Sunday, 12 February 2012

Etymology of European Capital Cities (M to Z)

Following on from the previous post, the completion of the alphabetical list of European capital cities with their meaning.

Madrid, Spain - a Moorish fort once stood here named Majrit. While the modern name certainly comes from this early name the meaning has never been understood.

Minsk, Belarus - undoubtedly a lost river name related to Men, Mena, Menka, and Main, all ultimately from the Indo-European moinia or 'marsh'. The modern river through Minsk is the Svisloch, so perhaps this represents an early or alternative name.

Monaco, Monaco - during the sixth and seventh centuries BC the rock on which the city now stands was home to a Greek temple to the god Hercules the Hermit. Here is the link to the name coming from the Greek monoikos speaking of the 'hermit, monk'.

Moscow, Russia - coming from the Moskva river which flows through the city, there are several suggestions for the origin of the river name. If this is Slavonic moskva, which does seem the most likely, this is 'damp, marshy'; Slavonic mostkva describes 'bridge, water'; while Finno-Ugrian moska va refers ro 'the ford where calves are raised'.

Nicosia, Cyprus - it seems this is a result of the French-speaking Crusaders who pronounced the Greek name of Lefkosia as Nicosie, seemingly Italian influence giving the modern Nicosia. The Greek name comes from the man who rebuilt it in 300BC, Lefkonas being the son of Ptolemy I.

Oslo, Norway - once thought to be a name from Indo-European os with the River Lo giving 'the mouth of the Lo', this is now seen as an early error and the river name is derived from the place. Today it is generally accepted to be either 'the meadow by the hill' or 'the meadow where gods are worshipped' and derived from Old Norse.

Paris, France - this comes from the tribe who lived here, the Parisii. This raises the question as to the origin of the tribal name. Possibly this represents Gaulish par 'ship', suggesting these men were known as sailors or perhaps ship-builders.

Podgorica, Montenegro - situated close to Gorica, a hill name meaning simply 'hill', this place name describes its location 'under the hill'.

Prague, Czech Republic - while the name is disputed, the most popular derivation is from the Czech praziti 'place where wood is burned'. A second definition gives Slavonic prati, literally 'to work' it would refer to the dykes constructed in the river to hold fish.

Reykjavik, Iceland - an island known for its hot geysers and this is the meaning of the name. Here Icelandic reyka precedes Old Norse vek to refer to 'the smoke of the inlet'.

Riga, Latvia - founded in the twelfth century this is from Slavonic reka meaning 'river'. Note the river through Riga today is the Dvina, however there was once another called the Reka which silted up and no longer flows.

Rome, Italy - the city stands on the Tiber, a river previously known as the Ruma. This is thought be of Etruscan origin meaning 'to flow'.

San Marino, San Marino - a republic founded around the end of the third century as a religious communiy by St Marinus, a stone cutter whose name in Italian becomes San Marino.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina - comes from Bosnian saray evo giving 'the field around the palace'. It could be argued the first element represents Persian shahr or Turkish sehir, however neither change the meaning greatly as they both refer, albeit indirectly, to a centre of government.

Skopje, Macedonia - a site which has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years and known by the Latin name of Scupi. The meaning is uncertain, however it seems this has remained largely unchanged for millennia, certainly in use when this was a Greco-Roman fortress town. Considering its strategic importance this is the most likely origin of the name.

Sofia, Bulgaria - a place where the name has changed depending upon who was in control here. When first settled by the seventh century BC it was called Serdica, the Thracian tribe called the Serds founding the settlement. When the Slavs moved here over a thousand years later, they mistook the name to be from sered, the Slavonic for 'centre'. Move forward to the eleventh century AD and the Byzantine empire referred to the place as Triaditsa, a religious reference to the Holy Trinity. That religious idea is perpetuated in the modern name, itself from the Greek meaning 'wisdom' in a theological sense.

Stockholm, Sweden - whereas the suffix is undoubtedly holm 'drier raised land', the first element is by no means certain. It may represent stak 'bay' or stock 'post, pole' and a marker of some description.

Tallinn, Estonia - prior to the First World War this was known as Revel, thought to be from Danish revele or 'sandbank'. The Danish connection is seen in the modern name, itself from Estonian taani linna 'the town of the Danes', the area ruled by the Danes from 1227 to 1346.

Tblisi, Georgia - from the Georgian word tbili meaning 'warm', a reference to the warm mineral springs found here.

Tirana, Albania - from the ancient name for Tuscany, which came from the Greek and still seen in the name of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Clearly an early link with the Etruscans.

Vaduz, Lichtenstein - possibly Romanesque avadutg 'water' or from Latin vallis 'valley'.

Valletta, Malta - for once we not only know the meaning but also the man himself. Following victory over the Turks in 1565, this city was founded by, and named after, Jean Parisot de la Vallette, Grand Master of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem.

Vatican City, Vatican City - represents the Latin name for the hill on which this place stands. Mons Vaticanus took its name from vaticinia 'the place of divination', which shows the holiest place in Catholicism was named after a pagan shrine.

Vienna, Austria - is named after the River Vienna, it meets the Danube here. The river name is from Celtic, possibly vedunia meaning 'tree' or vindo 'white' and thus pointing to a stone building. Either way it is clear reference is to a very short section of riverbank in a river some 21 miles long, hence this name was relevant to only a small part and would have had other names elsewhere along its course, as indeed would apply to any river or stream.

Vilnius, Lithuania - another from the local river. Here the River Viliya (also known as the Nyaris) is derived from a Slavonic word meaning 'winding'.

Warsaw, Poland - it would be a surprise if a capital city anywhere on the globe has more stories told about its origins. The most likely origin is Warsz ev 'belong to a man called Warsz', although Hungarian varos or 'fortified town cannot be ruled out entirely. We can be sure it does not come from the twins War and Sawa, said to have been found by the king and his hunting party. Neither does it originate in the supposed cry by those on the cargo rafts to their cooks in "Warz, Eva!" meaning "Broth, Eve!"

Yerevan, Armenia - the only thing certain about this name is its great age. Of the many suggestions only two seem realistic: either 'the abode of the god Aru' or perhaps from Armenian yerevan meaning 'to appear', when the sense would be a mystery.

Zagreb, Croatia - while often said to be from German graben 'trench, ditch', it seems more likely to be from a related Slavonic word saying this settlement lay 'beyond the ditch'.

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