Sunday 25 September 2011

Etymologies of the Capital Cities of the US states. Part I

Some months ago I reproduced snippets from an old article looking at the etymologies of the names of the US states. I made a note to examine the capital cities of those same states in the future and examine the origins of those place names. Here are the results and, as there are fifty, I have split the piece into two.

Alabama - Montgomery was named to honour the American hero of the War of Independence General Richard Montgomery

Alaska - Juneau was fittingly named in 1881 one year after Joseph Juneau arrived, one of the first to arrive seeking gold.

Arizona - Phoenix has no connection with the Phoenicians even though the inhabitants are known as such. Neither is there any record of the place ever being rebuilt following a fire, which would lend itself to being named after the fabled bird said to rise from its own ashes. Hence the reason is unclear, although one source does suggest it was built on the remains of a Native American site but this may well be creative etymology.

Arkansas - Little Rock was named by French explorer Bernard de la Harpe in 1722 as La Petite Roche, French for 'the little rock' which stands on the banks of the River Arkansas.

California - Sacramento took the name of the River Sacramento, itself the Spanish for 'sacrament'. Clearly of religious significance although the beginnings are a mystery, the city was previously known as Fort Sutter after John Sutter, who established a trading post here.

Colorado - Denver was named after former governor General James W. Denver, previously it was known as Auraria, the Latin for 'golden'.

Connecticut - Hartford was named Newtown when settled by the English in the seventeenth century, but renamed Hartford twenty years later. It was named after the English town of Hertford (meaning 'the ford frequented by harts or stags') but spelled differently although probably not deliberately!

Delaware - Dover was established in Kent County by the English, hence the famous English port had its name transferred here. The derivation of the English version, although hardly relevant here, is from the Celtic river name Dour, itself from dubras and meaning simply 'waters'.

Florida - Tallahassee is a Native American, specifically Muskogean, word meaning 'old town'.

Georgia - Atlanta was the terminus of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, and named because of this and not the Atlantic Ocean directly.

Hawaii - Honolulu is from the Hawaiian hono 'harbour' and lulu 'calm', hence sheltered area in the Pacific Ocean.

Idaho - Boise is named from the river on which it stands and, unsurprisingly, is from the French where riviere boisee speaks of 'the wooded river'.

Illinois - Springfield is a common name in the USA, hence the reason it was chosen for the home of Homer Simpson and his family. Normally self-explanatory, in this example it was transferred from its namesake in Massachusetts, itself coming from that from Essex in England.

Indiana - Indianapolis is clearly named from the state, itself named by French settlers for the large number of Native Americans who were here when they arrived in 1702. It would not have survived had it not been for the name being taken by the Indiana Company who developed the land here in the eighteenth century. The addition is Greek polis meaning simply 'town'.

Iowa - Des Moines has a lot in common with Boise for not only is it clearly French but is also derived from the river. Here the riviere des moines describes 'the river of the monks', which may refer to Trappist monks who settled these lands but more likely is a corruption of the Native American tribe the Moingouena, which was abbreviated to Moings in the plural.

Kansas - Topeka is a capital city named from the Sioux word meaning literally 'potato good place', and telling us the wild tuber known in English as the potato could be found.

Kentucky - Frankfort is not an erroneous spelling of the German city of Frankfurt telling of 'the ford of the Franks'. However the meaning is very similar in 'Frank's ford', the man in question being Stephen Frank, a pioneer who was among the settlers killed by Native Americans at the ford on the Kentucky River while making salt.

Louisiana - Baton Rouge is literally French for 'the red stick', which has seen a number of stories told regarding its origins. That most often related concerns a red pole supposedly hammered into the ground to show where the French territory ended and the Native American land began. However it is more likely to be a bad French translation of a native chief's name.

Maine - Augusta does not share an origin with Augusta, Georgia which was named after England's Princess Augusta, the daughter-in-law of King George II. This was Augusta Dearborn, daughter of Henry Dearborn the American statesman, physician and veteran of both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

Maryland - Annapolis was named after the English Queen Anne, although she was Princess Anne when the place was named. The suffix is Greek polis or 'town'.

Massachussetts - Boston is a transferred name from Boston in Lincolnshire, the place where many of the Puritan settlers had begun their journey.

Michigan - Lansing is another transferred name, this time from Lansing in the state of New York where many of the original settlers had begun their overland journey. New York's Lansing was named after John Lansing, a politician and legal man.

Minnesota - Saint Paul was named after the dedication of the church founded by the French priest Lucien Galtier.

Mississippi - Jackson was named to honour Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the USA.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Origins of Street Names

An almost endless subject and one which is a particular favourite of mine. Toponomy, the study of place names, will give the ancient history of the place and its location. However studying street names will enable us to see something of the people, hence each town and city pays tribute to those who have contributed to its development. Soon after the Industrial Revolution this will have been the entrepreneurs and investors who built the factories and the houses for those who worked there, quite rightly putting their own names (and those of their family) on the road sign at the end of the street. In later years the councillors and mayors were similarly honoured. Thus many names are unique to the town and its people but there are also a selection of street names which are found in most sizable towns and cities and it is those we shall be examining.

High Street - although it often does rise above the surrounding area this is only because there was a natural tendency to settle on drier ground and thus avoiding seasonal flooding. Yet the name speaks of 'high' in the sense of 'important'.

Back Street and Fore Street refer to the 'rear entrance' and the 'front door' of the town respectively. Not that there is such a thing, in reality it refers to the less common route and the most common entrance point. Ironically there ar many more examples of Back Street than Fore Street.

Broad Street should always be seen as bening named comparatively. In days when streets were not built to take traffic those that were laid out to allow the flow of carts and waggons would have been noticeably broader than the alleys where the upper floors overhang, appearing almost to touch.

Albion Street - no surprise to find this in towns all over the land, it is the poetic name for Britain and held to be a reference to the white cliffs of the southeast coastline.

Pinfold Street - named after the area set aside to hold stray livestock until their owners collected them and paid the required fine. The monies went to the upkeep of the community and paid the wages of the pinner, he responsible for the pinfold and whose job title became a surname.

Conduit Street - is always an indication of a water channel, maybe covered over. However more often this would have been a sewer, not a supply of fresh water.

Friday Street - has two possible meanings. Either this refers to poverty, Friday being the least popular day of the week in medieval Europe, or it describes the place where fish was sold, this being the only meat permitted to be served by the pious on Fridays.

Cheapside - is derived from the Old English word ceap meaning 'a deal' and used to point to this being a market place.

Rotten Row - clearly a derogatory name but the exact sense is disputed, indeed it seems likely to have a number of uses depending upon the location.

Salters Street - an ancient route, probably one of the earliest into the place, and that taken by those who brought that precious commodity of salt. Even the most efficient of settlements would rarely have a reliable supply of salt locally, hence they were reliant on the salt routes. Not that salt was used as a seasoning as today, it was far too precious. Salt provided a way to preserve meat before the refrigerator and also used in the production of cheese.

The Butts - a name which I try to avoid discussing when giving talks on the subject of place names, for it often disappoints the enthusiastic amateur historians present. I am well aware the audience hope to hear this refers to archery butts, that which supports the target during practise. Less romantic is the image of the game of butts, once popular in the north of the land it was similar to tip-cat (a variety of rules exist but is basically a little stick being whacked with a bigger stick as far as possible). What they really do not like to hear is the most common origin, where the butts referred to that unploughed strip around the edge of the field which remained unploughed for this was where the plough team turned.

Should you have a local road, street or lane you would like to know the meaning of drop me a line and I will try my best to offer a solution.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Paranormal Staffordshire

Latest publication appearing in October 2011. Just in time for Hallowe'en, Paranormal Staffordshire contains a mix of stories old and new.

Sunday 11 September 2011

The Ashby Canal

My latest longer distance walk saw me stretching my legs along the Ashby Canal. At 31 miles in length it was open by 1804 and connected the mining community of Moira in Leicstershire with the Coventry Canal at Bedworth in Warwickshire. While it was quite easy to walk the navigable 22 miles remaining inside two days (one day is also achievable), as I did not walk this on consecutive days and the practicalities involved in looping back to my starting point (in order to pick up the car) this was stretched over three days.

The abandoned section of this canal was closed in three stages, 1944, 1957 and 1966. Ironically the subsidence from the coal and limestone mines the route was built to serve was its own downfall. There is a restoration project in full swing, although it will never be possible to reopen the original route for much has been filled in and some now developed. A mile around Moira was restored between 1999 and 2005 and, while it is hoped that all but the last mile will eventually be reopened, today the route ends just north of the Snarestone tunnel.

While the canal is generally travelled from south to north, at least initially, I walked in the opposite direction. Normally I find walking along the tow path to be surprisingly tiring, unexpected because they are obviously very flat away except for the occasional lock or bridge. However that they are flat means you are using the same muscles all the time, unlike when crossing undulating fields or steeper inclines. Yet with the Ashby Canal the tow path, and indeed the canal itself, are not (yet) as well maintained as those more popular routes. As result the tow paths have many holes and are quite rutted owing to a lack of hardcore and the many cyclists which pass along here. Thus the problem is not that it is lvel but the very real problem of turning an ankle, so beware!

Finding the end of current the canal, north of Snarestone Tunnel, in the car is not easy so I resorted to parking at Snarestone and walking as far as I could before turning round and retracing my footsteps south and beyond. Along the route to Shackerstone the canal winds along the contour line, wih the former railway line still visible in the landscape to the right from time to time. Indeed there are a number of circular walks posted on boards on the tow path, parts of which utilise the old trackbed.

Reaching Shackerstone at the Turnover Bridge, take the time to visit the Battlefield Line Museum at the station or take advantage of the station cafeteria should these be open on the day. Incidentally the Turnover Bridge will not be named anywhere but the OS map, yet it cannot be mistaken for it will be where the tow path switches over to the opposite side of the canal. Returning to the canal retrace your walk along the tow path back to Town Bridge, passing underneath and ascending to the road. Turn left, away from the town, cross another bridge over the trackbed clearly visible below and tirn immediately left along a single-track and very straight road. Just after a lefthand bend the Ivanhoe Way is signed off to the left. Crossing a series of fields and stiles brings us back to the road at Snarestone where, turning left, takes us back to the Globe Inn which is adjacent to the Snarestone Tunnel and the start of the first leg.

The second leg was easier to organise, walked at the weekend with a little help from the Battlefield Line. Parking at Shackerstone I bought a single and travelled along this heritage line to Shenton. The Battlefield Line began as the Shackerstone Railway Society in 1969 but, by the following year, had relocated to Shackerstone for the facilities were better for housing the steam engines. First operational in the 1970s by 1992 the one and a half mile extension to Shenton was opened when the first engine pulled the inaugural service. This 0-6-0 tank engine was appropriately named Richard III, appropriate as this stop links to Bosworth Field and the famous engagement which ended the Wars of the Roses and the crown passed from Richard III to Henry VII in 1485. Bosworth Field Visitor Centre and Ambion Hill, now generally acknowledged as the true location of the important events, are just a short walk away. However my route was along the canal, a short journey which continued along the former track bed to cross the canal and then head north back to my starting point.

The third and final leg took me back to Shenton. This was the longest of the three legs and required a little juggling with public transport. Parking at Hinckley I caught a bus to Market Bosworth and then walked to Shenton. Before joining the canal by climbing up to the Shenton Viaduct, I took the short detour to see King Richard's Stone, a reminder this was where Richard III was said to have died following defeat at Bosworth.

This leg winds along passing near Stoke Golding where, at bridge number 25, Ashby Boats have a good selection of narrowboats for hire which, as there are no locks on the Ashby Canal, makes for a leisurely journey. Also at bridge 25 we can find 'the Ghost Railway', so-called as it is a stretch of track bed where the sleepers and rails have been removed but is remarkably well preserved considering it is not in use.

A rather close and warmish day slowed my pace a little and, as I paused frequently to gather blackberries (amassing over two pounds by the end), it took a little longer than I had planned to reach the junction with the Coventry Canal at Bedworth. From here I found the railway station and, changing at Nuneaton, took the train back to my starting point at Hinckley having walked a total of more than sixteen miles.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Etymology of Ancient Currencies

Last month I looked at the etymologies of contemporary currencies and those recently superceded by the introduction of the euro. However there are many which have come and gone in history and they must also have an origin.

Lydia was a region in what is now western Turkey. They used the stater, a coin used in many parts of Greece. Made from electrum and silver, its name translates quite literally as 'weight'.

The ancient Persians used the gold coin known as the daric. The daric was introduced by Darius the Great of Persia during his reign of 522BC to 486BC. The figure depicted with a bow and arrow is either a great warrior or a king, their identity is unclear. What is clear is, despite the seemingly obvious naming of the daric from Darius, in reality it comes from a Persian word for 'gold'.

Ancient Greeks had the drachma. This term is ultimately from the ancient Greek verb drassomai meaning 'to grasp' and evolved to mean 'fistful'.

The Roman Empire used a number of coins. One is known to modern numismatists as the antoninianus, several documents refer to coins named after one Antoninus, although they have no notion as to the coin's appearance, nor do they know what name was given to the coin they now know by this name. The same is true of the follis, the etymology and the actual name is unknown. The argenteus was a silver coin with a name which meant 'silver' in Latin, similarly the aureus was a gold coin whose name meant 'golden'. The denarius is derived from the Latin deni or 'containing ten' as it was equal to ten asses, these being bronze (later copper) coins, and related to the Greek assarion and understood as 'a part thereof'. Latin dupondius describes itself as a 'two pounder'. The follis took its name from the word meaning 'bag' and usually of leather, suggesting the original value of same was an amount contained within said bag. A sesterius was equal to two and half asses, the name means 'two and a half'. The gold solidus is not difficult to see as meaning 'solid'. A talent began as a unit of mass, the name meaning 'balance, scale', which readily transferred to a coin of a certain weight.

Ancient Israeli coins begin with the gerah, derived from Aramaic word which translates as 'money'. We also find the prutah, which spoke of itself as being 'a coin of lesser value'. The best known coin is probably the shekel, equivalent to an Akkadian and/or Sumerian unit of weight first recorded over four thousand years ago. Lastly is the zuz, a word meaning 'to move' and suggesting a redistribution of wealth.

Brazilians once valued their cruzeiros, the name describing the constellation of the Southern Cross.

Peru had the inti, named after the Incan sun god Inti.

In China the tael was a unit of weight before it became a monetary value, this being a Portguese adaptation of a Malay word meaning 'weight'.

Ukranians once dealt in karbovanets, a word of doubtful etymology which has been said to describe the way these smaller value denominations were carved around the rim of a metal rouble or of a rod on which such coinage was recorded.

Montenegro saw the introduction of the perun in 1851. This was named after Perun, a supreme god of Slavic mythology.

Ecuador used to deal in the sucre until 2000. This monetary value was named after Antonia Jose de Sucre, the Venezueland independence leader and close friend of Simon Bolivar.

In Guinea between 1971 and 1985 banks issued various denominations of syli. The 10 denomation note featured Patrice Lumumba on the obverse, the reverse depicted a group of people carrying bananas; 25 saw a man smoking a pipe on one side, and a man with cows on the back; 50 and a bearded man is shown, turn it over to find a large dam and reservoir; while the 100 denomination note had Ahmed Sekou Toure on the front, and a steam shovel with two trucks on the reverse. Oddly none of these notes feature the 'elephant', which is what syli translates as.

Back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the Democratic Republic of Congo had the Katanga Cross. Made from copper it was named from the Katanga region where much copper was mined. However it is not the name but the extraordinary form this coinage took. As the name tells us this was not a coin as we would recognise it, this was an X-shaped ingot. Furthermore the size of these things was little short of astoonishing for coinage, although produced in various sizes, these were typically 20cms across and weighed a pocket-bursting kilogram each. Tossing these must be a nightmare!