Last time I examined the origins of the nations of the continent of Oceania and, as promised, here look at the names of the capital cities. As the nations are much better known than the cities, as previously I have kept the alphabetical order of the countries.
Australia – the capital is Canberra and, although only founded as recently as 1913, the origin of this name is uncertain. However this has not prevented a great deal of speculation and the most common suggestion refers to the old Ngunnawal language in which the name meant ‘woman’s breasts’. This would refer to the nearby Black Mountain and Ainslie Mountain, although a second written account maintains the correct translation is ‘hollow between a woman’s breasts’ and thus referring to the settlement being between the two mountains where Sullivans Creek flows. A third suggestion, and perhaps the most contrived, gives the origin as European. It seems the Australian cranberry proliferated in this area, although locally it was known as the ‘canberry’. It should be noted the only proven original source of the name of the settlement as ‘Canberry’ also happens to be the source of this definition.
Fiji – where the capital has been Suva since 1882. Whilst much has been written about the place there is absolutely no record of the etymology of the name to be found anywhere – unless you know otherwise!
Kiribati – where the capital of South Tarawa derives its name from Kiribati mythology. It seems Nareau the spider created the earth, sea and sky. In doing so he named the sky ‘karawa’ and the ocean ‘marawa’ and then as the god Riiki, also created by Nareau, lifted the sky he noted Riiki was stand on a piece of land which he decided should be known as ‘tarawa’. Nareau then sidled off (assuming spiders ‘sidle’) to create the other islands of Kiribati and those of Samoa.
Marshall Islands – and the capital of Majuro, an Anglicised version of the local name of Majro and one which has evaded all attempts to define it.
Micronesia – where the capital city is Palikir, yet a third name where the origin is unrecorded.
Nauru – where there is no capital city, nor indeed any cities. The centre of government is in the district of Yaren, yet another where the origin is unknown.
New Zealand – and the capital is Wellington, named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington whose name will forever be associated with the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. However the place was not known as such until November 1840 and there had been humans here for centuries. Prior to this and, according to the Maori, to this day Wellington has three names: Te Whangi-nui-a-Tara refers specifically to the harbour and means ‘the great harbour of Tara’; Poneke is the Maori translation of Port Nick or Port Nicholson, the central marae or central religious place of the Maori tribe; and thirdly Te Upoko-o-te-lka-a-Maui meaning ‘the head of the fish of the Maui’, which correctly refers to the entire southernmost region of the North Island. Having failed miserably to define an unacceptable number of capital cities, I did think it appropriate to include as much information on the others as humanly possible. Hence I delight in revealing that New Zealand sign language uses the first three fingers of either hand raised, palm facing, and spread to effectively form the three points of a capital letter ‘W’. The hand is then shaken a little from side to side twice. As always the words are said at the same time as signing to aid those also reading lips.
Palau – Ngerulmud is often said to be the modern capital, this name of one of several villages which comprise the place name of Melekeok. This was the name of the second child of the creator god in local mythology and derived from tekeok ‘openly-boastful’ or ‘stubborn’ or even ‘self-congratulatory’. One would hope no parent would name their child in the hope it would turn out to be an arrogant, egotistical brat but that he earned this name in later life, however here the story is from a creation myth and thus representative and an explanation of human traits.
Papua New Guinea – has the capital city of Port Moresby, where the harbour was explored by the British Captain John Moresby in 1873. Whilst it was named by John, he did not for a moment think of himself but named it in honour of his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby.
Samoa – and its capital of Apia, a name which has never been defined.
Solomon Islands – has the capital city of Honiara, an Anglicised version of the original local name of Nagoniara, itself meaning ‘in front of the wind’.
Tonga – where the capital city of Nuku’alofa comes from the Tongan for ‘residence and love’. Just one in fourteen marriages in Tonga end in divorce, compare this to approach half of all marriages in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and perhaps the name is more than suitable. However the real reason is mythological and dates from the time when the Tongan King Mo’ungatonga sent his youngest son Ngata to govern the notorious troubled region of Hihifo. The lad did not travel alone but was accompanied by his uncle Nuku and older cousin Niukapu. None of the three were overjoyed by the task the king had set them and were on the point of abandoning their journey and heading off for Samoa before landing halfway in order to formulate a plan. Eventually the three leaders decided to wrap themselves in a single large mat thus giving the impression of an exceedingly large and fearsome individual having three heads and avoided any confrontation.
Tuvalu – has Funafuti as its capital city, itself named after the founding ancestor from Samoa. One island is named Funafala, a name meaning ‘the pandanus of Funa’, he the chieftain, with the atoll being named Funafuti.
Vanuatu – and Port Vila, a Portuguese name simply meaning ‘port town’.
My apologies for leaving such a large proportion of the names undefined. I contemplated leaving this post for another time but as I have always followed up the etymologies of the countries with the meanings of their respective capital cities (and had said I would do so last time) I decided to press ahead. My dismal failure to define the names of Suva, Majuro, Palikir, Yaren, and Apia, I have written to the respective administrations in the hope they may be able to shed some light on the matter. Should I receive any response I shall update and this post with the relevant details.