05 October 2008


I’m starting a letter-writing campaign with students in my A.P. Human Geography and World Geography classes at Ocean Springs [MS] High to persuade National Geo, Nystrom, Hammond, Rand McNally, and the other map and atlas publishers to change the toponym “Gulf of Mexico” to “Sea of Mississippi,” since it is actually a sea as much as the Caribbean Sea and others and it washes the shores of our great State; plus there is a great river of the same name.

Just joking!
I understand that countries might desire toponymic changes to reflect their own countries–such as Indonesia already labeling the ocean west of it the “Indonesian Ocean,” and the countries on the eastern shore of the Arabian peninsula pushing to name the adjacent sea “The Gulf”–but the cartographic confusion would be considerable. For example, could Kentucky justify renaming the Ohio River? After all, it possesses it within its territory. All international toponyms outside the jurisdiction of individual countries would have to be (re)negotiated, with neutral names triumphing. Or, would there be increasing international tension as a result of nationalistic interest in “toponyming?” Wouldn’t Scandinavian countries want to rename the Baltic Sea the “Scandinavian Sea?” As the world globalizes, there will be more desires to reflect the local, including the nation and its place names.

But, perhaps a compromise with the Sea of Japan/East Sea dispute would be the "Sea of East Asia" or the "East Asian Sea." Otherwise, increasing localization of toponyms will become the norm, unless economic power and influence continue to be the toponymic policies of the large cartographic corporations.

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