Why is the North Sea West of Us? Principles behind naming of the Seas

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  • Peder Gammeltoft
This article focuses on the motivations behind sea-naming, by means of examples from Europe but also elsewhere. Why do certain sea names become dominant while others retract into local forms or simply die out? The article takes us back in time to the early days of map-making and, indeed, earlier. Occurrences of sea names such as the North Sea are examined and analysed to see how they spread from an original one-language form to exist in multiple languages, and analyses them from a linguistic, geographic and nautical perspective.

It is found that Seas or bodies of water in stretches of sea are named according to six main principles. Many sea-names are formally secondary names whose
specific element is the name of: a) a nearby settlement name; b) a nearby island or c) a nearby country or region. In addition, a sea-name may be a formally primary name named from: d) a directional perspective, e) its appearance or f) containing the name of an explorer or a commemorated person as its specific.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Maritime and Territorial Studies
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)103-122
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2016

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - sea-names, onomastics, place-names, historical cartography, map-making, international standards, havnavne, navneforskning, historisk kartografi, kartografi, internationale standarder, international stednavnenormering

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