Thursday, April 16, 2020

What's in a Name?

The End is Near is an interactive map which allows you to search and visualize German towns by the syllables that their names end with - which is a hell of a lot more interesting than it sounds.

The letters at the end of German place-names can tell you a lot about local history, culture and geography. For example there are many German place-names which are derived from foreign languages. A search for Slavic suffixes, such as -ow or -itz, will reveal a strong distribution of these place-name endings in eastern Germany. These names date back to when Slavic languages were spoken in the eastern parts of the Holy Roman Empire.

Other place-name endings probably derive from local geographical features. These geographical based suffixes include -berg (mountain), -furt (ford), -brück (bridge) or -feld (field).

If you are interested in carrying out your own toponym research in other countries across the world then you might like the Places! interactive map. Places! allows you to map the relative density of place-names in different countries around the globe. 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 USA we can enter the prefix of -Las to see where towns and cities have names starting with the Spanish word for 'the'. In the UK we can view where place-names include the suffixes -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).

The Places! application 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 if you are interested in where Spanish plays a large part in local place-names you could also search for the distribution of the San- or Santa- prefixes. On the other hand the suffix -ville might be a good indication of where French immigrants originally settled in the USA.

You can explore the distribution of US place-names further on Place Names in the United States. This interactive map visualizes the spatial distribution of town & city place names in America.

For example you can view the distribution of place names starting with the Spanish articles (El-, Los- & Las-) (mainly found in the Southwest). Alternatively you can search using suffixes. For example the distribution of towns with common British town endings, such as -chester, -wick, -wich, -pool, -ham, -ness, -port & -worth (mainly in the Northeast).

Place Names in the United States has a database of around thirty thousand towns and cities in the United States. The place name data used is from and the application was built using Canvas, SVG and d3.js.

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