Map: If Real-World Places Had Names Like “Winterfell” and “Mount Doom”

A partnership of Slate and the New America Foundation.
July 3 2013 7:47 AM

From “Land of the Oarsmen” With Love

The literal meanings of places in the world, mapped.

From the “Misty Mountains” to “Winterfell,” the names of places in fantasy do for us what most real-world names do not: They evoke something. With their primitive literalism, they conjure a sense of dread, as in “Mount Doom” or durability, as in “Storm’s End,” or peace, as in “Rivendell.” Of course, the names of most places in the real world have meanings too, but many have slipped from common knowledge long ago. The above map, designed by cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust, labels countries, cities, and landmarks with the literal meanings of their official names. Some places, such as “Darkpool” (Dublin) or “Land of the South Wind” (Australia) or “Sea of Middle Earth” (Mediterranean Sea) seem torn straight from a Tolkien epic. Others, such as “I Don’t Understand You!” (Yucatan, Mexico), “Tax Haven for Pilgrims” (Astrakhan, Russia), and “We’re Coming From Cutting Leaves!” (Abidjan, Ivory Coast), are more perplexing. To see further details about the etymology of the names and other maps like this, or to order printed copies, see the cartographers’ website. For more detail on places in the U.S., check out the U.S. map of literal place names.

Map published here with permission.

Disclaimer from cartographers: Not all translations are definitive. The reader may be offered a number of possible alternatives, or the translation may be prefixed by “possibly” or “probably.” Please accept the Atlas of True Names as an invitation to the world as a strange, romantic continent.

Chris Kirk is Slate's interactives editor. Follow him on Twitter.