Name as Destiny

We came to Tierra Blanca. The descriptive name did not describe the place. Spanish names are apt only as ironies or simplifications; they seldom fit. The argument is usually stated differently, to demonstrate how dull, how literal-minded and unimaginative the Spanish explorer or cartographer was. Seeing a dark river, the witness quickly assigned a name: Río Negro. It is a common name through Latin America; yet it never matches the color of the water. And the four Río Colorados I saw bore not the slightest hint of red. Piedras Negras was marshland, not black stones; I saw no stags at Venado Tuerto, no lizards at Lagartos. None of the Lagunas Verdes was green; my one La Dorada looked leaden; Progreso in Guatemala was backward; La Libertad in El Salvador, a stronghold of repression in a country where salvation seemed in short supply. La Paz was not peaceful, nor was La Democracia democratic. This was not literalness — it was whimsy. Place names called attention to beauty, freedom, piety, or strong colors; but the places themselves, so prettily named, were something else. Was it willful inaccuracy, or a lack of subtlety that made the map so glorious with fine attributes and praises? Latins found it hard to live with dull facts; the enchanting name, while not exactly making their town magical, at least took the curse off it. And there was always a chance that an evocative name might evoke something to make the plain town bearable.

— Paul Theroux

Theroux is a master of the semicolon.