Monday, February 08, 2016

The Distribution of Placenames

I've always wanted to create a map that visualized the geographical distribution of place-names. bgrsquared has now made that map.

Places! allows you to map the relative density of place-names in different countries around the world. Using the application you can enter place-name prefixes or suffixes and view a map showing the geographic distribution of place-names containing those terms.

For example, in the UK we can enter the place-name suffixes of -thorpe and -thwaite to see where the Vikings settled in Britain. The resulting map shows that these two place-name endings are popular throughout the area that was once known as the Danelaw, following the Viking invasions of the ninth century.

If we take two more common town endings, such as -ford or -bridge we find that the geographic distribution of places with these endings is far more evenly spread across the UK.


Places! uses OpenStreetMap for the place-name data. The application includes a number of options which allow you to adjust the size of map, circle points and an 'advanced' option which allows you to carry out 'regular expression' searches.

You can have hours of fun with Places! For example in the USA you could search for the distribution of the San- or Santa- prefixes to see where there might have been a strong Spanish influence in place-names. On the other hand the suffix -ville might be a good indication of where French immigrants originally settled in the USA.
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