This article focuses on the scientific study of place names. For a discussion of the origins of place names themselves see Place name origins.

Toponymy is the scientific study of place names (toponyms), their origins, meanings, use and typology. The word "toponymy" is derived from the Greek words tópos (τόπος) ("place") and ónoma (ὄνομα) ("name"). Toponymy is itself a branch of onomastics, the study of names of all kinds. Toponymy is distinct from, though often confused with etymology, which is the study of the origins of words.



A toponymist is one who studies toponymy. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "toponymy" first appeared in English in 1876; since then, toponym has come to replace "place-name" in professional discourse among toponymists. It can be argued that the first toponymists were the storytellers and poets who explained the origin of specific place names as part of their tales; sometimes place-names served as the basis for the etiological legends. The process of folk etymology usually took over, whereby a false meaning was extracted from a name based on its structure or sounds. Thus, the toponym of Hellespont was explained by Greek poets as being named after Helle, daughter of Athamas, who drowned here as she crossed it with her brother Phrixus on a flying golden ram. The name, however, most likely is derived from an older language, such as Pelasgian, which was unknown to those who explained its origin. George R. Stewart theorized, in his book Names on the Globe, that Hellespont originally meant something like "narrow Pontus" or "entrance to Pontus," "Pontus" being an ancient name for the region around the Black Sea, and by extension, for the sea itself.[1]

Place names provide the most useful geographical reference system in the world. Consistency and accuracy are essential in referring to a place to prevent confusion in everyday business and recreation. A toponymist, through well-established local principles and procedures developed in cooperation and consultation with the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN), applies the science of toponymy to establish officially recognized geographical names. A toponymist relies not only on maps and local histories, but interviews with local residents to determine names with established local usage. The exact application of a toponym, its specific language, its pronunciation, and its origins and meaning are all important facts to be recorded during name surveys.

Scholars have found that toponyms provide valuable insight into the historical geography of a particular region. In 1954 F. M. Powicke said of place-name study that it "uses, enriches and tests the discoveries of archaeology and history and the rules of the philologists."[2] Toponyms not only illustrate ethnic settlement patterns, but they can also help identify discrete periods of immigration.[3][4]

Toponymists are responsible for the active preservation of their region's culture through its toponymy. They typically ensure the ongoing development of a geographical names data base and associated publications, for recording and disseminating authoritative hard-copy and digital toponymic data. This data may be disseminated in a wide variety of formats, including digital (Geographical Information Systems & Google Map formats) and hard-copy topographic maps.

Noted toponymists

See also

Related concepts


NB for 'etymology' in below links, read 'toponymy'

Regional toponymy



  1. ^ Stewart, George Rippey (7 August 1975). Names on the Globe (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195018950. 
  2. ^ Powicke, reviewing Armstrong, Mawer, Stenton and Dickins The Place-Names of Cumberland (1950-53) in The English Historical Review 69 (April 1954), p 312.
  3. ^ McDavid, R.I. (1958). "Linguistic Geographic and Toponymic Research". Names (6): 65–73. 
  4. ^ Kaups, M. (1966). "Finnish Place Names in Minnesota: A Study in Cultural Transfe". The Geographical Review (Geographical Review, Vol. 56, No. 3) 56 (56): 377–397. doi:10.2307/212463. JSTOR 212463. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Toponymy — To*pon y*my, n. A system of toponyms; the use of toponyms. {To*pon y*mal}, {Top o*nym ic}, {Top o*nym ic*al}, a. [Webster 1913 Suppl.] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • toponymy — [tō pän′ə mē] n. [< Gr topos, a place (see TOPIC) + onymia, a naming < onyma, NAME] 1. the place names of a country, district, etc., or the study of these 2. Anat. Rare the nomenclature of the regions of the body …   English World dictionary

  • toponymy — toponymic /top euh nim ik/, toponymical, adj. /teuh pon euh mee/, n. 1. the study of toponyms. 2. Anat. the nomenclature of the regions of the body. [1875 80; TOP + onomy, on the model of HOMONYMY, SYNONYMY; see ONYM, Y3] * * *       taxonomic… …   Universalium

  • toponymy — noun Etymology: International Scientific Vocabulary, from top + Greek onyma, onoma name more at name Date: 1876 the place names of a region or language or especially the etymological study of them • toponymist noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • toponymy — noun lexicological study of place names; a branch of onomastics Syn: toponomastics See Also: toponymic …   Wiktionary

  • toponymy — Topical or regional nomenclature, as distinguished from organonymy. [topo + G. onyma, name] * * * to·pon·y·my (to ponґĭ me) [topo + Gr. onoma name] terminology pertaining to the regions of the body …   Medical dictionary

  • toponymy — n. study or research of geographical place names …   English contemporary dictionary

  • toponymy — to·pon·y·my …   English syllables

  • toponymy — to•pon•y•my [[t]təˈpɒn ə mi[/t]] n. the study of place names • Etymology: 1875–80; top + onomy, on the model of synonymy; see onym, y III top•o•nym•ic ˌtɒp əˈnɪm ɪk top o•nym′i•cal,adj …   From formal English to slang

  • toponymy — /təˈpɒnəmi/ (say tuh ponuhmee) noun (plural toponymies) 1. the study of the placenames of a region. 2. Anatomy the nomenclature of the regions of the body. –toponymic /tɒpəˈnɪmɪk/ (say topuh nimik), toponymical /tɒpəˈnɪmɪkəl/ (say topuh nimikuhl) …   Australian-English dictionary

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