Sunday, 18 August 2019

Nicaragua 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 Nicaraguan cities.

Managua has two equally plausible origins. The local Nahuatl language being one and where mana-ahuac translates as '(place) by the water' or perhaps '(place) surrounded by water'. Alternatively this may represent the Mangue tongue, where managua means 'place of the big man', effectively 'chief'.

Leon was founded by the Spanish as Santiago de los Caballeros de Leon in 1524, courtesy of Franciso Hernandez de Cordoba. The original located some 20 miles east of the present city. Named after the Spanish city which, in turn, is dervived from the city's Latin name coined during the Roman occupation of Castra Legionis or 'the camp of the legion'.

Monimbo comes from the Nahuatl and means 'close to the water', that water is Lake Masaya, itself perhaps meaning 'joyful, happy' or similar.

Matagalpa, like Managua, has two suggested origins. This may come from the local tongue meaning 'leading town' for maika is 'head' and calpul 'town'. Alternatively this is from the Sumo language and translates as 'let's go where the rocks are'. Other explanations are 'here next to the water' and 'among the mountains'.

Chinandega's origins are uncertain, although most often explained as from the Nahuatl chinamitl-tacalt 'the place surrounded by reeds'.

Granada was a thriving community when the Spanish arrived and renamed it Granada in 1524. The Spaniards took the name of the city of Granada in Spain, itself derived from its earlier Arabic name of Garnatah thought to translate as 'hill of the strangers'.

Tipitapa is another with two possible origins. This could either be from a Mexican relpe-petiat-pan, literally 'stone, bedroll, place' and understood as 'place of stone backpacks'; or perhaps this is tpitzin apan 'small place' and understood as meaning 'the place of a small river'.

Juigalpa either means 'land abundant of jicaro' (otherwise known as the calabash tree) or, and I do so hope this can be shown to be the true origin, in 'place of the black snails'.

Boaco is composed of two words, boaj 'enchanters' with the suffix o 'place, town'. It seems this is probably from some long-forgotten piece of folklore, maybe related to the name of the nearby peak of El Cerro de la Vieja 'the old woman's hill'.

Bluefields was named after the Dutch pirate Abraham Blauvelt, he using this bay as a hiding place in the 17th century. The Bluefields River, an oxymoron if ever I heard one, comes from the same source.

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


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