Geographic Metonym

By Deane Barker

Definition: when something is referred to by a simpler thing that is associated with it

For example, if often takes the form of a place name being used to refer to (1) a significant event that happened at that place; or (2) an organization, institution, industry, or concept associated with that place.


  • “The White House” to refer to a presidential administration
  • “Wall Street” to refer to the financial industry
  • “Pearl Harbor” to refer to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941
  • “Hiroshima” to refer to the nuclear attack that ended World War 2

Metonym is a general concept of association which takes many different forms. And I couldn’t find that there was any formal acknowledgment of geographic metonymy, so I just made up the title here.

See also: Synecdoche.

Why I Looked It Up

I was researching the gold standard, and I kept seeing references to “Breton Woods,” which means the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference which took place there in 1944 and led to huge changes in the world’s financial system.

Also, this is very common when referring to famous battles. In reading about World War 1, you can’t miss references to Verdun, the Somme, and Gallipoli. These are all places, but they’re used to refer to the events that took place there.

I knew this was a concept, but I didn’t know what it was named. And I was specifically looking for place names as used for events. However, “geographic metonymy” (again, I made that up), also uses place names to refer to concepts and organizations.


Added on

I saw an infographic on how to write marketing copy that seemed to use metonyms:

Don’t: Stop wiping with unrecyclable toilet paper
Do: Stop wiping with trees!

Don’t: 1,000 songs in your media player
Do: 1,000 songs in your pocket!

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