Monday, 13 May 2019

Marshall Islands 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 settlements of the Marshall Islands.

Ujeland or Wujlan is from Marshallese wuj lan meaning 'the rough or cloudy sky'.

Ebeye is an island where the first Christian missionaries to visit the Marshall Islands first settled. Oriiginally they wrote the name as Ebeje although correctly should have been more like Ebje and is said to mean 'making something out of nothing' and a reference to how difficult it is to eke out a living here.

Laura is not just a female name, we know the very female after whom it is named. Indeed, the town was named by American GIs stationed here in the Second World War after actress Lauren Bacall. Oddly it was also referred to as Rita, after actress Rita Hayworth, which probably indicates a preference for looks rather than anything else.

Jemo or Jamo features the element mo meaning 'taboo'.

Ailinglaplap is the name given to an atoll which is where the greatest legends of the Marshallese people are invariably located. Hence the name from aelon laplap means 'the greatest atoll' and refers to the legends and not size or population.

Arno is a coral atoll enclosing a lagoon, it is derived from the local tongue and means 'no wave'.

Ebon is the name given to an atoll which is thought to refer to 'their Ebon' and a reference to a people of darker skins who possibly inhabited this place.

Jebat simply refers to itself as 'the hill'.

Jalwoj comes from a local term meaning 'facing beauty' and it's hard to disagree with this descrption of any of the Marshall Islands.

Kole gets its name from the local description of the 'gravel surface'.

Kuwajleen comes from Marshallese waj leen or 'to you its fruit'. This is also told in a legend speaking a typhoon which hit here destroying all the fruit and leaving only flowers, it was these flowers they took to their chief as a tribute.

Lae simply translates as 'calm water'.

Lib or Ellep Island comes from Marshallese el lap or 'big nest'.

Likiep Atoll takes its name from iep or 'basket'.

Majuro or Majro comes from maj ruo or 'two openings' and an apt description of the lagoon.

Maloelap is from malew yelap, Marshallese for 'big lagoon'.

Mejit or Majej represents the Marshallese maj ej 'eastern opening'.

Namdrik or Namdik is from nam dik which is either 'small lagoon' or perhaps 'secondary lagoon'.

Utirik or Utrek is from Marshallese ut rok or 'southern flower'.

Wotho is disputed and, depending on who is asked, could refer to 'the entrance through the reef' or 'island far away'.

Wotje or Wojja is from jejaak which translates delightfully as 'land on which one can overheat'.

Ailing or Aelonin is from aelon ae or 'island of current', a warning of what to expect at sea.

Bikar or Pikaar comes from Marshallese pik ar or 'fly lagoonward'.

Bikini, probably the most famous name of all, should actually be Pikinni and from pik ni meaning 'surface of coconuts'.

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


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