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Old geographic names

Posted by Smokey Stover on November 21, 2005

In Reply to: Old geographic names posted by Brian from Shawnee on November 20, 2005

: : : Very hard to find the old American terms for certain countries versus what is used today. And why did they change? Like "Peking" changed to "Bejing" but since the duck survived, perhaps they had to tell the story. But what about: San Paulo versus Sao Paulo? Nambia versus Namibia? Does anyone have a very old atlas? Do we remember it wrong or were they common misspellings or what? Thanks!

: : I googled "country name origins" and found several sites.

: I have a few old atlases lying around, and I did a little checking.

: "Nambia" is probably a misspelling for "Namibia" that's probably influenced by the actual countries of Zambia and Gambia. In other words, I don't think it was commonly spelled "Nambia" by any mapmakers or atlas publishers. Also, as a territory name that would appear on maps, this name is not very old. The country was called "Southwest Africa" and was administered by South Africa as a League of Nations Mandate until 1990.

: As for Sao Paulo/San Paulo, it seems like another misspelling not commonly seen. An 1853 school geography book published in Philadelphia by Thomas, Cowperthwaite & Company shows the city as "St. Paul". But in atlases from 1892 onwards, published in the U.S., that is, it appears as "Sao Paulo" or sometimes "S. Paulo".

It's hard to find consistency in the Romanization of Chinese before 1979, when the People's Republic adopted pinyin Romanization. The capital was established at Peking in 1421, and was known by other names, both Mongol and Chinese, and often with the Romanization Peiping. Many institutions named for the capital have kept, at least in the West, the designation Peking, such as Peking duck, Peking opera, the Peking Zoo, Peking man, and Peking University.

As for Namibia: it was never Nambia, but a quick search doesn't reveal when the name was first used--certainly no later than the 1970s, but probably much earlier, as the geographic entity, named after the Nama tribe, was much fought over by both outsiders like the Germans and the Boers, and local tribes competing with the Nama. The German record in Southwest Africa is frightful, complete with concentration camps not unlike the Nazi model (but without the gas chambers).