It’s easy to think of words such as California or Texas or New York as just the places on the map, but those words actually meant something, once, and those meanings offer a little glimpse into history. Now cartographers Stephan Hornes and Silke Peust have designed maps that labels states, cities, and landmarks with the literal meanings of their official names. Most of the meanings are bland descriptions of the terrain or climate of the places they describe. Michigan, for example, is the “Land of the Big Lakes,” and Mississippi is the “Land of the Great River.” Others carry baffling specificity, like Alabama’s “Land of the Thicket Clearers” or Missouri’s “Land of the People with Dugout Canoes.” Some are poetic, like Mexico’s “Navel of the Moon” and Houston’s “Heart’s Farm.” Others are more worldly: Cuba is the “Place to Find Gold,” and “Chicago” means “Stink Onions,” for the plants that grew near the river’s edge.

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