Places We’re From


I’ve riffed here over the blog-years about my fascination with maps and place names on them that tell so much about their history. I’m also a latin fancier especially as that language relates to plant names.

So finding on “The Atlas of True Names” that the name for New York comes from an original name that means “New Wild Boar Village” helps me puzzle out something I could not explain: why New York Aster is called by the latin name aster novaboracencis.

Looking for a Christmas gift for the word-map-freaks on your list? These maps might just be what you’re looking for…

… the new map traces the etymological roots of European and global place names and then translates them into English. The “City of Boatmen” is also known as Paris. Should you travel to the Land of the Fire Keepers, you’d find yourself in Azerbaijan. And Italy comes from the Latin word vitulus, which means “calf.”

“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.”

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I saw this map mentioned on the Rachel Maddow show a few days ago. When Spanish explorers asked the natives in what is now Mexico what they called the region. The reply in native tongue was “Yucatan”, meaning something like,”I don’t understand, what do you mean?” So the Spanish started calling that region Yucatan.