Linguistic Geographic and Toponymic Research". Names (6): 65–73.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Link//www.jstor.org/stable/212463Kaups, M. (1966). "Finnish Place Names in Minnesota: A Study in Cultural Transfer". The Geographical Review. Geographical Review, Vol. 56, No. 3. 56 (56): 377–397. doi:10.2307/212463. JSTOR 212463.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgKharusi, N. S. & Salman, A. (2011) The English Transliteration of Place Names in Oman. Journal of Academic and Applied Studies Vol. 1(3) September 2011, pp. 1–27 Available online at www.academians.org
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.ca"Eighth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names". United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2002.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Link//doi.org/10.1177%2F016344370202400305Pinchevski, Amit; Torgovnik, Efraim (May 2002). "Signifying passages: the signs of change in Israeli street names". Media, Culture & Society. doi:10.1177/016344370202400305.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.caAzaryahu, Maoz (2009). "Naming the past: The significance of commemorative street names". Critical Toponymies: The Contested Politics of Place Naming. Routledge.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkbooks.google.caLincoln, Bruce (2000). Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia. Basic Books.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkwww.researchgate.netRose-Redwood, Reuben; et al. (2009). "Geographies of toponymic inscription: new directions in critical place-name studies" (PDF). Progress in Human Geography: 460.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Link//doi.org/10.1179%2F000870404X12897"Toponymy and Geopolitics: The Political Use — and Misuse — of Geographical Names" (PDF). The Cartographic Journal. 2004. doi:10.1179/000870404X12897.
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkwww.wtsn.binghamton.eduWho Was Who in North American Name Study
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkexonyme.6x.toForgotten Toponymy Board (German)
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkweb.archive.orgThe origins of British place names
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkcornish-place-names.wikidot.comAn Index to the Historical Place Names of Cornwall
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkweb.archive.orgPlanetary Maps: Visualization and Nomenclature
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM
Citation Linkweb.archive.orgDevelopment of a Local Toponym System at the Mars Desert Research Station
Sep 29, 2019, 5:03 PM