A common way for an explorer in a foreign land to assign names to landmarks is to simply continue using whatever name the locals use. Unfortunately, learning that name can be tricky, especially considering that the explorer often does not share a language with the locals, and the locals might not be happy about a strange man constantly asking questions. As a result, whether due to simple misunderstanding, or blatant trolling you can end up with names that translate to things like "Mount Just a Mountain," "Lake I Don't Know What You're Talking About," or the "Get Out of Here Stranger River."
There are several possible variations on this theme, including:
- A plain description, or a snippet of conversation, is mistaken for the name of a landmark.
- The explorer did get the name for a landmark, but not the one he thought it was.
- The locals deliberately mislead the explorer about the name, usually giving something funny or rude In The Local Tongue.
Anime and Manga
- According the The Light Fantastic, when an explorer of the Discworld pointed to a forest and asked "what's this?", a local answered with "skund"--meaning "your finger you fool"--leading to the Forest of Skund. Similarly, the nearby Mount Oolskunrahod means "who is this fool who does not know what a mountain is?"
- Played with in the Island in the Sea of Time series.
- The Bronze-Age African, press-ganged as a guide by the Tartessians, is frustrated that they don't call him by his name, but by a word in his language meaning "man". Of course he said he was a man. He wasn't sure about them at the time.
- When a Nantucketer expedition is travelling across North America, they are aware of this trope, but can't do much about it, since they don't spend enough time in one language area to be sure that place-names don't actually mean "that's a lake" or "why are you pointing at that mountain?"
- Inverted in Dragonlance. Mount Nevermind is so called because no adventurer had the time and nerves to listen the whole gnomish name of the mountain.
- Finnish Lapland is filled to the brim with the "blatant trolling" variety, many of them rather explicit. The cartographers understood the names just fine, but used them anyway--although they would conveniently "forget" to dot the i's and cross the t's, thus making the names innocent.
- For example, many ponds are called Villulampi, which is roughly equivalent to Flick Pond.
- One of the most famous names (although it's just completely innocent nonsense) is Äteritsiputeritsipuolilautatsijänkä, the longest placename in Finland.
- Austria reportedly has its share of "blatant trolling" names, too. The story goes that the emperor sent surveyors out so he could create a map. Those surveyors then bugged all the locals with their questions. Since that got rather annoying after a while, the locals decided to have their evil ways with the surveyors. And that's how a certain area in Austria ended up with names that roughly translate as "Tit Mountain", "Ass Chasm", and the like.
- When French explorer Jacques Cartier reached the New World, the Iroquois people used the word kanata to direct him to their village. Cartier mistakenly thought they meant the entirely land itself and the French began using it to refer to the entire New World that fell under their control. Fast forward a few hundred years and the word is now used to describe the second-largest country in the world, Canada.
- Macau allegedly owes its name to this. The explorers landed near a temple and asked what this place was called; the locals responded with the name of the temple (Maa Gok), which ended up being used (in its Portuguese approximation) as the name of the whole peninsula.
- A common urban legend about the kangaroo's English name is that "kangaroo" was a Guugu Yimithirr phrase for "I don't understand you." (It actually comes from gangurru; the Guugu Yimithirr name for the grey kangaroo.)
- Yucatan allegedly means something along the lines of "sorry, I don't understand what you're saying".
- Lake Nyassa (also known as Lake Malawi) was named like this. Livingstone asked locals about the lake. They answered "lake", or in their language, "nyassa".
- In the Texas panhandle, there is a city named Mobeetie, which translates into "buffalo dung".
- The Yanomamö in Venezuela are forbidden to speak the names of deceased people. When anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon visited and got used to the culture and language, he started asking natives for genealogy. They decided to make the most of their situation, and uphold the taboo, by just making up names. This quickly degenerated into a lot of vulgarity and Unfortunate Names. Somewhat averted because Chagnon caught on to what they were doing and stopped.