Bi-lingual streetnames in Amsterdam, do we really need it?

StraatnaambordSo once in a while I visit Amsterdam and have a drink or two in the centre. Afterwards I use the tram to get back to the hotel. This weekend I was quite surprised to find out that all the streetnames are announced in English, at each stop. The easy and obvious one is of course Centraal Station, which was translated to Central Station. I also can see how they came up with Rembrandt Square instead of Rembrandtsplein. But translating “Spui” to “Courtyard with a chapel” doesn’t help any tourists to find their destination. Continue reading ‘Bi-lingual streetnames in Amsterdam, do we really need it?’

Toponymic confusion revisited


The local authorities in the town of Webster, Massachusetts are planning to change the road signs that lead to the local lake. The sign leads to lake “Chargoggagoggmanchaoggagoggchaubunaguhgamaugg”, but it should actually lead to “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg”.

According to the Guiness Book of Records, the name of the lake is the fifth longest word in the world and the longest lake name anywhere. The name originates from the local language of the Nipmuc indians. Freely translated, the name means “You fish on your side, I fish on my side and nobody fishes in the middle of the lake”. A nice example of native Amercican divide and conquer

The interesting bit, however, is that there are 26 spelling variations of the name in the US Geographic Names System and that none of these variations match the actual road signs.

Naturally, the authorities could spend time and money to find out how these mistakes have been brought about. I think, however, that an investment in standardisation would be a much wiser choice.

This example is of course rather extraordinary and the discriminating value of “Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg” is quite high. But different spelling of geographical items will eventually lead to toponymic confusion (see my blogpost earlier this year). Apparently, the inhabitants of Webster call the lake “Lake Webster”. I wonder whether that has got something to do with the pronunciation of Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg…?

Toponymic confusion

via-dolorosa1Did you know that Urshalim, al-Quds, Yerushalayim and Jerusalem are four names for the same city? There is great international confusion over the names of countries, cities, streets and rivers which have been changing so frequently that postal services, health and rescue workers and transportation companies are struggling very hard to cope.

The UN’s expert committee on names is expanding standardisation efforts in order to to make it easier to find your way in an increasingly globalized world. The most prominent examples of these efforts are the change from Bombay to Mumbai and of Peking to Beijing, thus re-installing the correct names from a pre-colonial era. But the toponymic name battle still has some major challenges. Some examples… Continue reading ‘Toponymic confusion’