What is toponymy?

Toponymy is the study of toponyms, names associated with topographic features, such as settlements, or natural features such as hills and rivers.

There are two types of toponymy: (i) synchronic toponymy, which relates to the standardisation of place names, deployed by governmental organisations in particular, and to some extent minority language enthusiasts, and (ii) diachronic or historic toponymy, which is the variety used by historians and language academics in order to trace the origins of place names, and the topic of this web site.

These two activities conflict with each other not only in terms of practice but also goals and values. The former is about replacing attested or traditional forms with normalised ones for reasons of standardisation, administrative convenience, perhaps for political reasons or for nation building, whilst the latter is about the rediscovery and preservation of earlier forms, stressing authenticity, history and local identity.

Most toponymists (and the most notable ones) are or were all users of diachronic methods and are therefore historical toponymists, including for example Ekwall and Gover.

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