The Power of Names

digital print, 4ft x 13ft

Many would be surprised to learn of the hundreds of placenames in the U.S. that are considered offensive or derogatory. These placenames are a reflection of the cultural stereotypes of the decades in which they were created. The study of American placenames offers a glimpse into the way that our cultural values have evolved since our nation was born.

The words squaw and nigger are two of the most controversial terms that appear in many American placenames. Since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, rights groups have lobbied to their state legislatures to have these names changed. Sometimes these requests are successful.

Diagrammed here are the placenames that use these words listed by state in order of quantity. If a placename has been changed, the previous name appears to the right.

What are the implications of altering historic placenames for the sake of political correctness? Does altering names reflect an evolved cultural sensitivity, or does it erase the history and character of American places?

This large format infographic informs the viewer while raising these questions.