There has been a bit of media coverage around in the last couple of week about some research we’re supporting at Cardiff University. It’s called Peoples’ Place Names, and they’re studying what’s known as Vernacular Geography.
What I might think of as the East End of London, or Shirley in Southampton, might be completely different from the next person, or at least different in ways I don’t realise. And that can still be the case even when a place has official boundaries.
For people that live or work in these places, the boundaries are often a matter of strong and passionate opinion. Have you ever met someone who, upon selling their house, was adamant that they didn’t live in a particular part of town?
And if you’re feeling really brave, why not start a debate about the exact location of The Black Country in the West Midlands? A lesson we learnt last year when we started printing the area on our OS Landranger Maps!
But in all seriousness, collecting these informal, vernacular place names could be really important in helping us build better place name gazetteers. These are not only important tools for us as map makers but also for the other organisations that rely on them, like the emergency services when responding to an incident.
When a 999 call comes in, knowing that King George’s Park is locally know as King’s Park or even “The Rec” could save vital minutes.
Last week in the Western Mail, Chris Jones, professor of geographical information systems at Cardiff University’s School of Computer Science and Informatics, said the data would also be very useful for online searching.
He said: “Our language about space tends to be rather vague – lots of the way we refer to the world around us is vague.
“The idea of the site is to get people to tell us what names they associate with a particular place they live and give us postcodes and point to it on a map.”