Sunday, 22 November 2015

Cambodia and its Place Names

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 Cambodia and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital. Incidentally, those books initially only published as ebooks are now available from the print on demand service at Feed A Read

Phnom Penh literally translates as Penh's hill', taking its name frpm Wat Phnom or 'the hill temple'. Folklore speaks of the year 1372 and a koki tree floating down the Tonle Sap river. A wealthy woman, the money left to her by her late husband, spotted this tree and inside found four bronze statues of Buddha and a single statue to Vishnu in stone. She ordered the villagers to use the wood from the koki tree to build a templee housing the four Buddhas on the summit, with a shrine for the image of Vishnu just below on the slope. Penh's Hill is not immediately apparent, being just 90 feet high. Yet this is not the city's official name but should correctly be Krong Chaktomuk Mongkoi Sakal Kampuchea Thipadei Sereythor Inhabot Roth Reach Seima Maha Nokor. Named King Ponhea Yat and meaning 'the place of four rivers that gives the happiness and success of Khmer Kingdom, the highest leader as well as impregnable city of the God Indra of the great kingdom', this is usually abbreviated as Krong Chaktomok or 'the city of four faces'.

Battambang is another name to derive from legendary sources. Here the name means 'loss of staff' and comes from the tale of Preah Bat Dambang Kranhoung, where a farmer became king - Preah Bat Dambang Kranhoung means 'king of Kranhoung stick'. Said stick was carried by the farmer when he fought alongside Khmer soldiers to liberate this Siam-occupied territory. It was because of his heroic actions he was nominated as king but soon found himself deposed by a younger man. He threw the now sacred black stick at the usurper but its powers were no more and the farmer lost both the stick and his throne.

Siem Reap has similar beginnings to Battambang. Here the name translates as 'Siam defeated', itself likely suggested by the earlier name under Siamese rule when Siemmarat meant 'Siam's territory'.

Sihanoukville is the westernised version of a city officially known as Krong Preah Sihanouk or 'city of the holy Sihanouk'.. King Norodom Sihanouk reigned 1941-1955 and 1993-2004, hailed as father of modern Cambodia and whose name is derived from Sanskrit siha hanu 'lion jaws'.

Prey Veng literally translates as 'long forest', although the trees had disappeared by the 1980s, cleared to provide more land for agriculture.

Kampong Cham can be split into two distinct parts. Kampong speaks of its location and means 'at the side of the water', while Cham refers to the collection of independent regions found along this coastline from at least the 7th century right up to 1832.

Krong Ta Khmau translates as 'black grandfather'.

Pursat is named after a kind of tree found locally, the name also found for both the region and the river draining this area.

Kampong Speu is literally 'the port of the starfruit', a tree found in this region. Note while speu is the Khmer word for 'starfruit', the area is know for its sugar and wine production.

Takeo translates as 'crystal grandfather' and is a name applied to both a city and a province.

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

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