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It seems pretty arbitrary, but in many cases in the Chumash, we find our patriarchs, Moses, etc, name places they pass based on some action that took place there. Is there any additional meaning to this action of naming an area of land "such and such happened here"?

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    Maybe it's so that he (or anybody) could talk about the place later. Why do we name places nowadays? – Daniel Aug 4 '13 at 13:05
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    @Daniel, that's the simple answer; is there anything else that we know regarding naming places in the Torah? – Ani Yodea Aug 4 '13 at 13:38
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    @Daniel, IIRC, in at least some of these cases, they explicitly re-named a place that already had a handle. – Isaac Moses Aug 5 '13 at 15:05
  • See the end of the first chapter of the second section of Tanya. – Yishai Dec 10 '15 at 14:05
  • Maybe for the same reason people put a flag down in every place (or planet/satellite) they reach first: to claim it as theirs. – DonielF Aug 7 '16 at 6:08
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It was an ancient practice amongst peoples that have now fell out of practice. Another practice that went along with was erecting pillars or some sort of sign of the event. In today's mindset we are more apt to try and keep a place as intact/unaltered as possible because we want it to remain original. These names also become important for nomads and peoples relying on oral traditions, because it's easier describing paths and locations to children when things have names and monuments. Otherwise you're left with Jacob telling his kids "Okay, so follow the direction of the sun for 3 days and then you will pass by a place where I had a dream about God, there were some rocks there, they might still be there." But it's so much easier to say "Follow the direction of the sun for 3 days, until you come to Bethel, where I have setup a rock monument, it will look like x and y and z."

Here are some examples for other cultures doing similar things

Rome renaming Judea to Syria Palestine, the Latin for for Philistines.

Catholic church trying to trace back certain biblical events, such as St Katherine's cathedral on the supposed location of Mount Sinai

To the ancient mind, if a place was important, it needed a name, and a monument so that way anyone who saw it would know, or wonder about what happened.

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    Can you edit to source this claim? That would add value to your post. – Double AA Dec 10 '15 at 22:38

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