Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Malaysia 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 Malaysian cities.

Kuala Lumpur is from the Malay language where it means 'muddy confluence', although some sources refer to earlier names such as Sungai Lumpur 'muddy river' and Pengkalan Lumpur 'muddy landing place'. In truth it should probably be known as Kuala Gombak as this is where the rivers Gombak and Klang meet and as one river is larger should be referred to as a kuala.

George Town was named as such in 1786 in honour of the British monarch, King George III.

Ipoh takes its name from a local tree, once referred to as Pohon Epu and more recently as Pokok Ipoh. Those indegenous peoples of Malay used the poisonous sap of the tree to tip their blowpipe darts when hunting.

Kota Kinabula is named after Mount Kinabalu, itself describing 'the revered place of the dead'. The additional Kota means 'fort, town, city'.

Alor Setar is from two Malay words, Alor or 'small stream' combines with Setar the marian plum or plum mango.

Kuala Teregganu has the same elemnt as the capital city, although here it may be seen as 'estuary' of the river named from the Malay for 'bright rainbow'.

Kuching has a number of theories as to how it got its name. Among these is the suggestion this is from Kucking the Malay for 'cat' or transferred from the Malabar Coast and the Indian port of Cochin.

Miri takes the name of the local group known as the Jatti Meirek or simply Mirek.

Serebang Perai was originally named Province Wellesley after Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley who served as Governor General from 1797 to 1805. The present name refers to the northern banks of the Perai River, the name originating from the Thai plai meaning 'end' and a reference to this being a boundary between two provinces.

Kajang, as a name, is disputed but generally held to refer to the scew pine found here which the Temuan people used in constructing the roofs of their hames.

Klang, as a place name, takes its name from the Klang River. If this is so then it likely comes from the Mon-Khmer word Klong 'canal, waterway'. However, should the river have taken the name from the place then this is probably the Malay word Kilang and likely referred to the huge number of warehouses once found here, although today modern usage defines kilang as 'factory'.

Sandakan was named by a Glaswegian arms smuggler by the name of William Cowie, who used this Suluk term meaning 'the place that was pawned'. I would doubt a more unlikely source for a place name exists.

Padawan is said to be a combination of the Bidayuh words Padja Birawan, said to recall the story of an elder named Kinyau who discovered some beads nearby. When it transpired these beads had magical properties he named them Birawan and added the suffix to the name of his eldest son, Padja.

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


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