Monday, January 23, 2023

The Open Etymology Map(s)

Back in 2013 I saw Noah Veltman introducing his History of San Francisco Place Names map at Geomob. Noah's map explains the meaning of San Francisco street names. Click on a street on the map and you can learn who or what that street is named for. 

Ever since the release of the History of San Francisco Place Names I've become fascinated by toponyms and the etymology of street names. If you are also interested in knowing the meanings behind the street names in your town or city then a good place to start is two maps, both of which are confusingly called the Open Etymology Map. 

In 2021 Daniele Santini released his Open Etymology Map, a global map which explains the origins of individual street names around the world based on information taken from OpenStreetMap and Wikidata. MapComplete has also released their own Open Etymology Map. If you click on a highlighted street or location on either of these two maps you can view a Wikipedia article related to the street's etymology.

Both these Open Etymology Maps have the same problem. Using data from OpenStreetMap and Wikidata has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is Wikidata has far more information about the origins of street names in some cities (e.g. San Francisco) than it does in other cities (e.g. London). The advantage is that you can actually improve the map in your town or city yourself by adding etymological data to Wikidata. Once Wikidata has the etymological information about a location then that same information should start appearing on both the Open Etymolgy Maps.

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