Place Names as Ethnic Indicators

Place names (or toponyms) are an indispensable element of human orientation and communication. Since ancient times, people have named their physical surroundings including natural landmarks and man-made features. In the American context, European immigrants have left their toponymic mark, for instance by establishing and naming numerous places, towns, and cities. The use of place names to delineate the distribution of ethnic groups and the extent of cultural areas represents an established means of research by identifying, cataloging, and mapping distinctive names and respective locations. Recent scholarship also highlights the potential of toponyms for the critical assessment of cultural patterns and social contexts that underlie the form and process of naming. The character and meaning of a name thus provides valuable historical and cultural information on settlement patterns and allows insights into the status, character, and mindset of settlers, eponyms (name givers), and local residents.

Further Reading

Berg, L.D.; Vuolteenaho, J. (2009; Eds.): Critical Toponymies. The Contested Politics of Place Naming. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Pub.

Fuchs, S. (2015): An Integrated Approach to Germanic Place Names in the American Midwest. The Professional Geographer 67(3), pp. 330-341.

Rose-Redwood, R.; Alderman, D.; Azaryahu, M. (2010): Geographies of Toponymic Inscription: New Directions in Critical Place-Name Studies. Progress in Human Geography 34 (4), pp. 453–470.

Randall, R.R. (2001): Place Names: How They Define the World - and More. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

Tuan, Y.-F. (1991): Language and the Making of Place: A Narrative-Descriptive Approach. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 81 (4), pp. 684–696.

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