A map making the rounds shows where your state’s name comes from. What are the odds that pilgrims from Plymouth, England, would land in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620?! Eh, pretty good. (Wikipedia, via the Washington Post Know More blog)
- Read through our terrific activity “Diversity in New York Place Names,” then through the equally terrific Wikipedia page on U.S. state names. Adapt the activity’s questions for a state-based study of etymology and toponymy.
- What groups have influenced state names in the U.S.? (Native Americans and Western Europeans)
- What does the map above tell you about diversity in the U.S.? (As the nation was expanding, it was home to Native American communities and powerful Western European immigrants.)
- What do the names tell you about the land itself? (The present-day U.S. has a wildly diverse landscape, from Narragansett Bay’s own Mediterranean island paradise, to the big flat river, to the land of the warrior queen.)
- Listen to this awesome song about the toponymy of Turkey’s largest city,
Byzantium ConstantinopleIstanbul. Why did Constantinople get the works? Is it anybody’s business but the Turks’?
- Like the state names in the U.S., Istanbul’s toponymy is a study in the relationship between the indigenous and immigrant populations of the area.
- The city was founded as Lygos or Byzantion by Greek explorers. When the city became a powerful Roman outpost, the Romans adapted the name in their own language (Latin): Byzantium. When the city became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, it was re-named after the emperor, Constantine I—Constantinople. When Turkey became an independent republic in the early 20th century, the nation adopted the traditional indigenous Turkish name for the city (literally, “the city”), Istanbul.
- The song also name-checks the toponymy of the largest city in the U.S. Why do you think the name of that city is New York, and not New Amsterdam—why’d they change it? Can you say? Did people just like it better that way? (Read through the activity again!)
- What is the history of your community’s name? Is it political—named after a founding settler or powerful businessman? Is it honorific—named after a spiritual or historic symbol? Is it descriptive—named after a prominent landform or historic event? Is it named after another place?
- Your local library or government-records office is a great resource for discovering the often weird-and-wonderful world of toponymy. Librarians and archivists are enthusiastic and endlessly helpful resources.