Alternate universes. Alternate histories. Maps. Maps of alternate universes, shaped by events of alternate histories. The land is the same, the world is different. Dontcha just love all that stuff? I know I do. And this week Gizmodo showed us a really spectacular map of an alternate United States:This map was not designed to represent an alternate history, at least not a specific one. Instead, it illustrates one way of designing a United States with 50 states with approximately equal populations. Some large cities are states in their own right, while vast states cover areas of low population density. Salt Lake, Ogalalla and the magnificently named Shiprock are enormous. In spite of the profound changes from the map we know, many familiar boundaries remain, since the cartographers tried to honor geographical considerations like mountains, rivers and drainage basins, cartographic niceties like creating compact forms, and political realities like census tracts. (There’s a link to more information on the genesis of this map in the Gizmodo article.)
I lack the cartographic and geographic expertise to make an informed critique of this map on any rational basis. But I’ve seen a lot of maps of alternate Americas and the best things about them are always the names the cartographers choose to give the states. And the names here are truly excellent. They’re way better than the names of our states, with a nice smattering of English language traditional geographic names (Tidewater, Blue Ridge, Mammoth[from Mammoth Cave, I assume]) existing place names from various European languages (Orange, Canaveral, Detroit, Ranier) and historical references (Firelands) sprinkled across a field of well chosen names from local indigenous languages, names of either resident peoples (Ogalalla, for the Native American tribe, and I suppose from the Ogalalla aquifer) or geographical features (Adirondack, Scioto). No “New” anything: these are American names for American states. Big Thicket. That is such a good name for a state.
There would be a few drawbacks to changing over to this map, like a revolt among traditionalists, complete social upheaval and vast expense, but the aesthetic advantages of living in Kalamazoo, Menominee (for example) far outweigh these trivial problems. Granted, everyone in the country would have to learn to pronounce “Scioto” correctly (currently, correct pronunciation of that word is limited to residents of Columbus, Ohio and the surrounding area, and is a sure mark of a connection to that place) but even that struggle can be overcome.
The only real mistake on this map is the name given to the state where I will be living if the great change goes through. I’m sure the cartographers were trying to make some kind of a point, but I don’t think it’s a point that would sit well with the majority of the residents of the new state, and I don’t think it entirely fits in with the rest of their naming conventions either. I respectfully offer the following list of suggestions for alternate names:
- La Salle
- Du Sable
- South Shore
This list includes a familiar common name for the area with native language roots (Calumet), one with English roots (South Shore), a geographical name from a native language (Kankakee, for the river) and two names with historical roots (La Salle and Du Sable, for two of the first Westerners to make contact with the area.) Any of these are better names than Gary. Or, if you want to honor the gritty realities of Northwest Indiana, than do us the honor of calling our little corner of the universe by its real name, the name we use. We call it “The Region”.