What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet. But what about that place on the map?

Tectonic Map of China and Mongolia showing Korea and the sea to the east

Tectonic Map of China and Mongolia, 1974.  Showing Korea and the sea to the east

In Shakespeare’s play, Juliet asks Romeo,

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

But what about that place on the map?  Place names are often contested.  For example, the Persian Gulf is a name that has been in use for a long time. Arabian Gulf is a relatively new name for the same place, that some Iranians object to.

The Sea of Japan is most commonly used to identify the body of water between Japan and the Korean Peninsula and China.  The Republic of Korea would prefer that it was called the East Sea.

Map makers, who do not wish to make a political statement with their cartography, will often go out of their way to make the map so that the name or boundary is not included, or is not legible, to stay out of the conflict.  When the issue came to our attention, we dug back into the Map Vault at Williams & Heintz to see if we could find any older map, to see what was on it.  Sure enough, this Tectonic Map of China and Mongolia, that we printed for the Geological Society of America, in 1974 has the name of the sea conveniently omitted.

Now, I firmly believe that some old place names are better changed:  place names that are racist, or sexist would smell much sweeter without an offensive name.  My view of political names  is,  “a rose would smell as sweet.”

What do you think?

Paper Map Rose made from a reused map

Paper Map Rose for you, sweet!

About hollybudd

I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay. I have a BS in Environmental Studies from Cook College, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I returned to school for a MBA from Trinity DC. I am the president/CEO of Williams & Heintz Map Corporation, the family printing company that was started by my great grandfather.

Posted on July 6, 2012, in History, News, The Map Vault and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Interesting dilemma. I found that ESRI hadn’t updated the place names in India on some of their shapefiles for Arc9.3. Mumbai was still Bombay. I guess who is making the map and for whom will dictate what names are used. I think that you have highlighted a common theme in map making – they are ethnocentric.

  2. Clearly the sea isn’t “eastern” to Japan, for whom the sea has always been important. Meanwhile the sea wouldn’t exist without Japan—it would just be the open Pacific. Hence it’s fair to call it the Sea of Japan. Generally it’s a bad idea to take sides, but in this case, it seems pretty clear.

  1. Pingback: Here Be Cats | MapPrinter

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