Master’s level students at ENSAE are required to work on an Applied Statistics project. Céline Duval, Pierre Jacob and myself are proposing a topic on correlation between toponymy (place names) and geographic localisation of French towns and cities (“communes”, of which there are 36,000). The idea is to detect which characteristics of a place name are informative of where in France that place is.
For example, some endings are very informative: on this map where every cyan dot represents one commune, place names ending in “-y” are mostly found in the North-East and place names ending in “-ac” in the South-West.
The following map shows that a “w” in a place indicates it lies in the North-East, and that a “k” indicates that it lies in the North-East or Brittany.
Just for fun, here is a map of place names which include one of the major rivers: Loire, Seine, Rhône, Saône, Garonne and Marne. Unsurprisingly, they align almost perfectly with the rivers.
Students interested in the project can contact Céline, Pierre or myself. People interested in the project might enjoy Keith Brigg’s pages on English place names.