Naming Canada: Stories About Place Names from Canadian Geographic


271 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-8020-6990-8
DDC 917.1'0014




Reviewed by William A. Waiser

William A. Waiser is a professor of history at the University of
Saskatchewan, and the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History
of Prince Albert National Park and The New Northwest: The Photographs of
the Frank Crean Expeditions, 1908-1909.


Many Canadians probably know Alan Rayburn through his monthly column on
place names in Canadian Geographic. These articles have now been brought
together in a single volume, and collectively, they demonstrate that
place names have much to tell us about our history and heritage—and
some of our quirks.

The book opens with a series of articles about so-called national
themes, such as the naming of the country, the origin of the term
“Dominion of Canada,” the location of highest points in each
province and territory, and the identification of political
constituencies. It then examines —sometimes in fascinating
detail—particular topics or themes: the anatomy of names (spelling,
pronunciation, and acronyms); the influence of overseas events or
locations; names honoring prominent individuals; aboriginal names; and
eclectic or unusual places.

There are stories about the changing of names during World War I for
patriotic reasons (e.g., Berlin to Kitchener), the recognition of
aboriginal names for traditional places (e.g., Iqaluit for Frobisher
Bay), and the legacy of one of Canada’s greatest exploring scientists,
the diminutive George Dawson (some 25 place-names). There are also
articles on theme names (such as Christmas and Valentines) and on
tickles, hahas, and coulees. The reader even learns the gentile for
residents of a particular province or city, such as Haligonian (Halifax)
or Medicine Hatter (Medicine Hat). The one disappointment is the lack of
maps for articles that deal with a particular city or region.

Thanks to Rayburn’s painstaking research, his appreciation of a good
anecdote, and above all, his great love for toponymy, Naming Canada
entertains and informs. Readers will gain a new appreciation for
Canada’s history and for some of its peculiarities, and in the
process, discover that a name often has its own story to tell.


Rayburn, Alan., “Naming Canada: Stories About Place Names from Canadian Geographic,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 25, 2024,