Call for papers: Plural Toponymies. Multiple and Competing Place Names

Naming places is an essential part of the human territorialization processes that constitute political geography. This call for contributions comes within the scope of international scholarship on political and critical toponymy, focusing on the political, identity-related and functional implications of place naming. We aim to investigate the production and variations of the “toponomascape” and more broadly, of the linguistic landscape. Place naming, whether official or informal, whether it derives from practice or from a legal process, can be considered as a social technology that assigns a function and a set of references to a place, and contributes to establishing and/or revealing a social and political order.

Beyond the scholarly use of toponymy to reconstruct peopling processes and the history of our relation to our environment, its geopolitical dimension on various scales has long been of interest to academics (Azaryahu 1996; Zelinski 1997). However, it was not until the 2000s and 2010s that the conceptual aspects of this issue were structured, along with the identification of areas of focus and hotspots (Alderman 2008; Giraut and Houssay-Holzschuch 2008a; Guillorel 2008; Berg and Vuolteenaho 2009; Rose-Redwood et al. 2010; Bigon 2016; Puzey and Kostanski 2016). This period also saw the articulation of theoretical hypotheses to interpret the motivations and practices that drive place naming, inspired by linguistics (Tent and Blair, 2009) or political science, and in particular by Foucault’s, Deleuze’s and Gramsci’s approaches in terms of apparatus (dispositif), spectacularisation and hegemony (Vuolteenaho et al. 2012; Giraut and Houssay-Holzschuch 2016). Major developments have been presented in books, journals and literature reviews, exploring issues such as the naming of territorial rearrangements and “new regionalism” (Giraut and Houssay-Holzschuch 2008b), place name commodification (Light and Young, 2014; Medway and Warnaby, 2014) as well as the remembrance value of street names (Bulot and Veschambre, 2006; Rose-Redwood et al., 2018).

The present call for contributions focuses on a topic that has so far remained poorly documented and analyzed: the diverse toponymic situations where usage, maps and nomenclatures reveal the coexistence of multiple and sometimes conflicting place names, associated with different registers. These frequent situations offer a rich interpretative potential, and can be considered through the prism of political and cultural geography as markers of the diversity of representations and practices. They can also reveal historical variations in people’s relations to a given space and claims over this space.

This issue will endeavor to document, analyze and interpret the various situations where official toponymy comes into conflict with an active vernacular toponymy:

  • Situations of multilingualism and toponymic recognition of name corpuses in different languages (Cenoz et Gorter 2006): implications in terms of culture and heritage, land tenure and geopolitics associated with the local legitimacy of toponyms.

  • Conflicting recordings of toponymic corpuses in online maps: private maps (Google maps, Here…) and collaborative maps (OpenstreetMap) may promote private or vernacular toponyms as an alternative to those used in official maps. This emerging question, which arose in association with digitization and critical mapping, remains little documented and even less theorized.

  • Rural microtoponyms: the heritagization associated with the leisure society, and addressing systems in metropolized rural areas. Systematic addressing policies on the one hand and path signage on the other have transformed place-based (hamlets, farms) and collective location systems into a system based on individual roads and addresses. Although it is presented as a simple technical process of modernization, this shift is not neutral: it contributes to reconfiguring the toponomascape of rural areas by changing the names of everyday places, taking inspiration from a selected and reinterpreted heritage.

  • Urban addressing policies, in particular in the cities of the South (Farvacque-Vitkovic C. et al. 2005), where major campaigns were delivered to rationalize odonymy, often concomitantly with the creation of a land register. These policies have come into conflict with resilient informal practices based on district names, that reflect a different relation to place.

Case studies can include Southern countries (which we particularly welcome) or Northern countries, and cover the usual hotspots of place naming geopolitics (South Africa, Israël-Palestine, Eastern Europe, USA-Canada…) or other locations. The perspective of this call for contributions is deliberately transversal and comparative, as this emerging scientific field aims to grasp the cultural and economic implications of processes that are both global and eminently contextual. By examining addressing policies and their social impacts in contexts as diverse as Northern rural areas and Southern cities, we hope to highlight the interaction between fairly similar technologies and extremely diverse issues, stakeholders and contexts.

More broadly, we expect that we will gain valuable insights on multiple naming, non-institutional practices of toponymy and their geopolitical implications by comparing very contrasted situations –including situations of multilingual conflict, which can be more or less regulated or exacerbated by mapping and addressing technologies and policies.

The papers, written in French or English, must be in the region of 30,000 characters (plus illustrations). Please refer to our contributor guidelines on:

Papers must be sent by 29 February 2020 to this issue’s Coordinator, Frédéric Giraut ( with a copy to Karine Delanay, Editorial Secretary, (, who will forward the papers to the reviewers. The thematic dossier will be published in issue 53 of EchoGéo (July-September 2020).

Coordination of this issue: Frédéric Giraut is a Professor in the Department of Geography of Université de Genève. He co-organised the International Symposium on Place Naming in Contemporary Africa, which took place in September 2018 in Niamey.



Alderman D., 2008. Place, naming, and the interpretation of cultural landscapes. In Graham B. and Howard P. (ed.), The Ashgate research companion to heritage and identity, Aldershot, Ashgate Press, p. 195-213.

Azaryahu M., 1996. The power of commemorative street names. Environment & Planning D: Society & Space [En ligne], vol. 14, n° 3, p. 311-330.

Berg L. D., Vuolteenaho J. (ed), 2009. Critical Toponymies: The Contested Politics of Place Naming. Aldershot, Ashgate Press.

Bigon L. (ed.), 2016. Place Names in Africa. Colonial Urban Legacies, Entangled Histories. Cham, Springer.

Bulot T., Veschambre V. (ed.), 2006. Mots, traces et marques. Dimensions spatiales et linguistiques de la mémoire urbaine. Paris, L’Harmattan.

Cenoz J., Gorter D., 2006. Linguistic landscape and minority languages. International Journal of Multilingualism, vol. 3, n° 1, p. 67-80.

Farvacque-Vitkovic C. et al., 2005. Adressage et gestion des villes. Washington, World Bank.

Giraut F., Houssay-Holzschuch M., 2008a. Au nom des territoires! Enjeux géographiques de la toponymie. L’Espace géographique, vol. 37, n° 2, p. 97-105.

Giraut F., Houssay-Holzschuch M., 2008b. Néotoponymie : formes et enjeux de la dénomination des territoires émergents. L’Espace politique, n° 2, p. 5-12.

Giraut F., Houssay-Holzschuch M., 2016. Place Naming as Dispositif: Toward a Theoretical Framework. Geopolitics [En ligne], vol. 21, n° 1, p. 1-21.

Guillorel H. (ed.), 2008. Toponymie et politique : les marqueurs linguistiques du territoire. Bruxelles, Bruylant.

Light D. and Young C., 2014. Toponymy as Commodity: Exploring the Economic Dimensions of Urban Place Names. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research [En ligne], vol. 39, n° 3, p.435-450.

Medway D., Warnaby G., 2014. What’s in a name? Place branding and toponymic commodification. Environment and Planning A [En ligne], vol. 46, n° 1, p. 153-167.

Puzey G., Kostanski L. (ed.), 2016. Names and Naming: People, Places, Perceptions and Power. Bristol, Multilingual Matters.

Rose-Redwood R. et al., 2010. Geographies of toponymic inscription: new directions in critical place-name studies. Progress in Human Geography [En ligne], vol. 34, n° 4, p. 453-470.

Rose-Redwood R. et al. (ed.), 2018. The Political Life of Urban Streetscapes. London, Routledge.

Tent J., Blair D., 2009. Motivation for Naming: A Toponymic Typology. Technical Papers. A. N. P. Survey. Sydney, Linguistics Department.

Vuolteenaho J., Kolamo S., 2012. Textually Produced Landscape Spectacles? A Debordian Reading of Finnish Namescapes and English Soccerscapes. COLLeGIUM: Studies across Disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 13, p. 132-158.

Zelinsky W., 1997. Along the Frontiers of Name Geography. The Professional Geographer [En ligne], vol. 49, n° 4, p.465-466.

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