Monday, 12 November 2018

Jamaica 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 Jamaican cities.


Kingston is a common enough English place name and refers to a tun or 'farmstead' held by the crown.

Montego Bay is of far more interesting origins. The explorer Christopher Columbus named the place in 1494 as Golfo de Buen Tiempo or 'fair weather gulf'. The modern name is suggested as being a corruption of the Spanish word manteca 'lard', so-named because this was where beef, leather and lard were exported from.


Spanish Town is simply named as it was founded as a home for Spaniards by Francisco de Garay in 1534, although it has been known by other names during its history.

Mandeville was named in 1816, taking the name of Viscount Mandeville, eldest son of the Duke of Manchester, the then governor of Jamaica.


Port Antonio was named in 1723 when officially created as a parish by the Duke of Portland, after whom it is named.

Ewarton is almost certainly named from a person named Ewart but there is no record of anyone with such a name.

Ocho Rios means 'eight rivers', but is probably a misnomer as there are not that many rivers in the area. It seems more likely to be a corruption of the Spanish name Las Chorreras 'the waterfalls'.

Falmouth took the name of the port in Cornwall. Falmouth stands, as the name suggests, at the mouth of the River Fal, itself of unknown origins.


Yallahs has two equally plausible suggestions for its origin. It may simply have come from Captain Yallahs, a privateer in the later 17th century, or from the Spanish yalos meaning 'frost', not that frost is seen here but the white cliffs visible from the sea do appear similar to having a coating of frost.

Runaway Bay was aptly named as an escape route for runaway slaves.

Spalding is named after the Lincolnshire town, itself derived from the name of the tribe who settled there, the Spaldingas.

Annotto Bay is named for the many annotto trees growing in the area. The tree has been introduced to much of the tropical regions of the Americas and is grown and used for products used in dyes, and it proves quite ornamental, too.

Porus is named after the porous soil found in the area, a very different origin to that of its earlier name of Vale Lionel, taken from the governor of Jamaica Sir Lionel Smith at its founding in 1840.

Lionel Town, founded in 1836, shares the name and origin of Sir Lionel Smith.


Negril is an abbreviation of the Spanish Negrillo or 'little black ones', named by the Spanish when they settled in 1494.

Oracabessa is from the Spanish Oracabeza or 'golden head', a reference to the natural light seen here in the afternoons.

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

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Israel 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 Israeli cities.


Jerusalem is a name which dates from the Bronze Age, where Sumerian yeru is the first element and shows this refers to 'the foundation (settlement) of the god Shalem', this the god of this Bronze Age city. However the settlement is at least four thousand years old and had earlier names, too. Around 1330 BCE we find the name given as Urusalim and six centuries prior to that as Rusalim, both with identical meanings but different languages.

Tel Aviv is the Hebrew translation of the German Altneuland and speaks of 'the old new land'. The German name is from Nahum Solokov, he taking the name of the Mesopotamian site near Babylon mentioned in Ekekiel. The name is very new, chosen in 1910 from a number of suggestions.

Haifa was, around 2,000 years ago, known as Sycamium or 'the mound of the Ficus sycomorus trees'. The first mention of anything approaching the modern name is during Roman rule around the end of the 1st century, when Efa (later Hefa and Hepha, where the meaning is the same as the earlier name.


Rishon LeZion is derived from the Biblical verse "First to Zion are they and I shall give herald to Jerusalem".

Petah Tikva is Hebrew for 'opening of hope' and a comparatively recent name.

Netanya is from the Hebrew for 'God gave'.

Beersheba has several suggested origins, most often said to come from Hebrew be'er 'well' and sheva 'seven' or perhaps 'oath'. Both would refer to the story of Abraham.

Bnei Brak gets its name from the ancient city of Beneberak, meaning 'son of Iraq'.


Holon is from the Hebrew word holon meaning 'little sand'.

Rehovot is named for its 'wide expanses' by founder Israel Belkind.

Ashkelon is probably Western Semetic and therefore means 'to weigh', an indication of a trading post.

Beit Shemesh means 'house of the sun' or perhaps 'temple of the sun', a reference to the Canaanite sun-goddess Shemesh.


Kfar Saba means 'grandfather's village' but nobody has any idea why this name was chosen.

Herzliya is, quite simply, named after Theodor Herzl, who founded the settlement in 1924.

Hadera is Hebrew for 'the green one'.

Nazareth is a Hebrew word for 'branch', and is taken from the book of Isaiah.

Ra'anana is the Hebrew for 'fresh'.

Rahat has several meanings depending on which language the word originates. This could represent Arabic 'group', Aramaic 'run' or Hebrew 'trough'.

Hod HaSharon translates as 'splendour of the Sharon'.

Givatayim is the Hebrew for 'two hills'.

Nahariya is named from its location on the Ga'aton river, the Hebrew for 'river' being nahar.


Umm- al-Fahm is Arabic and can be translated to .Mother of Charocal', the forests around here were a plentiful suplly of wood for charcoal.

Kiryat Gat is named for Gath, one of the five major cities of the Philistines. From the Hebrew where gat means 'winepress'.

Eilat, a name found in the Old Testament, may come from the Hebrew of ayl which gave elah and refers to the Pistacia trees. These trees are found across across Africa, Eurasia and the southern part of North America, where these are cultivated for their seeds, today known as pistachios.

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