According to one of my favorite sources, the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word world comes from the Proto-Germanic wer, meaning “man” (as in werewolf), and ald, meaning “age.” Thus, world can be translated into “The Age of Man.”
And that’s exactly what German cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Pest call the world in their “Atlas of True Names.”
By “true names,” the pair are referring to the original, literal meanings of place names in English. The atlas, published by the pair’s company, Kalimedia, consists of five maps—Europe, British Isles, Canada, USA, and the World—and includes such places as Boar’s Head Lake (Lake Huron), Children of the Sun (Spokane), Navel of the Moon (Mexico), and Land of the Strong Ones and Land of the Really Strong Ones (Turkey and Turkmenistan).
Others have written about the maps, and most mention the mapmakers’ reference of Middle Earth in Kalimedia’s description:
Once the names have been taken back to their roots and translated into English, it is immediately apparent that our world has an extraordinary affinity with Middle Earth, the mythical continent where the events of Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are played out.
Middle Earth’s evocative “Midgewater”, “Dead Marshes” and “Mount Doom” are strikingly similar in nature to Europe’s “Swirlwater”, “Darkford” or “Smoky Bay”, as revealed by the Atlas of True Names.
I don’t think that begins to do justice to the wonderfully foreboding literal names of the British Isles. I can easily imagine a group of Hobbits setting out from their shire near Raven Breach in search of Mount Malicious in the Land of Darkness.
The map’s authors admit that their translations are not definitive, and they often lean toward more interesting or fanciful options. But each map includes a list of all names with their etymology—so argue away.
All of this makes “The Atlas of True Names” a great conversation starter. And that’s why this set is my newest addition to “8 Maps and Globs That Will Change Your Perspective of the World.”