Updated: Oct 1, 2019
In Tangier every place has many names, so the name you see on a map may not necessarily be the name that people normally use to describe that location.
Mix together a spoken language with no standardized spelling, 40 years of French and Spanish protectorates in Morocco (including 30 years of the Tangier International Zone with various other influences), and you end up with the sort of linguistic soup that leads to every place have 2-5 different names:
Most places have at least a French name and an Arabic name which you can typically find on Google Maps, and then perhaps a Spanish or Italian name for good measure... and then there's probably also a name that doesn't appear on any maps or signs but is what people commonly call that neighborhood. Even if it does appear on a map, spelling may be approximate, since Moroccan Arabic doesn't have standardized spelling and place names in Roman characters may be transliterated from standard or Moroccan Arabic.
When you arrive in Tangier it takes a while to figure out where all the places are and how they're connected and what they're actually called. When taking taxis, it can feel like a game discovering which place name is the most likely to get you the closet to your destination.
Even after living here for a few years, I was in a taxi the other day describing the way to my neighborhood and the guy asked if I was going to "blah blah blah" and I said "where in the world is that?" I looked on Google Maps and, as it turns out, "blah blah blah" is the official name of the street right by my house. Who knew?? (Of course it's not actually called "blah blah blah.")
(Google Maps, by the way, is wonderful, I hope to write more about it and the ingenious "offline maps" feature in another post. It's very accurate for getting around Tangier, especially the old medina. I'm linking to Google Maps throughout this post to anchor these names to actual locations. Sometimes the names of things on Google Maps are accurate and sometimes... they're just not.)
Here are some of the most common destinations in Tangier and their "actual" local names, as best I've been able to figure out
"Place 9 Avril" is the large traffic circle at the base of the old medina, where Cinema Rif is located, but the area designated by Souk Bara can be used to refer to that square and also the section of Rue d'Italie when you walk through Bab Fahs, and also the part of Hassan 1 that's across from the Mendoubia gardens.
Souk Bara means "outside souk," which makes sense because people used to sell fruit and vegetables on the street there until a law made that illegal c. 2017. Now people only sell fruit and vegetables on the streets on market days (Thursday and Sunday) and no longer on Rue d'Italie (RIP).
While Souk Bara means "outside souk," Souk Dakhel means "inside souk." But, apparently it doesn't refer just to the area with the inside souk as much as that whole street ("Rue Siaghine," according to Google) that leads down to the Petit Socco, the open square at the bottom of the old medina, which also falls under the umbrella of Souk Dakhel.
This is a very useful place name. It means "the head of the Ms'allah" and it's at the top of Rue d'Hollande and Aveneue M'sallah where they cross Avenue Belgique. We also use it to refer in general to that whole area where Rue du Mexique hits the top of the M'sallah neighborhood and there's great shopping for clothes and home goods, especially as you walk down into the M'sallah proper. It can get quite crowded, especially on weekend evenings when everyone goes out with their family.
I'm not sure of the best way to spell this one but I'm pretty sure it's not Google Maps' "Sour Meêgazine," which like someone was trying to hard and then just gave up. This is the wall with the cannons that overlooks the strait of Gibraltar, the French name is "la Terasse des Paresseux." My English brain would like to believe that "magazine" originally referred to the cannons (like powder magazine? but maybe that's not true). So7 mag3zine means "the wall of lazy people," and indeed, there's a lot or people who hang out there during the day doing nothing in particular.
*The 7 is pronounced as a voiceless H in the back of your throat, like you're letting out breath softly - not to be confused with 5 / kh which is the more phlegmy one.
Parc Perdicaris is the lovely forest outside Tangier and one of my very favorite places in the area. It's a great place to relax, get some fresh air, and enjoy the scent of eucalyptus and breathtaking views of the ocean. For 5 dirhams, you can take a shared taxi here from Iberia (the area around Mohammed V mosque).
This is a great place to walk for the "big city" feel of Tangier. Note: The location I tagged is "Place des Nations" since it's one of the main locations on the Boulevard; please note that the Moroccan name is Sa7at Oummam (same meaning).
Playa of course, means beach in Spanish and it refers to the whole beachfront stretch of the corniche on Avenue Mohammed VI with the big buildings and the cafes. As you get further down past McDonalds and towards Hotel Tarik, it turns into the area known as Malabata.
In conclusion, geography is subjective
Writing this post, I began to wonder if I should become an editor of Google Maps, but then I realized it would reduce the value of this post (and it would rob me of feeling like an insider because I know all the "obscure" names)! At the same time I don't feel 100% confident in my geography - maybe a place name I would reject is a good name that I just haven't learned yet, and maybe there's an even more accurate name that I have yet to discover.
Living somewhere like Tangier, it's easy to see that geography is socially constructed rather than absolute, and that the way we refer to things depends on our linguistic, political, and community allegiances, as well as our sources of information (and who created them, and their linguistic, political, and community background).
As someone aspiring to humility, I hope my attitude towards place is less about "labeling and controlling it" and more about "continuing to explore" and learning from the people who are already here and know more than me.
What do you think? Have I left anything out or gotten anything wrong? Have you been to a city with multiple place names? Share your thoughts in the comments.