Tuesday 16 October 2012

A map of Britain through a kaleidoscope

Captain Cook and chums may have gone where no white man had gone before, but, despite the romantic nobility of setting forth into the unknown, creativity in naming was not a job prerequisite.
This sentiment is perfectly told in a Mitchell and Webb sketch where a captain calls an bewilderingly new land in Australia after dreary southern Wales.
It does have curious upsides: I proudly told people from Portsmouth, New Hampshire in New England, that I came from Portsmouth, Hampshire in England, which amused me —it bemused them who had never realised the existence of a place without "New" slapped in front of it.
I am perpetually fascinated by the shuffled order that bares little resemblance to the original one. In New Zealand Windsor (in the South Island) is nowhere close to the river Thames (in the North Island), whereas Birkenhead (Liverpudlian suburb) is next to Devonport (Plymouthian suburb) in Auckland.
This raises the question whether on average towns and cities in an English-speaking new world country are geographically more spread out than their British namesakes.
After normalisation that is: the difference in size would bias this figure —after all the concept of "closeness" is seriously warped in new worlders.
On a gut instinct, I would used a simple arithmetic difference, so the final figure would be the number of British kilometers towns are more or less spread out on average, (as opposed to a ratio and geometric mean).
If new world towns were randomly distributed, the difference would not amount to much, but towns are not randomly distributed. The Aussie outback is truly empty and the Otago and Southland regions in New Zealand are one step short of being gĂ idhealtachd. My guess is that this figure would put British towns as more spread out than their newer namesakes if normalised.
Furthermore, many towns bear local names, such as the sublimely named Wooloomooloo, whereas other are missing: using least square regression the true namesakes of these missing towns could be found, although I have feeling the correspondence would be unidirectional.
However, getting the data for this inane quandary would be more hassle than it is worth, but it would be cool. One day…