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.

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