5 Jan 2009

Times Atlas reveals spread of British town names around the world

To accompany the launch of The Times Universal Atlas of the World, cartographers at Collins Geo have identified the 10 British place names that have the most number of populated places outside the British Isles named after them. Topping the list is Richmond, with 55 namesakes around the world.

The top 10 British-derived place names around the world:
Number of international namesakes*
1 Richmond 55
2 London 46
3 Oxford 41
4 Manchester 36
5= Wellington 35
5= Bristol 35
6 Springfield 34
7 Arlington 31
8 Newcastle 29
9 Plymouth 24
10= Glasgow 23
10= York 23

Origin and spread of the name Richmond
The original Richmond is not the place that immediately springs to mind, namely Richmond upon Thames in Surrey. It only acquired the name Richmond in 1501, when the existing Manor House at Sheen was destroyed by fire. The incumbent monarch Henry VII named the new manor after one of his favourite castle elsewhere in the kingdom – Richmond Castle in Yorkshire. This means the North Yorkshire market town is the true originator of the 55 namesakes around the world.

Richmond in Yorkshire (current population 8970) was so named when a castle was begun there in 1071 by Alan Rufus, a Norman Knight who had accompanied William the Conqueror to England and who also held the title of the Earl of Richemont, in France. Richemont – literally translated, it means ‘Rich Mountain’ – still exists as a village in the department of Haute Seine.

The name Richmond spread to the USA – where 34 of the examples are to be found. The town in Maine was named after the first Duke of Richmond, Ludovic Stewart (who was active in colonizing the area on behalf of the British Government). Further Richmonds were named in honour of subsequent Dukes and their families. Many other Richmonds, such as in the one in Virginia (which looks down on the James River), owe their naming to the coincidental positional aspect with their London namesake (which looks down over the Thames). The founder of Richmond Virginia, William Byrd, was born in the America but educated in England – at which point he must have laid eyes on the view from Richmond upon Thames.

Other examples of the name Richmond are to be found in South Africa (5), Jamaica (4), Australia, (4), Grenada (2), Canada (2), the Bahamas (1), New Zealand (1), Trinidad and Tobago (1) and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

*All the examples included are ‘toponymic homonyms’, meaning places sharing exactly the same name and not being suffixed by “Hill”, “River”, “Valley” etc. ‘Settlement’ is here defined as cities, towns, villages and hamlets but not other localities such as farms, train stations, ferry crossings etc. Settlements that are recorded as not having been named after the UK counterparts have been removed.

Naming newly-founded settlements after their home towns was a common practice by British settlers arriving in far-off continents, and has proved to be one of the most enduring geographical legacies of Britain’s former overseas presence.

“Place names were emotive and used to provide some sort of continuity for people facing uncertain challenges in new and hostile places,” says Jethro Lennox, senior publishing editor for Collins World Atlases, publishers of the Times Universal Atlas of the World. “These days, the importance varies – in some places, few people in the town may be aware of the connection; in others, they remain a source of pride.”

All Roads lead to Richmond article from the Mail online (29 Dec).
Richmond, the most widely copied British place name worldwide article in Times Online (29 Dec).

The most popular place names globally
No British place names, however, feature in the top 50 places names globally, a list which is headed by San Jos̩ with 1716 examples around the world. 35 of the remainder are also Hispanic and seven Russian Рbut none British:

Number of namesakes
1 San José 1716
2 San Antonio 1691
3 Santa Maria 1246
4 Santa Rosa 1212
5 San Pedro 1191

For more information on the
Times Universal Atlas of the World and other Times atlases and maps see Times Atlases.

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