Placename Patterns.

This website has a cute concept; the About text says:

A visualization of placename patterns, using data pulled from OpenStreetMap (places), Natural Earth (borders, rivers) and SRTM (elevation).

Originally created to visualize the distribution of places in France ending in -ac, and then the link between German placenames and altitude.

Built at first using SVG, but since this proved too much for Firefox, the visualization now uses canvas (at the expense of nice animations).

Patterns are Javascript-flavour regular expressions, most importantly ‘^’ and ‘$’ represent name beginning and end, respectively, so ‘^ll’ matches all placenames which begin with two L’s (many towns in Wales) and ‘a$’ all placenames which end in A.

Via MetaFilter, where there are further examples (e.g. Poland and Silesia). Enjoy!


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    That’s kind of fun, once you get your head round the idea of being able to ask for anything, rather than having things offered to you.

    And I love that one of the map choices is ‘O Canada’!

  2. I looked up -burg, -ville, and -town in the U.S. The distribution shows: mixed -town/-ville but few -burgs in Appalachia, except a bunch of -burgs around Pittsburg; mixed -burg/-ville but few -towns in the Midwest; mostly -villes in northern Maine and the eastern border of Michigan. Overall there are 7746 -villes, 3190 -towns, and 1348 -burgs.

    I like Coptown, Stainville, and Treeville, all in Tennessee.

    Southern California has by far the most “…Mobile Estates”.

    Pines and Oaks are where you’d expect them to be.

  3. Trond Engen says

    the distribution of places in France ending in -ac

    Some are Breton. That’s clean. Most are Occitan. That cluster is interesting for where it doesn’t reach.

    Names in -ach defines Hochdeutsch pretty well.

  4. Very nice! And you’ve got some English Beaches and some Celtic names in Ireland, Scotland, and (mostly) Wales.

  5. I meant Pittsburgh.

  6. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I like the other cluster of Ll- names in Catalonia (and the smaller cluster in… Asturias?) – once I see it I go ‘oh, of course’, but I wouldn’t have come up with it off the top of my head as with Wales.

  7. When I was an exchange student in Wolfsburg in 1987, my host family took me to CeBIT, the computer and electronics expo in Hannover.

    An exhibitor there was showing off a geography game in which the player had to “fly” a plane to randomly chosen destinations on a map of Germany.

    So I sat down to give it a try. As I racked up town after town, I gradually accumulated a crowd of other kids. Eventually, after I had gotten some 40 or 50 towns right, one of the onlookers asked me: “Wo kommst Du her?” “Ich komme aus Amerika.” I think the response was something like “He, der Ami spielt gut!”

    Of course, my secret was pretty simple. Besides knowing the major cities and towns, I just had noticed where common toponymic endings were concentrated, and the game itself was pretty lenient in giving credit. Still, it was nice to pretend to be some sort of foreign geography phenom for an afternoon in front of a bunch of German kids.

  8. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Once I figured out how to make my own choices I confirmed my impression that -ange is particularly popular in Lorraine and Luxemburg. I been disappointed that there is no Vidange or Marie-Ange.

  9. David L. Gold says

    “…disappointed that there is no Vidange…”

    Since (plural) vidanges (homophonous with the singular form) means ‘night soil’, no one would want to live in a place called Vidange.

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    @a c-b
    These names in -ange could be gallicisations of German names in -ing or -ingen.

    “En Moselle, deux autres classes existent : certaines communes ont des noms en -ing (ce qui correspond à la prononciation régionale), par exemple Reding, Ippling, Metzing etc. ; les autres ont des noms en -ange , comme Morhange (=Mörchingen), Fénétrange (=Finstingen), etc.”

    I agree the -ange names given in the quote are problematic, to me these look more like morsch / finster + “second element mangled as -ange”, the second element could be e.g., Anger = small meadow or Hang = steep side of a hill.

  11. David Marjanović says

    Names in -ach defines Hochdeutsch pretty well.

    Nice indeed, but many of these have nothing to do with water and are instead Slavic plural “locatives”.


    Evidently got fenêtre interpreted into it.

    steep side of a hill


  12. PlasticPaddy says

    Thanks. Re Fénétrange, the “German” name Finsting bothered me. At least according to the site, all “Finst-” names in Germany are Finster + something, i.e., Berg, Wald, etc. However early instances of the name could be compatible with *Pfingsteling or *Pfingsting, if Pf>f and ings>ins are accepted.

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