Where In The World?

EVER TRY to find Byzantium on the map?

Chances are you couldn’t, unless you were pouring over a map rather ancient vintage. But perhaps someone passed you the word that Byzantium’s name was changed some centuries ago to Constantinople. So then you look for Constantinople, only to learn that the venerable city’s name was changed in relatively modern times to Instanbul.

All of this is by way of prelude to our endorsement of a plea for international cooperation in the fixing of place names. A bid for just such agreement on a global basis was made last fall by a panel of geographers to assemble under United Nations auspices.

The work of geographers, cartographers and historians, as well as the understanding of ordinary citizens, is hindered by confusion surrounding the names of cities, towns, rivers, mountains, and so on. The disarray in nomenclature is most distressing in area which have passed from one conquering nation to another, with the result that the name changes take on nationalistic symbolism.

But there are less difficulties which nonetheless make for confusion. Take the Swiss city which we know as Geneva. The French refer to Geneve, the Germans to Genf, and the Italians to Ginevra.

Across the world in the far east, there is confusion of sorts over the national Chinese island of Taiwan, still known to millions of persons as Formosa. The tiny island off the coast of the mainland China which Americans known as Quemoy is Kinman to its natives.

Even here in South Carolina, there are those who still think of Joanna as Goldville in Elgin as Blaney.

Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect any real degree of international uniformity in place names, but unless an effort is made, the situation may get worse instead of better.

We wish the geographers well in their undertakings and hope that the United Nations can lend a hand.

December 28, 1967  State (published as The State) 
 Columbia, South Carolina
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