From A to Zywiec for pounds 500

HAS ANY reader been to Nandasmo (southwest Nicaragua, population 2,000)? Or Kyzyl-Kyya (Kygyzstan, population 35,000)? Or perhaps Tixkokob (Mexico, population 8,459)?

Neither have I. But I have just been reading about them in the brand new edition of The Columbia Gazetteer of the World. This 3,500-page work, up-dated for the first time in over 45 years, is the ultimate A-Z, a guidebook to the entire world: a listing of all world place names with accompanying details.

All? Well not quite. Middleton Stoney isn't there for example, and that's a place which I know exists because I used to live there - it's a village in Oxfordshire with a park, a pub and a population of at least a hundred. I'm equally worried about Kalulushi in Zambia. Never heard of it? A colleague of mine says it has a golf club, a tennis club and grand houses with lawns and gardeners. But according to the Gazetteer, there is no such place. In fact the qualification for inclusion in the case of most world towns seems to be a population of around a thousand, though this varies from country to country.

When it comes to America in fact, places as small as Moneta, Iowa (population 29) and Larson, North Dakota (population 26) manage to squeeze their way into these pages. The smallest Chinese towns, on the other hand, seem to need a couple of hundred thousand inhabitants to merit inclusion. But the fact that the USA has over 40,000 entries in this book while China has fewer than 4,000 (and that "the United States of America" covers six pages while "Asia" covers only one) is an understandable reflection of the fact that it was the Americans who went to the trouble of researching the thing.

And everywhere is represented to some extent. Ruined Afghanistan notches 343 entries; even tiny Luxembourg has 189. In some cases, non-existent countries get a mention: Atlantis, for example, appears as the "concept of a lost world of a mighty island power with an exemplary civilisation". Incidentally, there are two real places in the world called Atlantis, including one in Florida, curiously described as a "heavily guarded community, fenced off from surrounding municipalities".

Nor are we confined to towns and countries (or provinces, districts and neighbourhoods). The introduction informs us that it also aims to provide the names of "oceans, seas, gulfs, lakes, lagoons, rivers, bays, inlets, channels, streams, islands, archipelagoes, peninsulas...". We even get Disneyland Paris.

From beginning to end - from A in Norway to Zywiec in Poland - I like to think of this gazetteer as a tidy distillation of all human wisdom. Place names are among the very oldest of human words. Ur of the Chaldees, which receives quite detailed treatment on page 3,283, is identified in the Bible as the home of Abraham and is at least 5,000 years old. And take a look at a couple of familiar British examples: Leicester, originally Ligora Castrum, seems to derive from its Ligurian founders of the 12th century BC; and good old Kent, which comes from the Celtic word Canto (meaning "rim" or "coastal district") was mentioned by Pytheas of Massilia in 308BC.

Meanwhile, every British town is listed alongside a procession of colonial namesakes. To take a random example, the English Oxford appears alongside no fewer than ten North American Oxfords, an Oxford Dam, an Oxford Lake, an Oxford Junction and a Mount Oxford.

In three heavy volumes, this is not a book that I plan to carry around the world on my travels. But with this much information at my disposal, I wonder if I will ever need to travel again?

'The Columbia Gazetteer of the World' is published by Columbia University Press, price pounds 500.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
people
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world