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OT: Renaming the continents

From:Tim May <butsuri@...>
Date:Sunday, December 15, 2002, 21:55
Recently I've been reading _The Years of Rice and Salt_ by Kim Stanley
Robinson.  It's an interesting work of alternate history, with which
no doubt many here are familiar.  Looking at the unfamiliar names on
the world map (in the novel, European civilizaton is effectively
destroyed by the Black Death, so our Latinate designations are
forgotten or never created) I wondered what might be an "ideal" set of
names for the landmasses of our planet.

I'm not certain I'll actually use such a scheme for LC-01 -
pragmatically it may be better to stick with the old names*.  But it's
an interesting exercise.  All the continents seem to have essentially
been named by Europeans, which in itself seems rather unfair.  Europe
clearly doesn't deserve the same status as the other continents on any
geographical ground.  Asia is if anything even less reasonably
defined, as the part of Eurasia that isn't Europe.

Whether Eurasia plus Africa should be considered as one unit is more
complicated.  Dividing the Americas into North and South members of
the same set seems reasonable, but is harder to apply to the old
world, where the split isn't as cleanly along North/South or East/West
lines.  Africa as "South XXX" and Eurasia as "North XXX" somehow isn't
as convincing, when you look at the relative latitudes of Singapore
and Tunis.  "XXX Major" and "XXX Minor" are maybe a little better, but
not great, when you consider that Africa's the second largest continent.

Returning to the new world, Vespucci doesn't seem to have done
anything to justify naming most of the Western Hemisphere after
him. Australia and Antarctica are fairly reasonable names, but they
both apply best (with hindsight) to Antarctica.

So what would make good names for places?  Ideally indigenous names
would be a good start (except for Antarctica, for obvious reasons).
But did anyone in the Americas or Australia have enough of a grasp of
the large-scale to name them?  And I doubt anyone had a word
for "Eurasia + Africa" before 1492 that wasn't synonymous with

Beyond that... Descriptive names are a possibility, although it's hard
to think of any feature that really characterises an entire continent.
Eurasia (with or without Africa) could maybe be based on a root for
"big".  Antarctica's unusual enough, and so unambiguously southmost,
that it's fairly easy - which is good, as we can hardly ask the

So, any thoughts?

*  In any case, there's plenty of time.  The language has yet to
   crystalize into anything that I can produce a complete sentence
   in.  I think I have the basic syntax, but the morphology has to
   catch up before I can test it, to say nothing of the lexicon...


lblissett <blissett@...>
Padraic Brown <elemtilas@...>
Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Nik Taylor <yonjuuni@...>