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Toponymity: An Atlas of Words by John Bemelmans Marciano (Bloomsbury, 2010)


A place name or a word coined in association with the name of a place. Adjectives: toponymic and toponymous.

The study of such place names is known as toponymics or toponymy--a branch of onomastics.

Types of toponym include agronym (the name of a field or pasture), dromonym (the name of a transportation route), drymonym (the name of a forest or grove), econym (the name of a village or town), limnonym (the name of a lake or pond), and necronym (the name of a cemetery or burial ground).

See also:


From the Greek, "place" + "name"

Examples and Observations:

  • "The name Chicago is first recorded in 1688 in a French document, where it appears as Chigagou, an Algonquian word meaning 'onion field.'"
    (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 2000)

  • "An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as 'Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast.'"
    ("Hackers and Spending Sprees," Newsweek, Nov. 5, 2008)

  • "Hooterville was Xanadu with pickup trucks, an odd yet comfortable land with an irresistible charm."
    (Craig Tomashoff, "When Life Was Simple." The New York Times, July 4, 1999)

  • "When we find more than 600 places like Grimsby, Whitby, Derby, Rugby, and Thoresby, with names ending in -ly, nearly all of them in the district occupied by the Danes, we have striking evidence of the number of Danes who settled in England."
    (Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable, A History of the English Language. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978)

  • "Englishmen have pretty much considered anyone they've come into contact with as being lazy, poor, cowardly, untrustworthy, thieving, and of substandard morality, a mind-set of superiority reflected in a litany of set phrases in the language. . . .

    "Surprisingly, those who got the worst of English abuse were the Dutch. Most expressions we now use concerning the people of Holland are harmless, such as Dutch door, double Dutch, and Dutch oven, but previously, terms containing Dutch were the idiomatic equivalent of a Polack joke. A bookie who loses money is a Dutch book; Dutch courage is inspired only by booze; if you're in Dutch, you're in prison, or pregnant; and a Dutch widow is a prostitute. Still in wide use is to go Dutch, which describes an action--not paying for your date--that languages around the rest of the globe call to go American."
    (John B. Marciano, Toponymity: An Atlas of Words. Bloomsbury, 2010)

  • "In Algonquian the forms linked together in a toponym are descriptive as in Mohican missi-tuk 'big river,' and the toponym as a whole is used to identify a particular place [that is, Mississippi]."
    (William C. McCormack and Stephen A. Wurm, Approaches to Language: Anthropological Issues. Mouton, 1978)

  • "Magenta is a reddish-pink color, and it is a toponym. The rather upbeat color is named after a downbeat scene--the blood-soaked battlefield at the Battle of Magenta in Italy in 1859 (Freeman, 1997). Other toponyms include duffel bag (Duffel, Belgium), sardines (the island of Sardinia), and paisley (Paisley, Scotland)."
    (Dale D. Johnson, Bonnie von Hoff Johnson, and Kathleen Schlichting, "Logology: Word and Language Play." Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice, ed. by James F. Baumann and Edward J. Kameenui. Guilford, 2004)

  • "Words that you might not suspect were toponyms include tuxedo (Tuxedo Park, New York), marathon (from the battle of Marathon, Greece . . .), spartan (from Sparta in ancient Greece), bikini (an atoll in the Pacific where the atomic and hydrogen bombs were tested), [and] lyceum (a gymnasium near Athens where Aristotle taught) . . .."
    (Charles H. Elster, What in the Word? Harvest, 2005)
Pronunciation: TOP-eh-nim
Also Known As: place name
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