a map of an alternate usa

Alternate universes.  Alternate histories.  Maps.  Maps of alternate universes, shaped by events of alternate histories.  The land is the same, the world is different.  Dontcha just love all that stuff?  I know I do.  And this week Gizmodo showed us a really spectacular map of an alternate United States:alternateusmapThis map was not designed to represent an alternate history, at least not a specific one.  Instead, it illustrates one way of designing a United States with 50 states with approximately equal populations.  Some large cities are states in their own right, while vast states cover areas of low population density.  Salt Lake, Ogalalla and the magnificently named Shiprock are enormous.  In spite of the profound changes from the map we know, many familiar boundaries remain, since the cartographers tried to honor geographical considerations like mountains, rivers and drainage basins, cartographic niceties like creating compact forms, and political realities like census tracts. (There’s a link to more information on the genesis of this map in the Gizmodo article.)

I lack the cartographic and geographic expertise to make an informed critique of this map on any rational basis.  But I’ve seen a lot of maps of alternate Americas and the best things about them are always the names the cartographers choose to give the states.  And the names here are truly excellent.  They’re way better than the names of our states, with a nice smattering of English language traditional geographic names (Tidewater, Blue Ridge, Mammoth[from Mammoth Cave, I assume]) existing place names from various European languages (Orange, Canaveral, Detroit, Ranier) and historical references (Firelands) sprinkled across a field of well chosen names from local indigenous languages, names of either resident peoples (Ogalalla, for the Native American tribe, and I suppose from the Ogalalla aquifer) or geographical features (Adirondack, Scioto).  No “New” anything: these are American names for American states.  Big Thicket.  That is such a good name for a state.

There would be a few drawbacks to changing over to this map, like a revolt among traditionalists, complete social upheaval and vast expense, but the aesthetic advantages of living in Kalamazoo, Menominee (for example) far outweigh these trivial problems.  Granted, everyone in the country would have to learn to pronounce “Scioto” correctly (currently, correct pronunciation of that word is limited to residents of Columbus, Ohio and the surrounding area, and is a sure mark of a connection to that place) but even that struggle can be overcome.

The only real mistake on this map is the name given to the state where I will be living if the great change goes through.  I’m sure the cartographers were trying to make some kind of a point, but I don’t think it’s a point that would sit well with the majority of the residents of the new state, and I don’t think it entirely fits in with the rest of their naming conventions either.  I respectfully offer the following list of suggestions for alternate names:

  • Calumet
  • Kankakee
  • La Salle
  • Du Sable
  • South Shore

This list includes a familiar common name for the area with native language roots (Calumet), one with English roots (South Shore), a geographical name from a native language (Kankakee, for the river) and two names with historical roots (La Salle and Du Sable, for two of the first Westerners to make contact with the area.)  Any of these are better names than Gary.  Or, if you want to honor the gritty realities of Northwest Indiana, than do us the honor of calling our little corner of the universe by its real name, the name we use.  We call it “The Region”.

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6 Responses to a map of an alternate usa

  1. Rick Santman says:

    COOL map.

    Here’s another, PERHAPS borderline NSFW


    • Pam Bliss says:

      That link is well worth clicking on, everybody: it’s a very well designed map infographic, and yes, its full of mildly naughty giggles. The NSFW rating is very borderline– this is an interesting silly for anyone who is amused by the existence of the town of Wanks River, Nicaragua. Which means everyone who can read, really.

      Thanks, Rick! That site is full of interesting charts and infographics– it’s a good resource to bookmark.

  2. Sean K. says:

    There is another, more obvious name for the region around the Southern tip of Lake Michigan: Kekionga!
    Of course, the Chicagoans would probably all vote to call it Daley or something like that…

    • Pam Bliss says:

      Remember, Sean, the name Kekionga is in itself a bit of alternate history. The “real” Kekionga, the one in our world, minus the werewolves and unfrozen cave people, is Fort Wayne, a little more than a hundred miles to the East, which is in Maumee in the universe of the map. (Makes sense, since Maumee is another spelling for Miami, and Kekionga is a Miami word.)
      I agree 100% that Chicagoans would want to call the new state something related to the city’s history, so that’s why I included La Salle and Du Sable on the list. That’s, of course, if they ever get over not being a city-state like Houston or Washington.

  3. Wolfie says:

    I love it, BUT… what happens in twenty years when populations shift?
    Also, isn’t Adirondack mad that they have almost no Atlantic coastline because Casco has it all? Things like this will kill economies and make further population shifts inevitable.
    But I do like the names!

  4. Pam Bliss says:

    Yeah, the situation proposed for map world is pretty much 100% impractical. The map as it stands has many good qualities, but it’s hard to imagine a nation having any kind of long term continuity with major regional boundaries being redrawn every 50 years or so. It might work in a highly centralized society where all major choices are made at the national level and regional and local governments are simply identical, interchangeable large and small branch offices of a single great bureaucracy. But in a federalized system like the US, there are very real differences between the states, both historically and in how they are governed. The differences between living in Ohio, where I grew up, and living here in Indiana still surprise me occasionally and I’ve lived here for almost 30 years.

    I hadn’t looked at the map of New England carefully enough to even notice that Casco is hogging all the coastline. There are probably dozens of problems like that, and millions of smaller ones, that would sink any transition to any new map before it ever came close to happening.

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