One Planet, Many Names

“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean.”

Arthur C. Clarke

In English, earth means ground, soil, and land, but it also means our world – Planet Earth. From Hebrew to Spanish, to Zulu, to Cree – this dual meaning is common in many, if not most, of the world’s 7,000 languages. In many cultures, it also takes on a more spiritual meaning. Think of the Norse goddess Jörð, the Hindu goddess Bhumi, or the Greek goddess Gaia and her Roman equivalent Terra – all humbly named for dirt. It’s perhaps not surprising when you consider that in the evolution of language, the word for land predates organized religion and planetary science. This planet might be 71% water, but we are a terrestrial species. The surface beneath our feet, which we may or may not worship, is earth.

Many languages, however, have separate words for earth and Earth. Often, the planet bears a maternal name, as in Nabgwana meaning mother of abundance in Kuna, or Nahasdzáánmeaning our mother in Navajo, and in many other cultures that feature Father Sky and Mother Earth deities.

Throughout the Muslim world, the planet’s name is a reflection of the theological belief that Earth is the land of the living, while heaven is the home of the divine. The Arabic name, Dunyā, translates to lower place, as opposed to heaven, the higher place. Meanwhile, earthas in ground or land is called ʾarḍ in Arabic. In Indonesia, the predominately Muslim Sundanese people call it Marcapada – the mortal place.

To an alien visitor, it might be surprising that we have so many names and understandings of our own planet, but that’s just the human way. Observing it from space, one might just call it as Carl Sagan did – the Pale Blue Dot. But for us humans here on Earth, it is the sacred ground, the holy mother, the land of life.


One Planet, Many Names (opaque text version) by Jordan Engel

Mapped here are some of the many names for our planet. 250 languages are represented in all.

The map itself is Pacific-Centered (150°E) and South-Up. It uses the Equal Earth projection, a beautiful equal-area projection developed in 2018.

As always, Decolonial Atlas maps can be reused under the Decolonial Media License 0.1. Feel free to print them yourself, and send us your photos of them out in the real world!

(Top photo: One Planet, Many Names (translucent text version) by Jordan Engel)

Originally posted on The Decolonial Atlas

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

Powered by WPeMatico

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: