Have you ever wandered into a town with a strange sounding name and wondering just how that name came to be?

Like Chicago, for example, what does that mean? According to the Atlas of True Names, which has compiled the “etymological roots, or original meanings” of locations around the world, it means “stink onions.”

Atas of True Names Shows Maps of What Cities Names Literally Mean

(Image: Atlas of True Names)

The Atlas of True Names by Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust has the literal meanings of not just more than 3,000 cities, but also natural features like rivers, oceans and mountain ranges.

According to the map creators’ website, the meanings reveal “an extraordinary affinity with Middle Earth,” referencing J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical land in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”

Some are very literal translations:

Many geographical names are clearly rooted in Man’s observation of his natural environment;
the physical location of a settlement: “At the Foot of the Mountain” – Piedmont,
the character of an important water course: “The Gentle One” – The Seine
or even just the local vegetation: “Under the Oaks” – Potsdam.

And some are so literal in their descriptions, they don’t change names at all when the original meaning is divulged (Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, for example).

Atlas of True Names

(Image: Atlas of True Names)

 Atlas of True Names

(Image: Atlas of True Names)

Atlas of True Names

(Image: Atlas of True Names)

The Atlas of True Names creators note that “not all translations are definitive” and that they should be taken as “an invitation to the world as a strange, romantic continent.”

Take a closer look at other Atlas of True Names maps, which span around the world, on its website.

(H/T: io9)

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