Sunday, 4 September 2016

Guam 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 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 an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest of Guam's settlements.

Dededo is by far the largest settlement with a population of almost 45,000. The origin of the name is unclear but often said to mean 'two inches' and from the Chamorro word dededo. Other words from the same language are offered, such as dedeggo 'heel of the foot' and deggo 'tiptoes'. If any of these explanations are the true origin then the reference is a mystery.

Yigo is another which is by no means certain but most often said to come from either the Spanish yugo meaning 'yoke', as in that used to hitch an animal to the plough. However there is also an alternative name for the area, this Asyigo said to represent 'the home of a man called Yigo'.

Tamuning is a Carolinian word given after they settled here around the middle of the 19th century and thought to be after the chieftain of this people.

Mongmong-Toto-Maite are actually three villages and one principality. Once again the origin is uncertain but this has not prevented an intricate tale of how these names came about. It seems the Chamorro version of creation involved the god Puntan and his sister Fu'una. On his death Fu'una used the god's body to form the world and the sky, with his eyes producing the moon and stars and his flesh the earth. Hence the Chamorro words momongmong is a description of a heartbeat, toto meant 'to recline', and Maite is from ma'ette or 'the touch of another'.

Mangilao is undoubtedly from the Chamorro word ilao meaning 'to search'. This refers to this being a hunter's paradise where, in the past, many would come seeking deer, boar, fish and crabs.

Barrigada is from the local word for 'flank', here a possible reference to hunters coming here and the target when hunting deer. However this idea likely came from the Chamorro creation myth, for barrigada 'flank' and tuyan 'stomach' would refer to the two central hills of Guam, each formed by parts of the body of Fu'unta.

Chalan-Pago-Ordot uses the Chamorro Chalan Pago or 'the pago road', a reference to this being the route from Hagatna to Pago and is covered with Pago trees. Ordot is a second village name, this from otdot meaning 'ant'.

Yona is from iyo na, this Chamorro and meaning 'to possess something'. This has given rise to the tale of how visitors to the region, admiring the extensive coconut plantation, enquired who owned this area and heard the response Iyo na or 'we do'.

Santa Rita is clearly of Spanish origin, this from the patron saint of St Rita of Cascia.

Agat is thought to either come from the cry of the Marianas Crow which flies here calling out aga, this was then adopted by the Agat people who came to settle here and thereafter the place, or from the Chamorro haga meaning 'blood'.

Talofofo gets its name from entalo' i fe fo' meaning 'between the cliffs' and an apt description of the location. Note some argue this could also be from fo' fo' or 'bubbling spring' and thus 'between the bubbling springs'.

Sinajana is possibly from the local word china-jan, this referring to the local cookware designed specifically to cook the yams which, owing to their proliferation, would have been the staple food.

Inarajan is a Spanish pronunciation of the original Chamorro name of Inalahan

Asan is from hassan meaning 'scarce, rare', although just what this refers to is uncertain.

Merizo was earlier known as Malesso this from the Chamorro word lesso and the name given to the immature stage of the rabbit fish which run these bays at certain times of the year and prove a great delicacy for the locals.

Piti is thought to come from the Chamorro word puti meaning 'to hurt, ache' but the reference is unclear.

Hagatna is from the Chamorro haga' na, literally translating as 'his (or her) blood'.

Umatac is believed to come from the name of the Chamorro equivalent of March, this being Umatalaf, if so this may refer to the annual celebration held to the north of the village before and after the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century.

Ma'ina comes from Chamorro ina or 'shine, illuminate'. Here the reference is disputed, some point to those who hunted at night and used torches to light their way, others speak of the sunrise marking the arrival of a new birth, and a third explanation speaks of the moon illuminating the valley in which the settlement lies.

Unlike many nations of the Americas once under Spanish rule, few of the place names have come from this language but have retained their indigenous names. Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

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