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.

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