Google maps represent the most extensive, detailed and wide reaching maps ever created. On a “single map” one can be looking for a shopping mall in North America, then instantly be looking at a Unayzah, a city of 130 000 in Saudi Arabia.

Google’s maps are multilingual. Instead of switching to Spain when looking at it from a North American IP address, it’s name remains in Spanish, España.

The idea of a different word for a foreign place — Spain for España, Germany for Deutschland — is the result of the extent of communications technologies at the time the English were getting to know the people of other cultures. Since lines of communication were minimal, the English referred to the “others” in their own terms, and these names were formalized in map making and when the drawing of borders established modern European nation-states.

But now with a wide reaching and influential global culture, and most explicitly the existence of a multi-lingual global map, I predict that in the future, English speakers will refer to other places by their native names — especially in languages that have latin characters. Check out the google map below: Italy is Italia, the Czech Republic is Ceska Rublika, Poland is Polska. These are easy words to pronounce in English and I wouldn’t be surprised if their use became more common.

This is not a new trend. Beijing in no longer referred to as Peking as it once was by English speakers. Beijing is a transliteration of Chinese, which is ultimately more respectful of their culture. The availability of world-wide geographic data in one place may facilitate a continued transformation of the names of places in the future.

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