Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Naming of Places

In 1870, when much of Australia was yet to be explored and Europeans had only just crossed the continent, the Australian Overland Telegraph Line was built. It spanned the ancient continent from north to south and is still regarded as one of the greatest engineering triumphs of Australia's history. The consequences of the construction included, among others, the birth of towns built around telegraph repeater stations. The towns on the northern end of the line had names like Tennant Creek, Daly Waters, Katherine, and Alice Springs. However, stations on the southern end were assigned names like Glendambo, Woomera, and Marla -- perhaps the first Aboriginal names ever given to Australian towns.

The purpose of this article is to discuss how people named towns, using Australian towns and cities as an example.

Naming Towns after People

A lot of explorers, officials and businessmen in late 18th Century England had a town of their own, somewhere in Australia. The ten oldest existing Australian towns -- Sydney, Hobart, Georgetown, Newcastle, Launceston, Ross, Bathurst, Penrith, Maitland, and Port Macquarie -- were all named after people. Furthermore, all of Australia's capitals are named after people. And to prove my point, below is a list of Australian towns with over 100,000 people:

Sydney p.4,920,000
Melbourne p.4.527,000
Brisbane p.2,308,000
Perth p.2,039,000
Adelaide p.1,316,000
Gold Coast p.624,918
Newcastle p.434,454
Canberra p.424,666
Sunshine Coast p.302,122
Wollongong p.292,388
Hobart p.220,593
Geelong p.187,417
Townsville p.180,333
Cairns p.147,993
Darwin p. 142,258
Toowoomba p.114,622

Naming Towns after Places

This is just about the least popular thing for villages to be named after -- landmarks. There is simply no dignity in naming your town after an existing nearby ridge. However, over the time, quite a lot of big towns have been named after landmarks. A key example is Broken Hill. Many years ago, some brave explorer stumbled upon a few 'broken-looking' hills that he speculated contained minerals. Luckily for the explorer and unluckily for the hills, he turned out to be right. Now there is a large town at the base of the hills, which are mostly gone thanks to mining operations.

A lot of towns like this exist in Australia, and most of them are either very old or don't exist anymore.

Using Names from the Indigenous People

This has been a very common technique all around the world. It has become increasingly popular in Australia, and multiple towns have been renamed due to pressure from local groups, decisions by the local government or just because people don't like to live in towns with ugly names. A good example is Ocean Beach. Ocean Beach was a seaside town in New South Wales, bordered by a beach of the same name. When awareness of the Aborigines increased in the 1960s, local businesses and estates began to give the town a new name: Umina, or 'place of rest'. There was a brief period of confusion, and then the new name took over. The beach was still called Ocean Beach in 1990 before it was named Umina Beach later on. Now the entire town is officially named Umina Beach, although the old name, Ocean Beach, still lingers.

More and more towns are being renamed to reflect on their original inhabitants, although the transition is gradual. Now most Australian towns and suburbs have Aboriginal names.


A lot of towns have very embarrasing, weird names and most of those names are mistakes. For example, the name of the coastal village of Coffs Harbour (pronounced 'coughs') is actually a mistranslation of 'Korf's Harbour'. Coffs Harbour was lucky. Other towns in the world have names like Bird-in-hand, Embarass, Hell, Accident, Dildo, Intercourse, Middlefart and even Boring. No doubt there will be more mistakes like this in the future.

The name means a lot to a town or city. That's why it's best to choose it wisely. And if a town name becomes obsolete or stupid, why not change it?

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