Sunday, 5 October 2014

Asian Capital Cities – Etymologically speaking (M to Z)

Following on from last week a look at the origins of the capital cities of the Asian countries. Again I shall use the alphabetical order of the nations, as it makes it easier to compare the two and as the names of the capital cities will not be as well known.

Malaysia – where Kuala Lumpur is the capital city, a name from the Malay tongue referring to its location at the mouth of the River Kelang with kuala lumpur telling of ‘the estuary of mud’.

Maldives – the capital of Dhivehi shares an origin with the name of Maldives. Here Sanskrit dwipa is understood as ‘islanders’.

Mongolia – until 1924 the capital was known as Urga, a Mongolian name meaning ‘abode, place’. Since then it has been Ulan Bator, again from the Mongolian where ulan ‘red’ bator ‘warrior’ honours the founder of the modern republic in 1911. Dandimy Suhbataar (1893-1923) was born at, what was then, Urga.

Myanmar – has the capital city Nay Pyi Taw, which translates as either ‘royal capital’, seat of the king’ or ‘abode of kings’.

Nepal – the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu comes from the native language where kath mandir describes ‘the wooden temple’. This a reference to the temple said to have been constructed from the wood of a single tree by Raja Lachmina Singh in 1596.

Oman – Muscat’s origins are uncertain and have a number of suggested meanings. Perhaps this is Arabic from moscha and describes ‘an inflated hide or skin’; there are others who suggest this is ‘where to drop anchor’; maybe this is Old Persian meaning ‘strong-scented’; or other Arabic words giving ‘falling-place’ or even ‘hidden’.

Pakistan – the capital of Islamabad means ‘the capital of Islam’, the suffix abad Iranian for ‘city’.

Palestine – while the nation claims Jerusalem, the de facto capital is Ramallah. Here is a combination of Aramaic ram meaning ‘high place’ or ‘mountain’ with Allah being the Arabic for God.

Philippines – the capital is Manila, originally recorded as Maynilad, from the native Tagalog may ‘to be’ and nila ‘indigo’. This is understood as ‘the place where there is indigo’.

Qatar – the capital city of Doha either comes from the Arabic Ad-Dawha or ‘the big tree’, a marker for the original fishing village and possibly used as a marker by the fishermen, or from dohat the Arabic word for ‘bay’ where the fisherman cast their nets.

Russia – and Moscow is named after the River Moskva. The river name has a number of possible meanings depending upon the language: Salvonic Moskva gives ‘damp, marshy’; Slavonic mostkva results in ‘bridge water’; and Finno-Ugrian moska va would describe ‘the ford where calves are seen’.

Saudi Arabia – where the capital of Riyadh is a corruption of the Arabic Ar-Riyad and means ‘the grassland’. Anyone who has seen the area here will know there has not been grass here in recorded history and thus the name seems to have been ironic – much as the island of Greenland is nearly all glaciers.

Singapore – as a city-state the capital city is the state of Singapore, hence the meaning of ‘lion town’, understood as ‘strong town’ from Sanskrit singa pura is also applicable.

Sri Lanka – where Columbo is probably a Portuguese name derived from the Sinhalese name of Kolon thota meaning ‘the port on the river Kelani’. There are also those who maintain this is Sinhalese Kola-amba-thota or ‘the harbour with leafy mango trees.

Syria – where Damascus is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and thus has one of the oldest names. Thus it is no surprise to learn the origin of the name is uncertain and has a number of suggested meanings including ‘dwelling’, ‘a well-watered place’, ‘the land of the Levant’ or simply ‘industrious’.

Tajikistan – where the capital of Dushanbe may not be the best-known city in the world, but certainly should be lauded for having an origin describing the development of the place. Dushanbe is a Tajik word meaning ‘Monday’ and named such as this was the site of a marketplace held on Mondays. Possibly even more interesting is the origin of the Tajik word for ‘Monday’, where du ‘two’ went with shanbe ‘Saturday’ and thus Monday is described as ‘the second day after Saturday’.

Thailand – has its capital of Bangkok, a name thought to come from bang ‘village’ or ‘district’ with makok ‘wild plums’. However the Thai people call this Krung Threp the ‘city of angels’.

Timor – where the capital city id Dili. Settled by the Portuguese, who first recorded this name, it was not named by them but would seem to be a Portuguese version of an existing name. However it is impossible to define the name with any certainty until we know the original language. Having said that, and I do not offer this as an origin, it seems every potential avenue I explored were linked and had a theme suggesting the name meant ‘contemplation’, ‘thought’, ‘consider’ and other synonyms. Hence with tongue very firmly in cheek I wondered if the answer to “What is the name of this place?” could have been ‘we are still thinking about it’.

Turkey – another ancient name and one which perhaps came from a Phrygian ank ‘angled, crooked’ maybe a reference to the gorge. The Arabic name is Qal’at as-Salasil or ‘the fortress of chains’.

Turkmenistan – where we find Ashgabat, which links Turkmenian iskh ‘pleasant’ and Iranian abad ‘town’.

United Arab Emirates – where the capital city is Abu Dhabi and a known meaning of ‘father of deer’ the reason for the name is not so clear. Bedouins refer to this as Umm Dhabi or ‘mother of deer’, while the original name was Milh meaning ‘salt’, a reference to the salt marshes around the city.

Uzbekistan – where Tashkent comes from Turkish tash ‘stone’ and Iranian kent ‘town’.

Vietnam – where Hanoi describes itself as ‘surrounded by a river’, although this has only been the name since the nineteenth century. Prior to this the city was known as Kecho meaning simply ‘capital’.

Yemen – where the capital of Sana’a is one of the oldest inhabited places in history, legend has it founded by Shem, the son of Noah. The current name comes from the Arabian word for ‘well-fortified’, while the earliest name was Azal, said to be after Uzal, son of Qahtan and great-grandson of Shem.

On the subject of place names, places much nearer to home, two new books out this week. Both published by Sigma Press I am delighted to see County Durham Place Names and Northumberland Place Names on the shelves.

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