This map of Canada is part of a series called the Atlas of True Names. (Map: Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust)

“O Land of Settlement, our home and native land” doesn’t have quite the right rhythm, does it? In any case, this map, part of a series called the Atlas of True Names, makes Canada seem a strange place, if not even enchanting. The English translations of the etymological origins of place names here are eye-opening: they give some context and history to names that have been lost over time, and that we otherwise take for granted. “Canada,” for example, comes from the Iroquois word “kanata,” which means “settlement.”

And who knew that one could grow up in Town of the Peaceful Ruler (Fredericton) or Mudwater (Winnipeg) and go on to visit Doveland of the Tattooed (B.C.) to see the Peaceful World Stream (the Pacific Ocean)? (We enlarged the circled areas so you can see the detail in specific regions more closely.)

Cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust of map publisher Kalimedia, based in Lübeck, Germany, produced this map. By no means is it definitive — there can be many potential translations and interpretations of a single word — but it’s certainly intriguing. And that’s why it got the attention of the Canadian Geographic team here in Town of Merchants (Ottawa, named for the Algonquian-speaking Odawa people).

Canadian Geographic’s top 10 True Names of Canada

Big Strong People: Nanaimo, B.C.
Native American tribe Snunéymuxw, sne-ny-mo

Cape of the Settlers of the Place with Fist-sized Pebbles: Cape Dorset, Nunavut
Celtic durno, “fist,” ref. to fist-sized pebbles + Old English saete, “settlers”

Carrying (Canoes) over the Pasture: Portage la Prairie, Man.
French portage la praire, “carrying over the pasture”; to carry a canoe overland between two waterways

Fruit of the Tree of Many Branches: Saskatoon
Cree mis-sask-guah-too-min

Great Lake of the Gentle: Great Slave Lake, N.W.T.
Named for the Slavey tribe, well known for their gentleness

New Land of Darkness: Nova Scotia
Latin Nova Scotia,“New Scotland”; Greek skotos, “darkness,” referring to its location far North

Sea-ice Crash Area: Ivujivik, Que.
Inuktitut Ivujivik, “place where ice accumulates because of strong currents, sea-ice crash area”

Short Nose: Courtenay, B.C.
Personal name Curtenus, Latin curtus, “short”; a Norman nickname meaning “short nose”

Stink Onion: Chicago, Illinois
Algonquian a) checagou, “wild onions, skunk,” referring to the smell of rotting marshland onions b) chicagou, “strong, powerful”

World Stream by the Mountain of Mountains: Atlantic Ocean
Arabic abbreviation of adrar n’idraren, “mountain of mountains” + Greek god Okeanos, “the circumfluent stream of the world”