Historically speaking toponymy – the study of place-names – has focused on etymology as opposed to power discourse (Cameron 1996; Culpeper 2005; Diaz Vera 1996; Gelling 1995; Gelling 2007; Hough 1997; Kadmon 2004; Paisey & Paisey 2011; Scott 2003)…
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Particularly in the case of England, the power of naming becomes a key insight into the history of conquest from foreign powers that the island has experienced in its long life. These conquerors understood the act of naming as the linguistic equivalent of driving a flag into the soil of the vanquished foe’s garden – a means of solidifying and extending the message of their invasion and subsequent occupation throughout time. Such is the power expressed through names and naming processes. As Rose-Redwood, Alderman and Azaryahu (2010, p. 454) note, “the naming of places is one of the primary means of attempting to construct clearly demarcated spatial identities”. For the purpose of the following essay, these spatial identities are to be thought of as political identities as well. “As a place-name becomes opaque and the original meaning is lost over time, the name comes to feel like a word, in that it feels like an arbitrary combination of sounds used to refer to a certain item or idea” (Radding & Western 2010, p. 396). The same is true of a conquering force, as this essay will demonstrate. This essay argues that the study of place-names requires “a critical analysis of the social and political struggles over spatial inscription and related toponymic practices” (Rose-Redwood et al. 2010, p. 455). As such, the study of place-names becomes more informative about the past – about the role that naming played in the military, social and cultural history of England. However, what this essay will also demonstrate is that the social and political act of spatial inscription and place-naming still occurs in the present day, and still functions as a highly effective method for a conquering power to secure its presence over the emotional and psychological space of the invaded populace. This essay will compare the Norman Invasion of England of 1066 with the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 to illustrate how the toponymic practices continue to serve key political functions. Despite the thousand year gap between these two military campaigns, the core activity remains the same – rename the conquered space using conqueror language in order to cement physical power with linguistic power. This essay will also show how place-naming served a crucial political function even after the use of maps as a means of demarking political territory became widespread. Linguistic and toponymic practices have been used by invaders not only to stake a claim in the conquered lands and to demonstrate their ownership literally, the power of naming extends that power across the centuries, simply because the town or village will adopt the name, people will continue to use the name over and over, and as time passes, the name becomes part of the cultural vernacular and assimilates into the new order. As Radding & Western (2010, p. 395) explain, “names are given intentionally, to impart a certain meaning. They can be the converse of arbitrary. Yet, over time, people can fail to remember the original, specifically intended meaning and attribute other ones”. In addition, the act of saying the name repeatedly, over many centuries, continues to assert the dominance of the original source of the name. Thus the individual or group that claims the place via the name also lays claim to the psychological, social and cultural space of the invaded peoples, by leveraging the insidious and viral nature of language itself. As Rose-Redwood et al. (2010 p. 454) note, “
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