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.

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