weird commerce

Weird Commerce: Marvellous Maps, A Slightly Naughty Cartographer

Ever been to Desire, Pennsylvania? How about Superior Bottom, West Virginia? Or Crappie Point, Idaho?

These slightly naughty locales are three of the thousands of destinations featured on Strumpshaw, Tincleton & Giggleswick’s Marvellous Maps. They’re also some of the more, well, benign.

“We call our maps ‘classy from afar, far from classy,’” said Humphrey Butler, founder of Marvellous Maps. “Meaning, if you were across the room, our maps all look like a nice vintage map of whatever country it is. And then, you get up close, and it’s like ‘Wow, this isn’t the kind of map I thought it was’ … and that’s part of the fun.”

Marvellous Maps, based in the U.K., offers maps of the U.S., the U.K. and Australia (and of Tasmania alone) that are pinned with thousands of real-life cities, towns and villages of mischievous names. The maps, according to Butler, are about 60 percent funny/slightly rude.

“Either they sound a little funny or they have some innuendo or are rude or naughty or just plain quirky,” said Butler. “So, our goal is to really prove that maps can be entertaining, as well as useful. Our maps aren’t great for getting you from A to B, but they’ll put a smile on your face.”

Road trips alone tend to cause travelers to stumble upon places that may incite a giggle. And that’s what happened to Butler just over two years ago. After working in London’s corporate landscape for years, Butler took a career break by hitting the road in a cheap car and driving all around his country, all to see the beautiful places and haphazardly discover all the silly names along the way.

“When you drive around, you take time to look at road signs and maps and locations you’re going through,” said Butler. “I just became aware of all these funny-sounding place names, and thought, ‘I wonder how many there are and if anyone’s mapped them, because surely that would be entertaining and worth doing.’”

He started first by employing a student, which he admitted involved typing slightly rude words into Google Maps. When the two realized how many there were, a graphic designer was pulled on board to begin the map making, first starting with Great Britain. The team started to see trends and repetition of what types of names existed on the island.

“There are loads of places with the name ‘Bottom’ in it. Which doesn’t mean as much to Americans, but Brits think it’s funny,” said Butler. “A five-year-old will laugh at that, and a 95-year-old will laugh at the word ‘bottom.’”

And it didn’t stop there.

“In Britain, we found that there were loads of places that looked like they had something to do with food,” said Butler. “So, we thought to make a food name map, because the world has gone ‘food crazy’ and Britain is no longer the country of fish and chips. People love our food now.”

But while they started building maps focused on Britain, after some local press success, the team of three crossed oceans to Australia and the U.S. with their maps and Google Maps’ help yet again.

“The British sense of humor kind of picks up on this, and maybe Brits just like this sort of thing. But the Aussies have a similar sense of humor,” said Butler, who added that the Tasmania map alone was surprising. “Tasmania has a high concentration of names. When we launched that map, we got so many people who wanted it as they were so proud of that map.”

More than 10,000 maps have been sold over the past two founding years, each costing between £18 and £28. They can be purchased on the Marvellous Maps website but also — perhaps ironically — on the website for the Ordnance Survey, Britain’s mapping agency: “We have a really great relationship with them, and we started to supply maps to them only few months ago.”

As for why his business resonates with people from all three countries, Butler said it’s because it’s a twist on an old product, and it’s about finding humor in an expected place.

“A map is now where you’d expect to find humor, and yet, it also helps people relate to their own country,” said Butler. “In times like these, you think, sometimes, people need a little bit of a laugh.”

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