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What's in a Name?

Dictionary of Canadian Place Names
Alan Rayburn
Oxford University Press
1997, 461 pp, $34.95, ISBN 0-19-541086-6

Reviewed by Nicole Winstanley

Place names reveal a lot about a nation. They offer an intriguing glimpse of its culture, heritage and people. In Alan Rayburn's Dictionary of Canadian Place Names, a fascinating tale unfolds about how the many places that make up Canada came to be.

This extensive dictionary includes 6,200 names of Canadian cities, towns, lakes, rivers, national parks, mountains, capes, channels and bays. It offers readers an informative journey from Abbey, Saskatchewan, through to Zurich, Ontario, providing details about location, origin and founding date along the way.

The dictionary format serves as a practical arrangement for the information, establishing it as an accurate and convenient resource for editors, journalists, researchers and students. This is not to say that Rayburn's numerous entries cannot be read simply for pleasure. Despite the minimalist style, each entry provides its own captivating tale. Consider his description of the beginnings of Ladysmith, British Columbia:
"…The original Ladysmith had been named in 1850 after Lady Juana (1798-1872), the wife of Sir Harry Smith, governor of Cape Colony and high commissioner to South Africa, 1847-52. He had rescued her in 1812, when she was 13, after the British had overrun Badaojos in Spain, and married her that same year."

Rayburn's entries, while concise, are not overwhelmed by difficult abbreviations and the format of his index is simple and easy to use. The Dictionary of Canadian Place Names offers all Canadians insight into both their history and their diversity.

Nicole Winstanley is a production assistant for Sources.

Published in Sources, Number 41, Winter 1998.


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