Sunday, 1 February 2015

Origins of Place Names: Dutch 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. Continuing the tour of Western Europe here a look at the largest Dutch cities.

Amsterdam is easily seen as 'the dam on the River Amstel', the river name itself from Old Dutch aeme-stelle or 'water area'. Hence the river is effectively named for the moisture content of the land rather than the river itself.

Rotterdam mirrors the origins of the Dutch capital in beginning as 'the dam on the River Rotte'. Here the river, which meets the better-known Maas at Rotterdam, has a name which either comes from rot referring to 'muddy (water)' or this is an ancient name and from the early days when an Indo-European roth described it as 'hurrying'. If the latter is the case it should not be taken literally but seen as comparative, for the topography of the region means no river really 'hurries' and thus simply the faster river.

The Hague is today the seat of the Dutch government but had more humble beginnings. The first official habitation was as recently as 1230 when Count Floris IV purchased this land to build a hunting lodge. Situated in a wood alongside a pond and surrounded by a hedge, this began as Dutch gravenhage or 'count's enclosure'. This meaning also explains why it has kept the definite article as a part of its name. Note the similarlity between the Dutch and the Old English haga used specifically to refer to 'a woodland enclosure'.

Utrecht was known to the Romans as Trajectum castrum literally 'camp crossing' and referring to the Roman camp by the River Rhine. By the tenth century this had been shortened to simply Trecht, yet around two centuries later had collected the Dutch suffix ut or 'lower'. Initially it seems this applied to the lower reaches of the settlement but quickly used for the whole place.

Eindhoven is composed of two Dutch elements: eind is not difficult to understand as meaning 'the last or end', while hove or hoeve is an area of land of approximately 35 acres. This would have been offered for rent by the lord of the manor to local farmers. Here there were a number of such around Woensel this being, as the name suggests, the last one.

Tilburg is first mentioned in a document dating from 709AD, yet while the suffix of burg or 'fortification' is obvious, the same element is common to English place names, the first element has never been defined.

Almere is the Netherlands newest city and named, in 1970, after Lake Almere. Here we find Dutch ael mere or 'eel lake', the suffix also common to Old English.

Breda stands at the confluence of the rivers Mark and Aa, the latter found in the place name. Here Dutch brede Aa speaks of 'the wide Aa', and a reference to the broad expanse of the confluence. The river name itself, as with so many, simply means 'water'.

Nijmegen is ultimately from the name of the earliest inhabitants, the Batavians. When the Romans arrived the original settlement was destroyed but then rebuilt in 104 and named by the Emperor Trajan Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum or Noviomagus for short and which resulted in the modern name and its meaning of 'the great market'. The Batavians themselves were named for their territory around the Rhine delats, this from the Germanic bat awjo or 'better land near water'.

Enschede is mentioned as Anescede and Enscede in earlest available records, both referring to its location 'near the border' with Bentheim.

Haarlem, or as Harlem in the USA, takes its name from Haarlem Lake. Here three Dutch elements, haar lo heim, unite to form the modern name. There has never been any doubts as to the meaning of the last two, these are common enough and describe 'the home at the forest'. However the first element has several potential sources, albeit the most likely is a reference to the slight elevation on a sand dune and thus 'higher place'.

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

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