JEFFERY AMHERST, who commanded British troops in North America during the Seven Years War in the mid-18th century, described indigenous people who fought for France as an “execrable race”. He called for their “total extirpation” and suggested using dogs to hunt them down.

Yet Amherst (pictured) was commemorated in Canada (and in the United States) mainly for establishing British supremacy in North America. Schools, towns and streets bear his name. That has started to change in both countries. Amherst College in Massachusetts no longer celebrates Lord Jeff as its mascot (but is keeping its name). Canadians are scrubbing the names of Amherst and of other colonial-era heroes off street signs, school buildings and maps, often replacing them with names drawn from indigenous history. Montreal, the largest city in French-speaking Quebec, plans to erase a “stain on our history” by renaming Amherst Street, a 1.5km (0.9 mile) thoroughfare, which was given its name by British conquerors 200 years ago. The city is looking for an indigenous substitute.

About 30,000 of Canada’s 350,000 place names have indigenous origins, including that of the country itself. Canada comes from the Iroquoian word for “village”. As indigenous groups grow more assertive, and politicians become more supportive of them, maps are being rewritten. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Liberal prime minister, has promised to implement the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, which acknowledges their right to keep indigenous names for communities and places. More than 600 indigenous place names were added to the national registry in 2017, compared with 358 five years earlier. In come cases, they are supplanting European-origin names.

Name-swapping is not easy. Local governments, which normally make such decisions, must consult residents, who often disagree with one another. Provinces also have a say. When Ottawa, named after the Odawa indigenous group, merged with surrounding municipalities in 2001, it found itself with 80 streets that shared their names with at least one other. Canada’s capital saw that as a chance to give more recognition to the region’s indigenous peoples. Some residents resisted. As a result, it took the city until last November to settle on Onigam Street, whose name was drawn from the Algonquin word for “portage”, as the replacement for one of its River Streets. The job is still not done.

A decision may not end a dispute. A city councillor in Edmonton, Alberta’s capital, objected that Maskekosihk (“people of the land of medicine”) Trail is harder to pronounce than 23rd Avenue, its former name. Cree groups retorted that they have coped with tongue twisters ever since Europeans arrived. (Canada’s longest one-word place name, Pekwachnamaykoskwaskwaypinwanik, or “the lake where wild trout are caught by fishing with hooks”, in Manitoba, is a Cree confection.) The Northwest Territories nearly changed its own name to a much shorter one after part of it separated to form Nunavut in 1999. The government sought suggestions on a website for a new name; “Bob” came second.

The Stoney Nakoda want to rename Calgary, the largest city in Alberta, Wichispa Oyade, which means “elbow town”. The Blackfoot prefer Mohkinstsis-aka-piyosis, which means “many houses on the Elbow river”. The province has shown no interest in calling Calgary, named after Scotland’s Calgary Bay, anything else. The Northwest Territories dealt with competing names for the Mackenzie river by accepting all of them in 2015. It can now be called the Dehcho, the Deho, the Kuukpak, the Nagwichoonjik or the Grande Rivière, all of which mean “great river”.

Mr Trudeau dropped the name of Hector-Louis Langevin, a founder of residential schools, which sought to sever indigenous children’s links to their families and cultures, from the building that houses his office. That suggests the renaming trend is unlikely to abate. Indigenous groups want the Cornwallis river in Nova Scotia, named for a colonial governor who offered a bounty for the scalps of Mi’kmaq people, to be called something else.

Montreal’s city council is debating who should replace Amherst. One possibility is Pontiac, an Odawa leader who rebelled against Amherst’s rule. That dig at the British might please indigenous folk and French speakers alike.