Place Names: Old and New

Posted by PastorJ on 6 December 2015 in English (English).

It has been exciting to be part of the OSM team working on Rwanda. There are a few in country mappers like myself but most are from Europe and North America. Together, the country’s map is growing in detail on a daily basis.

One perplexing issue concerns the determination of the proper use of place names in a country that has had many recent changes. Following the genocide, Rwanda decided to change the names of several communities where the memories are most painful. So, Gisenyi is now Rubavu, Gitarama is now Munhanga, Butare is now Huye and so on. Using the rules of OSM there is no real decision to be made: simply apply the current place names.

But it’s not that simple. Even though Rwanda is a rapidly modernizing nation, striving to function with Western standards of government services, there are some areas where they are not able to stay on top of things. Road signs are one example. The major road signs have been replaced (mostly) with signs reflecting the changes in community names. But the community signs themselves (as you enter a community) frequently still have the old name, or in some cases, both. They don’t do this to be helpful, it just hasn’t been changed yet. (and frankly, when the majority of the population lacks access to proper water, sanitation and basic services such as electricity, the government has its hands full with more pressing issues).

Add to this the fact that locals consistently use the older names and you have a very confusing situation for any visitor. I’ve been living in the country for just over a year and I’m only starting to be clear on the names of various cities and communities. My Rwandan friends may use the old and new name for a city in the same sentence. It reminds me of my visit to Yugoslavia in 1990 just after they had devalued their currency and the old bills were still in circulation. The bills were identical except for the currency value; the new bill had a printed value of 1,000 and the new bill had a printed value of 1, but they were both worth the same amount (it made for tremendous challenges when exchanging money!!).

So, I wonder how we might address this in a constructive way on OSM. While the new community names should be used (I am in agreement on this), should we also try to include the old place names as a reference since they are consistently still in use across the country? I have experimented with Muhanga (Gitarama) placing the old place name in brackets. I’m sure this is not up to the OSM standard, but it is extremely helpful for travelers and visitors.

I’m curious as to other OSM mappers’ view on this. Thanks for your comments.

Jonathan (PastorJ)

Comment from SimonPoole on 6 December 2015 at 08:26

Typically old names would be tagged as old_name (:-)), now that doesn’t help except if somebody produces a map that displays both but that isn’t really a major undertaking.

Comment from Warin61 on 6 December 2015 at 10:56

As well as old_name there is alt_name.. in fact there are a few choices … I think Simon has it right .. but your local so should make your own choice.

Getting them on to a map … ‘not our problem’ as taggers.

Comment from PastorJ on 6 December 2015 at 20:13

Thanks so much! Very helpful.

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