Sunday, 14 July 2019

Myanmar 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 of Myanmar's cities.

Yangon is a combination of the Burmese words yan and koun meaning 'enemies' and 'run out of', most often translated as 'end of strife'. Note during the colonial period the name of Rangoon is simply an Anglicised version of the local pronunciation.

Mandalay was originally the name of the nearby hill. Three rather different explanations have been offered for this place name. One suggests it comes from an unknown Pali word, which is not much help. At least the others have a common theme in topography, at least loosely. Perhaps this is mandala, a reference to 'circular plains', or even a name of Mandara, this a mountain mentioned in Hindu mythology.

Naypyidaw is the Burmese for 'the abode of the king' and generally accepted as 'capital'.

Taunggyi is 'huge mountain' in Burmese, a ridge with a high point named Taung-chun 'the spur'.

Mawlamyine is from Moulmein 'damaged eye' or perhaps 'one-eyed man'. This name is born of a legend, one where a Mon king had a third eye in the centre of his forehead, through this he could see events in neighbouring kingdoms. Unhappy with this advantage, one neighbouring ruler gave his daughter in marriage and she managed to destroy the all-seeing third eye.

Myitkyina is Burmese for 'near the big river'. Said river is indeed big, for the Ayeyarwady (most often seen as Irrawaddy) and is from Pali for the name of the elephant mount of Sakka, the ruler of Trayastrimsa Heaven.

Pathein is thought to come from an Old Mon name meaning 'river' or 'sea', perhaps even 'big sea'.

Pyay is Burmese for 'country', but refers to the ruins of the city some five miles away known as Sri Kstera from the Sanskrit for 'blessed place, country'.

Meiktila comes from Mithila, the name of an ancient Indian kingdom.

Taungoo is Ketumadi and translates to 'possessed of the royal standard'.

Sittwe comes from the Burmese Saite-Twey and trranslates as 'the place where the war meets'. This is a reference to when the Burmese King Bodawpaya, whose forces invaded the Mrauk U Kingdom in 1794 and fought a successful battle on land and water.

Sagaing was Zeyapura which translates as 'city of victory'.

Dawei comes from the Mon language and means 'to sit cross-legged' and a reference to Buddha's posture on the throne.

Bhamo is from the Shan language and means 'village of the potters'.

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


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