Place Names

A place like England would be simple. We can just stack up the three lions of its coat of arms, and append the glyph for country:

We could even abbreviate it by calling it "Three Lion":

Unfortunately, when we start to collect the heraldic symbols of the world's nations, we run into a slight problem. Take a look at this handy chart.

Country Heraldic Symbol
Albania Eagle
Austria Eagle
Belgium Lion
Bulgaria Lion
Czechoslovakia Lion
Denmark Lion
Egypt Eagle
England Lion
Ethiopia Lion
Finland Lion
Germany Eagle
Iran Lion
Mexico Eagle
Norway Lion
Poland Eagle
Roman Empire Eagle
Russia Eagle
Scotland Lion
Sierra Leone Lion
Spain Lion, Eagle
Sri Lanka Lion
Sudan Eagle
United States Eagle

Is there a solution to this total lack of imagination? Well, without colors, we can't draw any meaningful flags. Maybe we could use maps (I am, after all, a map guy), but a few obvious problems present themselves:

  1. Do we draw India and Pakistan with or without Kashmir?
  2. We'd have to redraw our glyphs after every border war or secession.
  3. I defy any of you to tell the difference between Colorado and Wyoming from a map.
  4. We'd have to have one unique glyph for every political entity on Earth, most of which are just squiggly blobs anyway.
  5. We couldn't use these glyphs for anything else. A map of France could illustrate the country, the language and the people, but what else? Fried potatoes? Toast? At least with an eagle labelling America, we can recycle the eagle into ideographs of Germany and Egypt.

To avoid confusion, we could assemble ideographs for countries by adding secondary glyphs to the basic [eagle][country] concept. The United States could be [eagle][star][country]. Germany could be [eagle][iron cross][country]. Rome, [eagle][fasces][country] and Austria, [eastern][eagle][country] (It's official name, Österreich, means "Eastern Realm").

In general, we can go a long way using the heraldic symbols of countries.

Australia Saudi Arabia Argentina


We might run into a question of whether to illustrate France with its traditional or its republican emblems.

Now, with the United States, we have a country name that can actually be translated. For starters, we'll need an ideogram for United. When we hunt down the etymology in the dictionary, we see that it originated with the Latin unitus, past participle of unire ("to make one"), verb form of unus ("one"), so lets use the glyphs for [make][one]{past}.

Then we discover that State comes from the Latin status ("standing, position"), which in turn came from stare ("to stand"). Thus, we'll indicate State by using the glyph for [stand], and in order to avoid confusing this with other types of standing, we'll add the determinitive for [country].

America presents more of a problem. We all know that the name originated with the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, but what the heck kind of name is Amerigo? What does it mean? It's a mystery that people will fight over for centuries to come, but I think we can weasle out of it by admitting that no one has ever been happy about slapping Vespucci's handle on the entire continent. In early symbolism, a fully feathered Indian was the personification of America...

... but that brings up the question of whether drawing a Native American is a compliment or an insult. Let's duck that and name the continent instead after Columbus -- the man who brought it to the attention of Europe and who carried a name meaning dove.

To States

Table of Contents

Last updated May 2003


Copyright © 2003 Matthew White