Toponymy is the study of the names of places. It is a more specific form of onomastics, which is the study of names.

Toponymic research can be conducted through:
1 – Toponymic dictionaries
2 – Reference books
3 – GNIS (Geographic Names Information System
4 – Get-a-map[5, p.26]

Urazmetova & Shamsutdinova laid out 11 toponymic classifications based on their research of 17,000 American and 15,000 British place names. In their article, they expand more upon what each of these classification points entail. Here I list their basic points, without the expanded information:[5, p.26]
1 – parametric characteristics of an object
2 – ontological characteristics of an object
3 – type of toponymic basis
4 – etymological characteristics of place names
5 – motivational characteristics of place names
6 – chronological characteristics of place names
7 – structural characteristics of toponyms
8 – toponymic polysemy
9 – degree of toponymic nomination
10 – variety of toponymic nomination
11 – localization of an object

As reported by Urazmetova & Shamsutdinova, one of the forerunners for systemically classifying toponyms was George R. Stewart in 1954. George reportedly laid out 10 points of classification, which are:[5, p.27]
1 – “descriptive names and compass-point names (names that describe and characterize the object’s quality or its location)”
2 – “associative names (names that evoke associations with different objects)”
3 – “incident names (names from an event associated with a person, G. Stewart also refers to this group acts of God, calendar names, animal names, names of human actions, names from feelings, names from sayings)”
4 – “possessive names (names originated from some idea of ownership)”
5 – “commemorative names (names given in memory or in honor of outstanding people and names for abstract virtues)”
6 – “commendatory names (names given by some attractive peculiarities of a geographical object)”
7 – “folk etymologies (names with false etymology)”
8 – “manufactured names (names which have been consciously constructed of fragments of other words, or names from initials, by reversals of letters or syllables, or in other ways)”
9 – “mistake names (names appeared from a mistake made in the transmission from one language to another, either from inaccurate hearing of what was said, or because of faulty rendering of the sounds in writing)”
10 – “shift names (names which have been moved from one location to another)”

History of the Study

2nd half of the 19th century – The word “toponymy” is first used. (See the Etymology section below)

1954 – George R. Stewart published “A classification of place names” in the journal Names. This placed him among the first researchers to ever attempt a systematic classification of toponyms.[5, p.27]


Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defined toponymy as:[1]
“the place-names of a region or language or especially the etymological study of them” defined toponymy as:[2]
1 – “the study of toponyms.”
2 – “Anatomy. the nomenclature of the regions of the body.”

Lexico defined it as:[3]
“The study of place names.”


1875-1880 – “top- + -onomy, on the model of homonymy, synonymy; see -onym, -y3.”[2]

1876 – Allegedly the earliest known use of the word. Defined as above.
“International Scientific Vocabulary, from top- + Greek onyma, onoma name”[1]

1876 – “Toponymy “study of place names””[4]

“Late 19th century from Greek topos ‘place’ + onuma ‘name’.”[3]

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[1] – “Toponymy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Oct. 2020.

[2] – Accessed 10 Oct. 2020.

[3] – Accessed 10 Oct. 2020.

[4] – Accessed 10 Oct. 2020.

[5] – Aleksandra V. Urazmetova & Julia Kh. Shamsutdinova. “Principles of place names classifications” (2017). Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.


[7] – Jan Tent. “Approaches to Research in Toponymy” (2015). Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

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