Sunday, 15 February 2015

Origins of Place Names: Austrian Cities

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. This time we continue the tour of Western Europe and a look at the largest Austrian cities.

Vienna is the capital of Austria and one of several capital cities standing on the Danube. It is here the Danube unites with the River Vienna, the river name originating in Celtic and representing either vedunia 'tree' and thus 'forest stream' or vindo 'white' as in a building of stone. It is impossible to know for certain as the earlies record available is that of Vindobona, the name of the place when under Roman control around AD 50.

Graz has been dated archaeologically to its founding by the Alpine Slavic peoples, eventually growing to become a sizable fortification. This helped to show how the Slovene gradec described 'a small castle', and was related to Proto-Slavic and Greek words meaning 'small settlement' and to the many Slavic settlements featuring the element-grad.

Salzburg is, like the capital, named after a river. Here the River Salzach is not difficult to see as from the German salz or 'salt'. This region had been a centre of salt mining and trading since before recorded history. The modern name uses the suffix burg or 'fortress'.

Innsbruck is yet another name derived from the local river. Here the German Brucke or 'bridge' crossed the River Inn, itself from Celtic enos or simply 'water'.

Klagenfurt was said to literally translates as 'the ford of lament' (possibly 'ford of complaints'). For many years this was held to be from the belief this river crossing was haunted by fairies or demons, forever blamed as the reason it was so difficult to cross waters and swamps. This assumed it was a Germanic translation of the earlier Slovene name for this wetland from cviljovec and yet and Slovene name is much later than any Germanic recording. Perhaps a more plausible argument is this Slovene name was itself derived from the early Italic language where l'aquiliu would give a much more likely meaning of 'at the water'.

Wels has never been defined with any certainty but could represent a Celtic reference to 'the settlement on the bend of the river (Traun)'.

Sankt Polten or St Polten is derived from Hippolytus of Rome, later becoming Sankt Hippolyt, St Polyt, and today St Polten.

Dornbirn can be traced back to an Alemannic famer who lived here and gave his name to torrin puirron or 'the settlement of a man called Torro'. The traditional explanation of the German birnen or 'pears' has no etymological basis.

Wiener Neustadt is a comparatively new city, only founded in 1194. This accounts for the literal translation of 'New Vienna'.

Bregenz can ultimately be traced to around 3,500 years ago when the Brigantii tribe settled this region. By the 5th century BC this place was known as Brigantion and shortly after the birth of Christ given as Brigantium. This tribe took their name from the pagan goddess Brigantia, who can be seen in many mythologies. Indeed tracing the religious lineage of this water deity - she has given her name to the Brent in England, Braint in Wales, Brigid in Ireland, and other settlements as far afield as Hungary , France, Portugal, and the Indian sub-continent - reveals the Germanic Burgundi and Sanskrit Brhati. All these are from the Proto-Indo-European bhrg'hnti, itself the feminine from the root berg'h and meaning 'high, lofty, elevated'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

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