Naming the land

When we know a place well, we have our own local names for streets and landmarks. In our village, where there is a ‘Front Street’, many people call the parallel street, ‘Back Street’, even though it has a quite different name on the street sign. There is a Mill Road [though the mill no longer exists] and what about Tattlepot Road or Cake Street? These names are on the signs. There are other names – up past the wavy navy school, my mother used to say, or over the rickety rackety bridge. 

In his book, Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane tells us how the people of the Isle of Lewis have many Gaelic names for prats of the wide peat moors there. Directions for finding a stray sheep, seen the night before might include ‘just behind the Grey Lodge by the Raven’s Hollow above the Mill Loch’.  The Apache people of Western Arizona also have many names which define the small detail of the land where they live and farm:, for example, tsee Doil’zh Tenaahijaahawhich translates as Green Rocks Side by Side Just Down Into Water (denoting a group of mossy boulders on the bank of a stream0 and Tsee Diel’ige Naaditine, Trail Extends Across Scorched Rocks (a crossing at the bottom of a canyon).

Think about a place you know well. Draw a map, perhaps. Write down names for different spots in that place. Use ones you know, names that you use yourself, make up names.

If we don’t have names for some of these places, we may not notice them. Think of this task as a way of really placing your familiar space on the map.


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