Sunday, 6 January 2019

Kosovo 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 Kosovo cities.


Pristina is the capital of Kosovo, the origins of its name not entirely certain. Most often said to be from a Proto-Slavic pryscina 'spring of water'. A second possibility is a personal name, there being a few possibilities. However, the idea it comes from the Serbian prist meaning 'ulcer' or 'tumour' is impossible as this would never bring about a suffix of -ina.



Gjilan has a disputed etymology, ideas differ depending on the view of neighbouring countries and peoples. For example Albanians maintain it comes from the original settlers here, these led by Bahti Beg Gjinolli of Gjinaj and arriving in the middle of the 18th century. This seems very late for a record which is not documented and there is evidence of earlier inhabitants. Serbians claim it comes from the Serbian word gnjio, which is something of a derogatory description for it means 'putrid, rotten' and, while certainly not unheard of in place names, seems unlikely to be retained by the current nation.


Pec is a Serbian word meaning 'furnace' or 'cave' depending on the context. This would refer to the caves in Rugova Canyon which were home to Serbian Orthodox hermit monks.


Mitrovica comes from the Greek Demetrius and named after the 8th century Byzantine church and dedicated to St Demetrius of Thessaloniki, the patron saint of agriculture, peasants and shepherds.


Ferizaj was known as Ferizovik when under the Ottoman Empire, changing soon after the railway came through here in 1873, sparking a period of growth. It then took the name of the hotel, one already standing when the railway arrived, named after the owner Feriz Shasivari.


Gjakova is the Albanian name, Serbians refer to it as Dakovica. Several theories as to the origin, including a personal name Jakov, a minor lord who once held the town but at least managed to get his name on coinage; the Serbian dak'pupil' and a reference to the Serbian schools here; or, for reasons unclear, the Albanian word gjak 'blood'.


Vucitrn has two possible origins. First settled in the time of the Illyrian Empire some 2,500 years ago, the Illyrian could have name meant 'the side of the calves'; alternatively the Serbian Vucitrn is the name of the plant ononis spinosa, which is abundant in the area but could well have been named by the place. Incidentally ononis spinosa is commonly known as spiny restharrow and is found throughout much of Europe. Russians used an extract in the manufacture of bulat steel. The finished weapon dipped in a mixture containing the restharrow extract and then held aloft while on a galloping horse, thus allowing it to dry and harden. Not difficult to see why such a process was brought to Europe by the nomadic armies of the Mongolian Empire under Genghis Khan.

Kosovo Polje is takes the name of the nation and adds the Serbian polje or 'field'.

Orahovac is from the Serbo-Croatian orah meaning 'walnut'.

Suva Reka is the Serbian for 'dry river'.

Kacanik is likely from the Turkish Kacanlar, a reference to the Albanian bandits operating in this area who used the town as their base.


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

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