Sunday, 18 October 2015

Brazil 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 Brazil and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital.

Brasilia has a population of just over two million, making it the fourth largest in the country. It was a planned city dating from the 1950s and clearly named from the country, the latter from the tree brazilwood which once proliferated along the Atlantic coast. This is from the Latin brasa il meaning 'red like an ember', a reference to the deep red dye obtained from these trees.

Rio de Janeiro is the best known place in the country but is neither the capital and is only the second-largest city. Originally known as Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro to honour St Sebastian, the patron of the then Portuguese monarch, with the addition from the river on which it stands, both can be defined as 'January river'.

Sao Paulo is by far the largest city in the country, unsurprisingly the Portuguese for 'Saint Paul',

Salvador is an abbreviation of the original name Sao Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos or 'Holy Saviour of the Bay of All Saints'.

Fortazela is the Portuguese word for 'fortress', not the original name but coined when settlement began in 1603 and the fort constructed under the orders of Pero Coelho de Souza. That fort was named Fort of Sao Tiago and the settlement initially known as Nova Lisboa 'New Lisbon'.

Belo Horizonte is another Portuguese name, delightfully referring to the 'beautiful horizon'. This name was coined in 1906, there having been several names since the initial period of settlement in 1701, and named during a period of extensive industrialisation.

Manaus is after the people indigenous to this region, the Manaos. When first elevated to city status in 1832, it became known as Cidade de Barra do Rio Negro or 'the city of the margins of the black river' but reverted to its present name in 1848.

Curitiba is said to come from the Tupi kuri tyba or 'many pine seeds', this attributed to the numerous pine cones found in the area when Europeans first landed, these from the Parana pines native to the region. Alternatively the same Tupi tongue may be interpreted as kurit yba or 'a lot of pine trees'.

Recife is first recorded as a small port - a collection of shacks, inns and warehousing - and described as arrecife dos navios 'the reef of ships'. Today the recife or 'reef' running parallel to the shore forms a natural harbour. However this is not the coral reef often said to be here, this reef is a beach from pre-history which has now solidified into stone.

Porto Alegre is simply Portuguese for 'the joyful harbour'.

Belem is the Portuguese word for 'Bethlehem'.

Goiania is a planned city and named in 1933 following a contest held by the local newspaper. Suggestions included Petronia, Americana, Petrolandia, Goianopolis, Bartolomeu Bueno, Campanha, Eldorado, Anhanguera, Liberdade, Patria Nova, Goianopolis as well as Goiania. This is based on the state and city name of Goias, itself from the indigenous people whose name seems to come from gua e ia, literally 'the same person' but understood as 'people of the same origin'.

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

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