‘Wiping New Berlin off the map’: political economy and the de-Germanisation of the toponymic landscape in First World War USA

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Abstract

Within critical place name studies, the perspectives of ‘toponym-as-commodity’ and ‘toponym-as-nationalistic symbol’ have tended to be studied separately, but they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Using a case study of toponymic change from First World War USA, specifically the renaming of New Berlin, Ohio, to North Canton, we illustrate that this effort to de-Germanise the landscape cannot be adequately understood without considering how seemingly nationalistically-driven toponymic changes took place within, and facilitated, local industrial and commercial momentum. While the toponymic literature has tended to emphasise the role of government elites in controlling and contesting place names, our Ohio case demonstrates the powerful role of a corporation, namely the WH Hoover and Hoover Suction Sweeper companies, in shaping place naming debates and changes. We interpret the New Berlin name change via three themes: symbolic capital and place re-branding, symbolic annihilation and fetishisation, and the toponymic rescaling of economic linkages.

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