Sunday, 6 May 2012

Etymology of African Nations (M - Z)

Folowing on from last week's post, the origin and meaning of the remaining nations of the continent of Africa.

Madagascar is an old name and one not easily explained. The name is recorded by Marco Polo in the 13th century as Madeigascar. All we can say for certain about this name is it is not African for the native peoples originate from Indonesia to the east.

Malawi is a Chichewa word meaning 'flames', which is said to describe the reflection of the rising sun on any of the three large lakes.

Mali was the original name of the country from the 11th century, it comes from the native Malinke people.

Mauritania is an Arabic name which evolved through Greek translation to describe 'the land of the blacks'.

Mauritius was named by Admiral Van Neek in 1598, the Dutch admiral honouring Prince Maurice of Orange, the rule of what is now the Netherlands.

Morocco is a Spanish corruption of the former capital city of Marrakesh, itself from the Berber and meaning 'fortified'.

Mozanbique is said to be another African name of Portuguese origins. They settled on a coral island off the coast in 1508 and the local people spotted them and, according to Vasco da Gama, described the mosambuco or 'gathering of boats'. It must be said this does sound highly suspect etymology.

Namibia takes the name of the Namib desert, itself named from the Nama or Khoekhoe language to describe the 'vast place'.

Niger takes the name of the river, which in turn comes from Tamashek gher ngheren 'the river among rivers'.

Nigeria as above, this is 'the river among rivers'.

Rwanda is named from its inhabitants although the meaning of the word is uncertain.

Sao Tome and Principe was named by Portuguese sailors after St Thomas who landed here on his feast day.

Senegal is another taking the name of the river, which is yet another African name influenced by the Portuguese. The Berber name is Zenaga, thought to refer to the river as 'navigable'.

Seychelles was ceded top the French by the Portuguese, who knew them as the Seven Sisters, and promptly renamed after the French finance minister Vicomte de Sechelles.

Sierra Leone is the Spanish version of the Portuguese name coined by explorer Pedro de Cintra, who saw the land and called it Serra de Leao 'the lion ridge'.

Somalia is from a Cuchite word meaning 'dark, black'.

South Africa is indeed exactly where it says, the southernmost part of the African continent.

South Sudan shares its origin with the following.

Sudan is from Arabic biladas-sudan describing 'the country of the blacks'.

Swaziland is a corruption of the tribal name, which came from their warrior king of the 19th century MsWati III.

Tanzania is a combination of the two countries which united in 1964. Tanganyika is explained as kou tanganyika 'the meeting place (of the waters)' and refers to the lake, while Zanzibar is thought to represent a combination of Arabic zang and Iranian bar 'the country of the black skinned people'.

Togo is named after Lake Togo, a name of unknown origins.

Tunisia is named after its cpital, with Tunis of unknown origin. Often said to represent the Phoenician goddess Tanith, the name is known to pre-date the ariival of the Phoenicians.

Uganda is named from the Swahili name for the inhabitants, the Ganda.

Zambia is derived from the River Zambezi, itself meaning 'big river'.

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