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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Place Names and Identities

B Helleland

The primary role of place names is the reference or label function, but the names also have a historic content and tell us something about the relationship of the name-giver to the denominated object at the moment when the name was assigned. Place names are parts of the history of a given area and – if they are correctly interpreted – reveal details of the name-givers’ understanding of the named place at the time when the name was coined. Thus names may be viewed as a historical oral or written text of the landscape and the people who used the landscape. I elaborate my view by taking the following paragraph by Keith Basso into consideration:

"Because of their inseparable connection to specific localities, place names may be used to summon forth an enormous range of mental and emotional associations – associations of time and space, of history and events, of persons and social activities, of oneself and stages in one’s life (Keith Basso 1988.)"

In my talk I also discuss some theoretical approaches to the role of place names as constituents of a landscape identity and by means of a selected area and material demonstrate how place names may form a mental landscape. I will argue that a shared onomasticon represents (a great amount of) shared feelings, which again are vital for effective communication.

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