“Land of the Pale Faces”: See an Interactive Map of the U.S. That Uses Literal Names

The Atlas of True Names has released an updated version of its etymologically accurate map that shows the original meaning of names the country’s founders bestowed upon the United States. Names like “Stink Onions.”

What’s in a name? When it comes to geography, it’s a lot more than most people understand. The crew folks behind the Atlas of True Names realize as much, however, and are doing their part to change that.


Cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Peust have a keen interest in etymology, especially as it applies to geography. They like to know the meaning behind states like Iowa and Missouri. It turns out that the original names assigned to such places are a lot more literal; specifically, Iowa was known as “Land of the Pale Faces,” while Missouri was called “Land of the People With Dugout Canoes.”

While Hormes and Peust created their original map of the world, which had cursory coverage of the United States years ago, recently they unveiled a more detailed look at America. Now, we can see that Native American languages decreed that what we now know to be Chicago was once called “Stink Onions,” for reasons that are not readily apparent.

Explore other cities in the surprisingly on-the-nose land of the free with this interactive map, and forever change how you describe traveling.

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.