M. Zych

Chair of Cartography, Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland


Geographical names form an integral part of a map, constituting one of its most significant elements. It is beyond question that they should be correct – current and compliant with what has been established by the authorities responsible for standardization of geographical names in relevant countries. However, nowadays more and more geographic objects have more than one standardized name (an endonym). This applies in particular to the countries with national minorities.

Presently, recognizing national and ethnic minority languages as official or auxiliary languages in the whole or part of the country becomes a standard in democratic states. Names in these languages appear on road signs, in guidebooks, books, lists of names as well as on maps. Currently, such names are presented on the maps of many European countries (for example, Finland, Spain, Holland, Slovenia, UK) and non-European countries (for example, Canada or India).

In my research, I analyzed the use of geographical names on topographic maps published for the areas inhabited by national minorities in the following European countries: Finland, France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, UK and Italy. Based on that, I can conclude that in each of these countries, geographical names in minority languages are presented in a slightly different way. We can distinguish several basic ways of supplying bilingual names: a) both names are written one under another in the same size font (such is a case on the maps published in Finland and Norway); b) names are written in the same size font and are separated by a slash, but they can be placed one under another or next to each other (maps published in Spain, UK and Italy); c) names are written one under another, and the name in the minority language is written in smaller fonts (maps published in Slovenia and Sweden); d) minority names are written in brackets under the name in the main language (maps published in France, Holland and Germany). As a rule, the rules governing the use of names on topographic maps are copied on other maps of official and private publishers, although still many publishers tend to omit minority names. It also happens that private publishing houses provide minority names, while official publications do not.