Where in the World Were Carnarvon and Senegambia?

Place names change for many reasons (Berlin, Ontario became Kitchener during the First World War for patriotic reasons; Peking became Beijing to reflect the official Chinese dialect) and while we still remember and use many of the old names, many more have become obscure or entirely forgotten.

In Whatever Happened to Tanganyika: The Place Names That History Left Behind, Harry Campbell reminds us of dozens of these names that now only pop up in stamp collections, old atlases, or in our memories: from countries that changed their names postcolonially (Ceylon, Belgian Congo) to places with similar names scattered across the globe (Guinea, Georgetown), adding bits of history, conjecture, and humour along the way.

This is a light-hearted but informative book that is a lot of fun to read.  Being a map addict for many years, some of these stories were already familiar to me, but Campbell has added a few new examples to my corpus of useless knowledge.  For example, I knew about Memel, but “Neutral Moresnet” between Germany and Belgium was new to me.

An old song asks, “Why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.”  Campbell must agree, because Constantinople isn’t one of the place names he examines.  But there’s plenty of other great stories in this book, and with short chapters, it’s perfect to dive into at your leisure, and maybe impress your friends with the story behind The Islands of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins (maybe they’ve unknowlingly holidayed there).

* By the way, Carnarvon now goes by the Welsh spelling of Caernarfon, and Senegambia was, as you might expect, a combination of Senegal and Gambia, independent nations now, but tied together by geography and, for a brief period in the 1980s, politics.

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3 Responses

  1. Excellent! What a great idea for a book. The alternative is to collect stamps – then you come across all these ex-states: South West Africa, Dahomey, Irish Free State, Saarland, Indo China. My daughter has just taken a notion to do just that. It’s an education for us both.
    I had never heard of Neutral Moresnet either.

    By the way, if you’re a map addict, as am I – I recommend the blog Strange Maps.
    And the wonderful book You Are Here, details at http://wp.me/pDjed-M It’s number 5 on the list.

    • Thanks for the tip! I actually worked in a stamp and coin store when I was young, and that might be the origin of my interest in obscure places.

  2. I used to work with Harry – he’s a lexicographer – and it’s great to see his book get some press.

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