It is difficult to find anyone these days who is not familiar with Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical world of orcs, hobbits and dwarves. A whole generation of film-goers is familiar with such place names like "Dead Marshes" and "Mount Doom."
But this peculiar nomenclature isn't unique to Middle Earth. In fact, such names are everywhere. In France, for example, youl'll find the City of Boatmen. The Caucasus plays host to the Land of the Fire Keepers. And who hasn't dreamed of vacationing in the Land of Calves? But to get to these places, you'll need a new map, which should be hitting bookstores in the Great Land of the Tattooed -- Great Britain -- by the end of the month.
Called the "Atlas of True Names," the new map traces the etymological roots of European and global place names and then translates them into English. The "City of Boatmen" is also known as Paris. Should you travel to the Land of the Fire Keepers, you'd find yourself in Azerbaijan. And Italy comes from the Latin word vitulus, which means "calf."
"We wanted to let the Earth tells its own story," Stephan Hormes, who produced the maps together with his wife Silke Peust, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The names give you an insight into what the people saw when they first looked at a place, almost with the eyes of children. Through the maps, we wanted to show what they saw."
Where Rough Grass Grows
Hormes and Peust, both cartographers, call their mini-company Kalimedia, and got their start last summer with German language versions of three maps -- one of Germany, one of Europe and one of the world. Their product sold well, encouraging them to put out the two fold-out English maps now available. The first shipment is currently on the way to a distributor in the UK. A Spanish version and a French version are in the works.
Peust and Hormes did much of their etymological research by plowing through stodgy reference works and endless Web sites related to the origins of place names. "It is very interesting to read what people have found out," Hormes says, "but you have to keep flipping the pages. I am a cartographer and it's my job to put as much information as possible in a single image."
The result looks exactly like what one has come to expect from a map -- except that it's not always easy to know what one is looking at. That dot on the East Coast of the US looks like it should be New York, but it's labelled "New Wild Boar Village." (York, in England, derives from the Old English eofor for wild boar and the Latin vicus, for village.) Up the coast into Canada, one finds "Remote Corner Where Rough Grass Grows" in place of Halifax. To keep map readers from thorough confusion, there is an index on the back with all place names, both current and etymological.
Hormes admits that the inspiration for the maps really does come from a childhood obsession with "The Lord of the Rings." "The names (in Middle Earth) are so clear that every kid understands them," he says, but once he and his wife began their research, "it became a trip through peoples and language."
But Tolkien fans won't be disappointed with the new maps. The Mediterranean, for example, is hard to miss in the "Atlas of True Names." It's called the Sea of the Middle Earth.