PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2016, Vol. 35 ›› Issue (7): 910-919.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2016.07.012

• Reviews • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Review and prospect of toponymy research since the 1980s

Xiaomei JI1, Weiping WANG1, Jie CHEN1, Zhuomin TAO1,*(), Yeqin FU2   

  1. 1. School of Geographic Science, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210023, China
    2. Tourism College, Hainan Normal University, Haikou 571158, China
  • Received:2016-03-01 Revised:2016-05-01 Online:2016-07-20 Published:2016-07-20
  • Contact: Zhuomin TAO
  • Supported by:
    Foundation: National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41571139; The Graduate Students’ Scientific Research Innovation Project of Education Department of Jiangsu Province


Since the 1980s, international toponymy research by scholars including human geographers has shifted away from the traditional research paradigm using descriptive method to exploring origin, classification, dissemination, and diffusion of individual place names. The critical theory of humanities and social sciences gives birth to critical toponymy, and the new paradigm abandoned the pervious popular belief that place name is merely a neutral landmark for indicating geographic location. The new paradigm tends to focus on the dissection of the cultural, economic, and political motivations of naming or renaming, and attaches great importance to the critical interpretation of evolution of place-name landscape based on the perspectives of power competition and social relations. This critical turn provides an opportunity to better explain the tremendous changes in the place-name landscape in Chinese from the 1980s—an era that are characterized by the development of the market economy and rapid urbanization. This article first provides a comprehensive review of the main research content and development of critical toponymy in international academic circles with regard to economic, political, social, and administrative dimensions. It then elaborates on the progress of relevant research in Chinese, including name change of administrative division and streets in urban areas, commercialization of place name, competition for place name, place name and cultural identity, and so on. Last, the authors discuss the prospect of critical toponymy in Chinese in line with the socioeconomic development and take the Western critical toponymy as lessons dialectically. On the economic dimension, Chinese toponymic scholars need to pay greater attention to the economic benefit of coordinating the other dimensions; on the political and administrative dimensions, securing the naming right of disadvantaged groups should be of higher concern; with regard to the social aspect, the role of place name in cultural identity deserves great importance in the context of new urbanization.

Key words: toponymy research, critical turn, review, prospect