Sunday, 13 January 2019

Laos 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 Laos cities.


Vientiane has a rather uncertain origin. Some maintain this comes from the Pali language of Theravada Buddhism, pictographs showing the original name meant 'city of sandalwood'. However others point to 'city of the moon' as the true origin. The disagreement is to be expected for it is unclear whether this comes from Sanskrit chandra 'sandalwood' or Sanskrit chandana 'moon', for both are pronounced and written phonetically as 'chan' in modern Lao.


Pakse comes from the Laotian describing its location at 'the mouth of the river', actually at the confluence of the Xe DOn and Mekong rivers.


Kaysone Phomvihane has only been known as such since 2005, it named after the man born here and later became the first leader of Laos independence. Earlier it had been known as Savannakhet, itself from the province of Savanh Nakhone and meaning 'heavenly district' or 'fertile land of agriculture'.


Luang Prabang literally translates as 'royal Buddha image', an appropriate name for there are numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries here.


Xam Neua, like all good place names, describes its location and translates as 'the northern swamp'.

Muang Xay apparently owes its name to an event from the year 1323. The inhabitants of Takka Sila, as it was known at the time, were in the forest cutting bamboo when they came upon a monk named Paxay. He asked them what they were doing cutting down bamboo to make a fishing basket. He offered them food and refreshment and they changed the name to Muang Xay in his honour.


Xiangkhouang is the name of a province with a name translating as 'horizontal city', this whole area a plateau.

Bokeo is the name of a province meaning 'gem mine', the area known for its sapphire mines.


Mekong is an Anglicised river name from the Lao Mae Nam Khong where mae nam refers to 'the mother of waters' and is used to describe virtually every major river hereabouts, while Khong is its proper name. However khong is an archaic word meaning 'river' or 'the river' and showing both effectively mean the same thing.

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

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