Thursday, November 26, 2009

What's In A (Place) Name?



So, you've finally filled in the blanks of your family's history, and tracked your ancestors in Pie Town, New Mexico; Spuyten Duyvil, NY; or Trinchinopoly in India.  Where do those names come from?

What's the connection between Kentucky in the US, and Quinté in Canada?  Is Palermo, in Italy, really derived from Greek?

Questions like these can be explored -- and quite possibly answered -- with dozens of online place name dictionaries.  Here are some of the best that you should know about.

School kids (some shoeless) in Pie Town, 
but how did it get that name, exactly?

US:
The origin of certain place names in the United States

The book of place-names (US focus, but with lots of international information)

Scotland:
Place-names of Scotland

Scottish land-names: their origin and meaning

Ireland:
The origin and history of Irish names of places

UK:
Geographical etymology: a dictionary of place-names giving their derivations

The place-names of England and Wales

South America:
Aztec place-names: their meaning and mode of composition

Canada:
 Place-names of Canada

Worldwide:
Names and their histories: a handbook of historical geography and topographical nomenclature

Bibliotheca classica: or, A dictionary of all the principal names and terms relating to the geography, topography, history, literature, and mythology of antiquity and of the ancients

Glossary of geographical and topographical terms and of words of frequent occurrences in the composition of such terms and of place-names


There are hundreds of place names dictionaries and gazetteers for more local areas, like a particular state, county or city.  To find them, try searching at Google Books and HathiTrust.

And Pie Town?  Sure enough, guy opens a shop at some crossroads, sells homemade pies that everyone likes, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.

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