Sunday, 14 October 2018

Iran 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 Iranian cities and starting with the capital, Tehran.


Tehran's origins are uncertain. The name probably dates back to the earliest days of the city itself, that history goes back at least 7,000 years. Of course that has not stopped speculation. Perhaps it comes from Tiran or Tirgan and meaning 'the abode of Tir', he the Zoroastrian equivalent of the Greek deity Mercury. Another idea is this represents 'a warm place', while an official guide gives Tah 'end or bottom' and Ran 'mountain slope' and it does lie at the foot of the Alborz Mountains.

Mashhad is named after the last resting place of Imam Reza, the eighth Shia Imam. Interred in the village of Khorasan, this was changed to the modern name of Mashhad meaning 'the place of martyrdom'.

Isfahan comes from the Middle Persian Spahan, understood as 'place of the gathering army'.

Shiraz is more than four thousand years old, yet the oldest record of the name is less than half that. It is derived from the son of Shah Tahmuras.

Tabriz has several explanations, most often to come from tap-riz and a reference to the thermal springs here. Others suggest the King Tiridates II of Armenia gained revenge for his brother's death by driving out Ardashire I of the Sassanid Empire in AD246, with ta-vrezh meaning 'the revenge'.

Ahvaz has a rather complex history but is thought to come from an Old Persian and referred to 'the land of the Huzis'.

Urmia is thought to come from Indo-Iranian urmi 'wave' and urmya 'undulating, wavy'. This refers to the location near a lake and surrounded almost entirely by rivers, and thus the inference is 'water town'.

Rasht is thought to be from the verb reshtan meaning 'weaving' and a reference to one of the many early industries here.

Zahedan is a plural form of the Arabic zahed meaning 'pious'.

Yazd is from Yazdegerd I, a Sassanid ruler of Persia, his name meaning 'made by God'.

Ardabil comes from the Avesta Artavila and means 'holy place'.

Bandar Abbas has a long history and always uppermost known as a port and the names reflect that. Indeed, Bandar Abbas literally translates as 'harbour port'. For most of its existence it was known as Gameroon, this from gumruk with in root in 'commerce'.


Arak is a term given to this place since the medieval period and means 'the edge'.

Sanandaj had originally been known as Saneh or 'castle'. Subsequently it became known for the location of the castle and Sanandaj means 'castle at the foot of the mountain'.

Dezful speaks of itself as 'the fortified bridge' from the Persian diz pul.

Khomeyni Shahr was named to honour the Ayatollah Khomeini, but had earlier been known as Sedeh, from seh dedge 'three castles'.

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

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Indonesia 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 Indonesian cities.
Jakarta is from Jayakarta, itself from two Sanskrit words meaning 'victorious deed', 'complete victory', or 'complete act'. It refers to the troops of Fatihillah driving off the Portuguese forces in 1527.

Surabaya is derived from the Javanese sura ing baya or 'bravely facing danger'. This refers to the psychic king who foretold of a fight between a giant white shark and a great white alligator. This is thought to be the prediction of the Mongol hordes invading under Kublai Khan in 1293.

Medan was originally said to come from the Tamil word maidham meaning 'ground' but latterly there has been the suggestion of the alternative meaning of 'get better, recover'.

Depok is an acronym standing for De Eerste Protestantse Organisatie Kristen Protestan Pertama of the 'First Protestant Christian Organisation'. However folklore would have us believe this is a Sundanese word meaning 'hermitage'.


Palembang's origins are disputed. Some think it from the Malay pe-limbang and 'the place to pan for gold and look for diamond ores'. Others opt for lembang, the Malay term giving 'the place where water leaks' (ie a constant supply of water). WHile folklore maintains this came from four brothers who survived a shipwreck when bound for a new settlement. As the vessel descended beneath the waves all they were able to save was a large wooden box which they utilised as a raft and paddled to safety. Not the safest mode of transport, the box wobbled under the action of the waves - limbang-limbang used to refer to this unstable raft.

Pekanbaru is thought to come from the Malay words for 'new market'.

Bogor is thought to come from the Javanese word for 'sugar palm' or bhogor 'cow'. When founded in the 7th century it was known as Pajuan Pajajaran meaning 'a place between the parallel rivers' of Ciliwung and Cisadane.

Denpasar is from the Balinese words den pasar or 'northern market'.


Malang may be uncertain but most often said to come from the Malay for 'God has destroyed the false and enforced the right'.

Samarinda is literally 'equal in height' and a reference to how the houses were built and rafts and were therefore generally of equal height.

Cimahi is also the name of the river here, this from the Sudanese meaning 'enough water'.

Pontianak is from Malay meaning 'ferocious female ghost'. Folklore refers to the story of how the army of Syarif Abdurhamman Alkadrie shot cannonballs into the nest of ghosts hiding in the cave until they dispersed.

Manado comes from the Minahasan language where manadou or wanazou means either 'on the far coast' or 'in the distance' respectively. This a reference to the two offshore islands.

Yogyakarta means 'a city that is fit to prosper'.


Cirebon is from a local tongue known as Jawareh and probably means 'mixed'. Yjis refers to a blending of Sudanese, Javanese, Arabic and Chinese cultures.

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