Toponymy as Commodity: Exploring the Economic Dimensions of Urban Place Names


In recent years the study of urban toponymy (place names) has been revitalized by the emergence of a ‘critical toponymies’ approach. This focuses on the cultural politics of place naming and the decisions involved in attributing names to the urban landscape. However, in contemporary cities place names have an economic role in addition to their political role. In particular, there have been recent calls for more attention to the commodification of place-naming rights and practices. This article seeks to respond to these calls by addressing the issue of urban place names as commodities. It begins by examining the naming of sports stadia by corporate sponsors. It then considers a range of ways in which private-sector interests are increasingly influencing the naming of the urban landscape, from buildings and neighbourhoods to individual streets. Even the material signage that identifies street names can be appropriated within branding and promotional strategies. Moreover, urban place names are increasingly incorporated into a range of commercially produced spatial datasets collated by private companies. The article ends by proposing a number of directions for future research into the economic role of urban place names and the commodification of toponymy more broadly.