Sunday, 2 August 2015

Belize Place Names Explained

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 to cast my net a little wider. This time Belize and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the the nation's namesake.

Belize City is the capital city of the district known as Belize although no longer the capital of the nation of Belize - it stands on a tributary of the Belize River. The nation was formerly known as British Honduras, when Belize was still the capital city. The name was first recorded in 1677, in the journal of a Domincan priest named Fray Jose Delgado, when speaking of the Rio Soyte (now known as the Sittee River), Rio Xibum (now Sibun River), and the Rio Balis which is presumed to be the Belize River and coming from the Mayan word belix meaning 'muddy waters'. Other suggestions of a Spanish pronunciation of the name of Peter Wallace, a Scot who did have a small settlement named after him but not when, or even if, he was ever here, are likely muthical. With French and African derivations similarly creative from an etymological perspective.

Belmopan has been the capital city since 1973, three years after central government had relocated here. It is the smallest capital city, in terms of population, in all of the Americas and is only the third largest settlement in the country. However the place is little more than 50 years old, building beginning as recently as 1960 when the city of Belize was well-nigh destroyed by a hurricane. Such a recent origin means the origins of the name are well known, this is a union of two rivers - the Belize and the Mopan, their confluence found nearby.

San Ignacio is the second largest settlement in Belize by population, yet still only ranks as a town. It was originally named El Cayo by the Spanich, cayo meaning 'island' and an apt description of a place surrounded by water. The modern name is the Spanish version of Saint Ignatius.

Orange Walk Town is the capital of Orange Walk District, both originating in the fruit. However the town's nickname of Sugar City is more accurate, this being the hub of sugar production in Belize where sugar is its leading industry. Under Mayan rule the place was known as Holpatin, the meaning of which is unknown.

Dangriga was once the second largest city in the country and has enjoyed a revival in recent decades, principally through the return to Garifuna culture. These Carib people had first settled the region before the British arrived in 1832, naming the place from the Garifuna word meaning 'standing waters'.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment