Monday, 30 July 2012

Talking of Fruit

We are advised to eat five portions of fruit, and vegetables, each and every single day. They come in several colours, an array of shapes, numerous sizes, and generally speaking the sweeter they are the more we like them. This is of course exactly what the plant desires, to get us to eat its fruit and spread its seeds far and wide.

However there must have been a time when someone first picked or harvested the fruit for eating. In order to pass on the information that such made good eating it was given a name. Of course there was no lavish celebration and cutting of a ceremonial ribbon, not even for those fruits which have been cultivated to produce heavier crops, more appealing colours, and better flavours.

So why were the vegetables named and what, if anything, do they mean? Taking them in no particular order we start with the apple. Doubtless this was among the earliest of fruit, although note the apple is never actually mentioned in Genesis, it is said to be the "fruit of the forbidden tree". This fits with the use of 'apple' as the generic term for all fruit until the seventeenth century - actually this did not include berries but did encompass nuts, which does seem rather confusing today.

Certainly the word can be seen in Old English aeppel, Gaulish avallo, Old Irish ubull, and Lithuanian obuolys as having a common root in Proto-Indo-European abel. It seems likely the word was applied to fruit in general for millennia, especially when we consider the French pomme 'apple' is derived from Latin pomum which again meant simply 'fruit'. Note also that the French for potato pomme de terre means 'earth apple', Middle English eorthaeppla or 'earth apples' referred to cucumbers, and tomatoes were once known as 'love apples', which would tend to confirm the original 'apple' was any fruit.

A peach gets its name from Persis meaning 'Persia' and later seen as 'Persian apple', while nectarine describes 'the nectar peach'. A quince is named after the seaport in Crete through which it was imported from its native Persia, thus telling us of 'the apple of Kydonia'. The pomegranate is from Latin pome grenate meaing 'the apple of many seeds'.

Of course the origins of many fruits depended upon when they were introduced to western Europe. Some were already being cultivated here such as the apricot, which can be traced back through Catalan aberoc, Portuguese albricoque, Arabic al-birquq, Byzantine Greek berikokkia, and ultimately from Latin (malum) praecoquum telling us it was 'the early-ripening (fruit)'.

Note the many names of fruit which are used as colours were applied to the fruit first, although both black currant and red currant were named for their colour, the word currant being a corruption of Corinth, where they were cultivated.

The avocado is a Spanish word meaning 'lawyer' and related to advocate. However this is a corruption of the earlier aguacate, from the original Nahuatl word ahuakatl meaning 'testicle' and a reference to its shape. On the subject of body parts, banana is a Spanish and/or Portuguese loan word, thought to have originated in West African Wolof word meaning simply 'food', although the Arabic banan or 'finger' cannot be discounted entirely. The date comes from the Greek daktylos meaning 'finger, toe' and suggesting it was shaped like the human digits.

Many fruits are berries, these include the blueberry and blackberry, both named for their colour. Raspberry was once seen as raspis berry from raspoie meaning 'thicket'. The origins of strawberry have never been certain, although it certainly does not come from the spreading of straw around the plants to keep the fruit clear of the damp soil. It may come from the seeds, which resemble straw dust particles.

Cranberry was originally applied to the Old World variety, thought to be from kraan or 'crane' with the stamens said to resemble the beaks of this bird. They took the word with them when settling in the New World and gave it to the similar if larger fruit found there. In England the European variety was known as the fenberry for the habitat in which it grew wild. Loganberries are a man-made strain created by crossing a blackberry and a raspberry, it was named after James H. Logan who produced the first fruit. Elderberry is another lost in the mists of time, the best guess is it is said to resemble to the alder tree.

Melon is from the Greek melopepon or 'gourd apple', from a Proto-Indo-European mahla 'grapevine, branch'. This was later seen in the Latin peponem and Middle French pompon which meant 'melon' but also gave the name of the pumpkin. Cherry originated in Greek kerasian but came to English with the Normans and cherise.

Of the citrus fruits the clementine is the most recent. In 1926 an accidental hybrid of a tangerine and an orange produced the fruit named after Father Clement Rodier in the garden of his Algerian orphanage. Tangarines were named after the Moroccan port of Tangiers from where they were first exported. Mandarins are said to be named after the colour of the robes worn by these Chinese officials. The etymology of the orange itself is unknown, although it would have been 'a norange' not 'an orange' but for confusion in the Middle Ages when it was first used as a colour.

Lemons derive their name from Old French limon and earlier meaning 'citrus fruit', hence it was originally a generic term. Lime has identical origins in Arabic limun the collective noun from limah and also meaning 'citrus fruits'. The grapefruit was so-called for it grows in clusters, similar to the grapes which, themselves come from Proto-Germanic krappon meaning 'hook' and assumed to be how they were picked. Incidentally the original English word was winberige 'the wine berry'. Similarly the name of the raisin, from a tongue related to Latin racemus meaning 'cluster of grapes'

It was the shape which gave a name to the pineapple, said to resemble the pine cone. The costard was the original Saxon name for the apple, although it is nothing like the modern varieties but is distinctly 'ribbed' and that is exactly what the name tells us. Another tropical fruit is the mango, which comes from Tamil man kay 'the tree fruit'. Among the earliest of fruits to have been gathered are sloes. Collected for millenia, as the fruit of the blackthorn it is from Proto-Indo-European sleie telling of its colour of 'bluish-black'.

One thing connects all of these names, absolutely none were named by a marketing department and could never be said to advertise themselves. This is particularly true of a modern creation, although the word ugli probably looks uglier than the fruit.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

How the Elephant got its ........... Name

Some years ago I heard the story of how a certain animal got its name. It seems Captain Cook had landed at Botany Bay and, with a series of gestures and mimes, was attempting communication with the aboriginal population. When a well known animal bounded along in the distance he pointed and politely enquired in English "What is that?" He heard the reply as "kangaroo" and the marsupial had a name. What Cook did not know, and completely misunderstood, was the reply kan-ga-roo in the native tongue actually told him "I don't know!"

Such a story is highly unlikely to be true, nor does it have any etymological significance. However it did make me wonder where the names of other animals came from. Meander around most zoos and the most popular animals tend to be the largest and thus those never found in the British Isles.

The first stop was at the giraffe house, an animal initially called the camelopard by Europeans for it was said to be a cross between a camel and a leopard. Such a suggestion is a most unlikely and logistically improbable mating, even if the science of genetics was still far in the future, the real cross was solely etymological from camel for its long neck and pard for the spots. First seen as giraffa in Italian, this can be traced back to Arabic zarafa, in turn surely from an African language but one which today is unknown.

Staying on the African continent we find the lion, a word which has certainly been affected in terms of pronunciation by European languages but which was probably known better as a personal name meaning 'one who is fierce or brave'. It must have been used in Africa well before Europe, however the vast number of languages coupled with the small number of speakers and lack of written examples for each makes tracing the name impossible. The earliest we find is Hebrew labi and Egyptian labai for 'lion' and 'lioness' respectively.

The bison, so often erroneously referred to as a buffalo in North America, the word is Latin meaning 'wild ox'. This animal's name can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic wisand which described the 'aurochs', the huge ancestor of domestic cattle weighing over a ton and standing up to seven feet high at the shoulder. The last known specimen died in 1627 in the Jaktorow Forest in Poland.

Probably the most popular of the African animals is the elephant, the modern word from Latin elephantus, itself from Greek elephas which describes both the animal and its ivory. Further back we find Phoenician elu and Sanskrit ibhah. Despite the different species there is no reason to believe the African and Asian elephants have different etymologies.

Coming to the crocodile we at last find a name where we can trace the origins back to an actual meaning. The modern term can be traced back to the Greek krokodilos, a word first seen in the writings of Herodotus referring to the Nile crocodile and named for its habit of basking. The name uites the Greek words kroke or 'pebbles' and drilos meaning 'worm'.

Its reptilian cousin the alligator is much more recent, indeed not named as such until the Spanish arrived in the New World in the early seventeenth century. The name is a corruption of el lagarto describing 'the lizard' (of the Indies) and which can be traced back to Latin lacertus again 'lizard'.

No surprise to find rhinocerous is from the Greek rhinokeros and a name which suits the animal perfectly. Here we find rhinos meaning 'nose' combining with keras or 'horn', the etymology of both words are unknown but it is safe to say these words would have been among the first words used. Interestingly the shortened form of 'rhino' is not recorded until 1884.

The best known etymology of an animal name must surely be that of the hippopotamus. As with the rhino the name is Greek where hippopotamus comes from the earlier ho hippos ho potamios, literally 'the horse of the river'. The name comes from its position in the water with just the top of its head showing when, so it was said, it resembled the features of a horse. As with the rhino the shortened form is not seen in writing until quite late, first known in 1872.

Another African animal where the shortened form is first seen quite late is the chimp, appearing for the first time in 1877. Man's closest relative is named the chimpanzee from the Bantu language of Angola. Known as Tshiluba, it speaks of kivili-chimpenze and means simply 'ape'.

The largest ape is the gorilla A name first seen in the Greek gorillai, itself the plural of a name given to a large wild hairy people said to have inabited the regions of the northwest coast of Africa by the Carthiginian navigator Hanno around 500BC. As with many African animals the origin must ultimately be in one of the many native languages spoken on this huge continent.

Probably one of the loudest and most active of the animals in any zoo is the gibbon. This ape must have been known by an earlier native African name, however the earliest surviving reference is from 1770, when brought to Europe by Marquis Joseph-Francois Dupleix, former governor-general in India. This is from the Old French surname Giboin, itself from geba-win meaning 'gift-friend'. Just why it was applied to the gibbon and what its earlier name was are lost.

The stripes of the zebra are more of a mystery than the origin of its name. This is a Portuguese word describing an extinct wild ass, itself known as equiferus to the Romans and coming from two Latin words equus 'horse' and ferus 'fierce'. An animal with two names is the wildebeest or gnu. The former is Afrikaans for, not surprisingly, 'wild beasts' and is a translation of the Dutch gnoe. This went on to become gnu and is derived from the click language where !nu again meant 'wild beasts'.

Earlier we saw how the leopard was said to have been one half of a cross which resulted in the giraffe. Yet the leopard was first considered to be a cross between the lioness and the male panther, which is where the name originates in Greek leopardos. Clearly there is also a connection to the Sanskrit prdakuh 'panther'.

The other supposed half of the giraffe, the camel, is from Old French camel, Latin camelus, Greek kamelos, Phoenician gamal, and probably ultimately from Arabic jamala 'to bear'. Note the similarity with the earliest names for the elephant, both of which would have been known for their ability to be domesticated as beasts of burden and named for such.

The name of the hyena can be traced through Old French hiene to Greek hyaina which was also used for 'swine' and thus used to describe the creature as 'greedy'. The use of the word jackal to describe someone is not complimentary, it was born of the belief that this member of the dog family would stirred up prey animals for attack by lions. For the name of the animal it can be traced through Turkish cakal, Persian shaghal, and Sanskrit srgala all of which described 'the howler'.

The bear enclosure is always popular. Of course there are several kinds, the polar bear speaks for itself, the black bear and brown bear refer to their respective colours. Yet even the name bear comes from Proto-Germanic beron 'the brown one', and earlier still seen in Proto-Indo-European bher 'brown'. The grizzly is also a colour, in medieval England this referred to 'grey'. Note in many northern lands it was considered unlucky for hunters ever to refer to to their quarry by name, hence the Russian medved 'honey-eater', also seen in the Welsh name, the Irish 'good calf', Lithuanian 'the licker'.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Vegetable Discourse

We are advised to eat five portions of vegetables, and fruit, each and every single day. They come in several colours, an array of shapes, numerous sizes, and as children we seem engineered to loathe them.

However there must have been a time when someone picked, gathered or cropped the fruit or plant for eating. In order to pass on the information that such made good eating it was given a name. Of course there was no lavish celebration and cutting of a ceremonial ribbon, not even for those vegetables which have been cultivated to produce heavier crops, more appealing colours, and better flavours.

So why were the vegetables named and what, if anything, do they mean? Taking them in no particular order we start with the artichoke, said to be derived from Arabic al-kharshof meaning 'ground thorny', this derivation is simply another example of folk etymology and the true origins are unknown.

The bean is a general term for any plant where the plant forms its seed in a pod. Sometimes the whole pod is eaten, at other times just the seed as is the case of the broad bean which is thought to have been the original variety foraged by Eurasian hunter-gatherers and there is evidence of its cultivation in Thailand ten thousand years ago. That this is a such a simple word is a clue to its ancient origins, the early etymology is unknown, but almost certainly would have described it as simply 'seed' or that it was found in 'the pod'. The kidney bean, the most commonly eaten variety, clearly takes its addition from the shape of its seeds.

Known as 'grass' in the vales around the lower Severn where it is famously grown, the asparagus comes through Latin, Greek and ultimately Persian asparag an apt description of a plant which resembles a 'sprout, shoot'. Similarly broccoli comes from the plural of broccolo, the Italian for 'the flowering top of the cabbage' being of the same family. The cabbage itself is from a Northern French dialect term caboche meaning 'head', probably originally describing its shape and yet within living memory it was regualrly referred to as a 'head of cabbage'. The cauliflower, also related, is from Italian caoli-fiore or 'the flowered cabbage', for obvious reasons.

In North America it is referred to as the 'eggplant', because the earliest varieties known were white or yellow, in Britain it is the aubergine. The name comes from Catalan alberginia, through Arabic al-badinjan, Persian badin-gan, and Sanskrit vatimgana and is best translated from the scientific name of Solanum melongena, the reason it is known as the 'meloongen' in the Caribbean, and quite literally 'the plant that cures the wind'.

The carrot has also been . We can trace the evolution of the name through Middle French carotte, Latin carote, and Greek karoton to the Indo-European root ker meaning 'horn' and a description of the shape of the taproot. Although not appearing in Britain until long after the Norman Conquest, its use is known since the earliest farming times and was probably gathered much earlier. Note the original carrots were gathered for their leaves and seeds.

Celery was not seen in the English language before 1664. While it is the stalks which are sought today, the leaves bear a resemblance to parsley. The name can be traced to French celeri, Italian seleri, Latin selinon, and ultimately to Greek selinon which means 'parsley'. Clearly there was some confusion between the similar leaves of the plants in the earliest days. Chives are members of the family of onions and derive their name from the French cive and ultimately the Latin cepa, meaning 'onion'.

The courgette is treated as a vegetable but is strictly a fruit. The plant is a member of the squash family and gets its name French courge meaning 'little squash'. Note the American preference for zucchini is simply the Italian and means the same.

Endive can be traced back through Latin ediva, Greek entubioi, both of which mean 'chicory' to which it closely related, and ultimately from Egyptian tybi the eqivalent of 'January' and suggesting it was an important time in the growing of this plant.

Gherkins are effectively small cucumbers, although today each is cultivated quite separately, their name comes from the evolution through Dutch agurkje, Low German agurke, Lithuanian agurkas, Polish ogurek, ultimately from Greek agouros 'youth' and understood as 'unripe'. Clearly the original pickled gherkin was a result of cropping immature cucumbers.

The modern name for the leek comes from Old English lece, however this was also the generic term for all vegetables. It should be realised that vegetables in Saxon England were very different to today, most of which would be considered wild and never seen to have any culinary uses today.

Lettuce is ultimately from Latin for 'milky stem' and referring to the white secretions when cut. Maize, a plant from the New World, has certainly been corrupted by both similar French and Spanish words, yet the origin is Taino mahiz meaning 'life-giving' and clearly a staple food for thousands of years. A mangelwurzel is similar to a beetroot but chiefly used for fodder, it comes from German mangel 'chard or beet' and wurzel 'root', hence the German for beetroot.

From the Gallo-Roman mussiro, a word still used to describe a white mask used in an old theatrical fom, comes the modern mushroom. Mustard refers to the plant, whose pungent seeds were crushed and mixed with wine to form the paste called mustard, the name also given to its colour. Here the name appears to come from Latin meaning 'new wine', hence product gave a name to plant which was earlier likely referred to as simply cress.

Soya has a similarly confusing etymology, where the English version is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of shoyu which referred to 'soya sauce'. While edamame is used in English to refer to a dish made from these beans, it is actually derived from the Japanese name of eda mame meaning 'the twig bean'.

The onion can be traced back through Middle English unyon Old French oignon, to Latin unio and meaning 'oneness' or 'unity', a reference to the concentric rings of the bulb. While the origin of the name of the turnip is lost is a series of corruptions, the North American name of rutabaga is a Swedish dialect term meaning 'baggy root'.

Parsnips were once thought to be a kind of turnip, hence the identical suffix, when it came from the French pasnaie and Latin pastinum a kind of fork. That other similar root vegetable, the swede, was so-called for its introduction from Sweden.

The pea is derived from Latin pisum and Greek pison, both of which mean simply 'pea' and thus it seems likely this is, like the bean' from a very early Indo-European root word of unknown yet simplistic beginnings. Pumpkin is a word from Old French pompom and ultimately derived from the Greek pepon meaning 'ripen'. Radish is a simple name with an even simpler meaning, it is from Latin radix or 'root'.

Shallot is a type of onion which can be traced back to Ashkelon, the Israeli city thought to be where the vegetable originated by the classical Greeks. Spinach has a long history but one not seen until 1530 in the English language. It arrived here via French epinard, Catalan espinac, Arabic asbinakh, and back to Persian aspanakh literally meaning 'green hand'.

The tomato, which of course is famously a fruit but will be included as it is used as if it were a vegetable, comes from South America where the Aztecs called it xitomatl meaning 'plump thing with a navel'. Other cultures from the Americas took this as tomatl from which we get the modern name. The scientific name is even more interesting, for the literal translation of lysopersicum is 'wolf peach'. As the tomato belongs to the nightshade family, and those plants are associated with German werewolf legends, this was considered an appropriate description.

Of course the most common vegetable in western Europe is the potato which comes from Spanish patata, itself from Taino batata 'the sweet potato' and Quechua papa 'potato'. Hence there has been confusion between the two historically, although today we generally use the term yam for the sweet variety, itself from Portuguese inhame meaning simply 'edible'. What is seen as a slang term 'spud' actually came from the tool used to dig them up the 'spade'. Other early descriptions for the potato, to distinguish it from the sweet or common potato, include Virginia potato, and even the bastard potato.

It strikes me as a pity we weren't treated to John-Boy on The Waltons asking one of his innumerable siblings to "pass the bastard potatoes". I'll leave you to write your own responses.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

What's in a Name?

The capital cities of the world are well known names. However how many of these do we understand? Where do they come from? Who named them? Why were they chosen? What do they mean?

Some are obvious, such as Mexico City states it is in Mexico, although the name of the city meaning 'in the navel of the waters of the moon' came first. Similarly Brasilia was created to be the modern city when it was set out in the 1950s, the name of Brazil is a Portuguese word brassa referring the red dye obtained from the brazil wood. Algeria is after the capital Algiers, Arabic for 'the islands' where it was founded. Luxembourg and Luxembourg is a Saxon description of 'the little town'. Monaco and Monaco are from the Greek monoikos meaning 'hermit, monk'.

Andorra and Andorra la Vella, share a name from Basque andurrial or 'heath'. Djibouti was always the name of the capital city of Djibouti, formerly French Somaliland, and from the Afa word gabouri meaning the 'plate' woven from palm fibres for ceremonial purposes. Guatemala and Guatemala City take the name from Tuendal Indian uhatzmahla or 'the mountain that gushes out water', the Agua volcano. Panama and Panama City are from a native tribal name meaning 'many fishes' which was influenced by Spanish pronunciation. San Marino and San Marino are named in honour of St Marinus. Singapore and Singapore are from Sanskrit singa pura, quite literally 'lion town' and thought to refer to 'strength' as lions have never been indigenous to this reason in recent times.

The remainder, listed alphabetically making each easier to locate, begin with Afghanistan's Kabul. itself from River Kabul thought to be a word meaning 'red'. In Albania we find Tirana, which is most likely from Tirania, the ancient name for Tuscany. To Angola where Luanda is derived from 'the place of the net', this is not the internet but a reference to the many fishermen. Antingua and Barbuda's capital is Saint John's, a reference to Christianity and the apostle. Religion is also seen in Argentina and Buenos Aries, wich is the abbreviated form of the original Spanish name meaning 'City of the Most Holy Trinity and port of Our Lady of the Virgin Mary of Good Winds'.

Armenia and Yerevan is thought to refer to 'the abode of the god Aru'. While Canberra, Australia's capital city, is an aboriginal word meaning 'meeting place'. To Austria and Vienna is river name from a Celtic word from either vedunia 'tree' or vindo 'white'. Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan and means 'windswept'. The Bahamas and Nassau is from the house of Orange-Nassau, that of King William III, originally from an Old High German phrase meaning 'marsh land'.

One of the newest independent nations Bangladesh and Dhaka is thought to be named after the temple built in the twelfth century to the Goddess Dhakeshwari. Barbados and Bridgetown took the local name of Indian Bridge with an obvious adjustment. Belarus has Minsk, almost certainly named after a river and thus a simplistic reference to water. To Belgium where Brussels was originally known as Bruoc-sella or 'the settlement in the marshes'.

The name of Belize was also the name of the capital city, until it was destroyed in a hurricane in 1961. The reborn capital took the first syllable of the old name and that of the river on which it stands, the Mopan, to give Belmopan. Benin's captial of Porto-Novo is simply Portuguese for 'the new harbour'. Bolivia has two capitals, its administrative centre is La Paz 'new town of Our Lady of Peace' and its judicial capital Sucre is named after the legendary Antonio de Sucre.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has Sarajevo, a name derived from the Turkish saray ovası and speaking of the 'field around saray'. When the Botswana capital city of Gaborone was founded in 1890 the ruling chief was one Gaborone Matlapin. Similarly Brunei had Bandar Seri Begawan named after the father of the new sultan, who had retired leaving 'the town of the illustrious one'.

Bulgaria's Sofia is taken from the Greek meaning 'wisdom'. Cambodia and Phnom Penh is 'Pehn's hill', said to be after a legendary fourteenth century nun who went to fetch water from the Mekong where she found a hollow tree floating, inside were four bronze and one stone statue of Buddha.

Cameroon and Yaounde is a corruption of the Ewondo ethnic group who inhabited this region. Canada and Ottawa named after the Native American tribe the Outaouacs, here from the region around Lake Huron and whose name means 'traders'. Cape Verde is an old Portuguese colony and the capital city of Praia is Portuguese for 'beach'.

The Central African Republic has Bangui, named after the Ubangi River. Chad and N'Djamena is a local word meaning 'repose'. Chile and Santiago is named after St James, the Spanish settlers referring to it as San Jago. China's capital of Beijing is most simplistic in referring to the 'northern capital'. To Colombia and Bogota, a Spanish-influenced Bacata, thought to represent a Native Indian tribal chief. The capital of the Comoros is a local word meaning 'heart of fire' and recorded as Moroni. Named after Pierre de Brazza, with the French ville or 'town', the nineteenth century founder, Brazzaville is the capital city of the Republic of the Congo.

Costa Rica and San Jose is a Spanish settlement dedicated to 'St Joseph'. Named after Queen Yamousso, Cote d'Ivoire's capital is Yamoussoukro. Croatia and Zagreb is thought to be a result of a Slavonic dialect describing the '(place) beyond the ditch or dam'. Cyprus and Nicosia, said to be a corrupton of the Greek name for the city, Lefkosia. Czech Republic and the origin of Prague depends upon the language, for Czech praziti would give 'place where wood has been burned' while Slavonic prati would refers to 'the workings (of fish dykes in the river)'. In Denmark and Danish kiopman havn speaks of 'the harbour of the merchant' and the name of Copenhagen.

Dominica and Roseau is the French for 'reeds'. Domincan Republic and Santo Domingo is clearly named in honour of St Domingo. After the Native Indian Quitu tribe comes the capital of Ecuador, Quito. With an Arabic name of Misr-al-Qahirah or 'Mars the victorious', the Egyptian city of Cairo is an anglicised version of the last part of the original name. El Salvador and San Salvador both show the Spanish settlers referred to this as 'the Saviour', that is dedicated to Jesus Christ.

Equatorial Guinea and Malabo is thought to be named after Pool Malebo, itself referring to the large palm trees on its shores. Eritrea and Asmara is the Tigre word for 'live in peace'. Estonia and Tallinn takes the local taani linna to refer to 'the town of the Danes'. Ethiopia and Addis Ababa features the Amharic addis abeba or 'the new flower'. At Finland the capital city of Helsinki was originally known as Helsingfors, where Swedish fors or 'waterfall' follwos the name of the local tribe.

France and Paris, where the Parisii were the Gaulish tribe named for being 'sailors', clearly on the River Seine. Gabon and Libreville was where the freed slaves were brought in 1848, the name from French meaning 'free town'. The Gambia and Banjul is thought to refer to the 'rope mats' once produced here. Georgia where Tblisi is a local word meaing 'warm' and a reference to the natural springs which bubble up here. Germany and Berlin is a very early name in a region which has many links to ancient cultures and could have meanings as varied as 'lake, hill, dam, place of judgement, customs post, sandy place' depending on the original language. Ghana and Accra from akannkran or 'black ant', te name given to the tribe around here. Greece and Athens, traditionally held to be after the goddess Athene, yet the place may have given the goddess and name.

Grenada and Saint George's is a dedication to St George. Guinea and Conakry is a Susu word referring to 'those over the waters'. Guinea Bissau and Bissau is also the name of the tribe which originally inhabited the island. Guyana and Georgetown was named in honour of the ruling monarch, George III, when the British took control. Haiti and Port-au-Prince is French for 'the port of the prince'.

Hungary and few can be unaware that Budapest is actually two cities, both of Slavonic origin and each with two quite diverse potential meanings: Buda 'building, water' and Pesht 'cave, hearth'. Iceland and Reykjavik unites Icelandic reyka and Norse vik describing 'the inlet of the geysers'. India and New Delhi is thought to represent Hindi dilli meaning 'threshold'.

Indonesia and Jakarta is from Sanskrit jaya kerta or 'the place of victory'. In Iran the name of Tehran aptly describes the heat in summer months from Old Persian teh ran 'the warm place'. Iraq and Baghdad is Iranian bag dad 'the gift of God'. In the Republic of Ireland and the Irish dubh linn describes 'the black lake' on which Dublin is built. Not the Irish name for Dublin is Baile Atha Cliath or 'the town of the ford of the hurdle'.

In Israel Old Hebrew ieru shalem describes Jerusalem as 'the house of peace'. Jamaica's capital city is Kingston, named after the British King William III. Formerly known as Edo meaning 'estuary', Japan's capital city of Tokyo speaks of 'the eastern capital'. In Jordan the city Amman is named after the Egyptian god Ammon, much in the way Christian saints are adopted to watch over them. Kazakhstan's Astana is quite simply 'the capital city'. In Kenya the name of Nairobi takes the name of the tribe who, in turn, took the name of the stream meaing 'cold water'.

North Korea's capital of Pyongyang describes the 'flat land'. In South Korea Seoul means, quite simply 'capital city'. In Kosovo Pristina takes the name of a figure associated with this place. Kuwait and Kuwait City gave its name to the country, from Arabic meaning 'the enclosed' and a reference to a sixteenth century Portuguese fort. The capital of Kyrgyzstan is Bishkek, a word thought to refer to a churn used to hold fermented milk from mares.

In Laos Vientiane is simply the French version of the local name meaning 'city of sandalwood'. Riga, the capital of Latvia, is a Slavonic word meaning simply 'river'. In Lebanon the name of Beirut is either Aramaic berotha 'pine trees' or Phoenician beroth 'wells'. Meaning 'the place of red sandstone', Maseru is the capital of Lesotho. Named in honour of James Monroe, the president who liberated many slaves to Liberia, the capital is Monrovia.

Libya's Tripoli is Greek for 'three towns', the ancient cities of Oea, Sabratha, and Leptis Magna. Liechtenstein's Vaduz has several potential origins, however generally all describe its location in the valley or the river which runs through it. Similarly Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is a Baltic-Slavonic word describing the river or the valley as 'winding'.

Madagascar and Antananarivo describes 'the city of a thousand', the number of soldiers ordered to defend it by King Adrianjaka. Malawi and Lilongwe sits on 'the long river' which gave it its name. In Malaysia the 'muddy confluence' is today known as Kuala Lumpur. Maldives capital of Male comes from Sanskrit for 'big house'.

Mali's capital of Bamako tells us it had the rather inauspicious beginnings 'behind Bamma's village'. The island of Malta named its capital Valletta after Jean Parisot de La Vallette, Grand Master of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. Mauritania's Nouakchott comes from Berber 'the place of the winds'. In Mauritius Port Louis was named after the French King Louis XV.

From Moldova and Chisinau speaks of 'the new spring'. Mongolia's Ulaanbaatar describes 'the red warrior', in honour of Dandiimy Suhbaatar who founded the modern republic. Montenegro and Podgorica describes its place 'under the small hill'. North Africa and Morocco and the Arabic word ribat or 'fort' is today seen as Rabat. In Mozambique, Maputo was named after one of the sons of Nuagobe, the local chief in the eighteenth century.

Myanmar has two capitals, that of Rangoon is Burmese for 'end of strife', while the administrative capital of Nay Pyi Taw is from the same language and means 'great city of the sun'. Namibia's capital Windhoek is easy to see as Dutch for 'the windy cape'. Nepalese kath mandir describes the 'wooden temple' traditional built by Raja Lachmina in 1596 using just a single tree has given a name to Katmandu, the capital of Nepal. In the Netherlands there are two capitals, traditionally Amsterdam is from 'the dam on the River Amstel' and the seat of government at The Hague is Dutch for 'the enclosure'.

New Zealand's Wellington is named after the former soldier and statesman the Duke of Wellington. Nicaragua and Managua is from Mana-ahuac and translates to 'surrounded by water'. In Niger the tribe crossed the River Niger to the place where Niamey now stands, itself held to be where a tree stood at the water's edge, the name meaning 'the shore where the tree draws water'. Nigeria's Abujatook its name from the house of the chieftain, a name meaning 'Abu the Red'.

In Norway we find 'the mouth of the River Lo' or Oslo. In the east to Oman where Muscat is a native word meaning 'hidden'. No surprise to find the Pakistan capital of Islamabad meaning 'the city of Islam'. When explorer Captain John Moresby became the first European to see Papua New Guinea, he named Port Moresby after his father Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby. The name of Paraguay's Asuncion is Spanish referring to 'Our Lady of the Assumption', on whose feast day their original fort here was finished.

The ancient culture of Peru and Lima is named after the River Rimac on which it stands, itself referring to the god whose name means 'he who speaks'. In the Philippines Manila is from the native Tagalog language may nila 'the place where there is indigo'. When defining Poland's captial city of Warsaw we fnd numerous suggestions but only which seems remotely likely. 'the place of Warsz', the founder. In Portugal Lisbon is thought to be a remnant of the Phoenician merchants where alis ubbo describes 'the joyful bay'. A most unusual name is found for Qatar's Doha, of Arabic origin meaning 'the sticky tree'. The Romanian city of Bucharest is traditionally held to have been founded by the shepherd Bucur in the fifteenth century, however records of the place predate this and it is derived from Albanian bucur 'pleasant'.

In Russia Moscow is named after the River Moskva, itself with a number of possible origins but most often said to represent Slavonic moskva 'marshy'. Saint Kitts and Nevis where Basseterre is French for 'low land'. French is also the origin for Saint Lucia's capital Castries, here describing 'safe anchorage'. Kingstown, capital of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, speaks for itself as being named for the monarch.

The capital of Sao Tome and Principe is Sao Tome, easy to see as St Thomas and comes from Portuguese. Saudi Arabia's capital is Riyadh, Arabic for 'garden'. In Senegal the local Wolof tongue of the native Lebu tribe probably describes Dakar as being founded at the 'tamarind tree'. Slavonic for 'white fortress' describes the fourth century beginnings of Belgrade in Serbia. In the Seychelles the name of Victoria represents Latin for 'victory'.

In Sierra Leone Freetown was an English settlement for liberated slaves. Slovakia's Bratislava was named to honour Prince Braslav and literally means 'Braslav's glory'. To Slovenia where Ljubljana's origins depend upon the language although, if this was Slovenian, would most likely be ljubljena or 'the beloved one'.

When the English arrived at the Solomon Islands, they mispronounced the name of the settlement Nagoniara as Honiara, although this does not change the meaning of 'in front of the wind'. The Arabic name of Mogadishu tells us Somalia's capital means 'the seat of the Shah'. Three capitals in South Africa, Pretoria is administrative and was named in honour of Andries Pretorius the Boar leader, while the legislative Cape Town is named for its position on the Cape of Good Hope, and Bloemfontein is the judiciary capital derived from Boer Dutch 'flowers of the spring'.

Spain's Madrid recalls the Moorish fort of Majrit, meaning 'place of the abundant water'. Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka, Sinhalese mefrom kolon thota 'the port on the River Kelani'. In the Sudan the historic city of Khartoum is an Arabic name meaning 'elephant's trunk' and describing its shape. Suriname's Paramaribo is from the local tongue where para maribo refers to 'the dwellers by the sea'.

Swaziland took the name of the chief Mbabane Khunene as the inspiration for Mbabane, itself the stream name meaning 'that which crushes'. Sweden's Stockholm is an old name but one where the suffix is certainly holmr 'island', the first element is less certain but stak 'bay' is one possibility. Switzerland's Berne is also very old meaning there is uncertainty, the most interesting suggestion is an early Indo-European word ber meaning 'marshy place'.

The Syrian capital of Damascus has genuine claims to be among the world's oldest surviving cities, a fact making definition difficult but may be from a word describing it as an 'industrious' place. Taiwan's Taipei is simply 'the northern capital'. Tajikistan's capital is from the local word meaning 'Monday', presumably the day Dushanbe was founded. Two capital for Tanzania, the traditional Dar es Salaam is Arabic for 'house of peace' while the legislative centre of Dodoma is Gongo for 'it has sunk'.

Thailand's name of Bangkok could refer to simply 'the island' or 'the Java plum tree' depending upon this representing bang kok or bang koh. Lome is the capital of Togo, from Alotime which, in the local Ewe, means 'among the Alo trees'. The Tongan languange named the capital of Tonga Nuku'alofa meaning 'residence and love'. In the Caribbean the chief city of Trinidad and Tobago is Port-of-Spain, founded by the Spanish near the native fishing village of Cumucurapo or 'the place of the silk cotton trees'.

In Turkey Ankara is from an Indo-European ank with Phrygian influence describing 'the crooked ravine'. Turkmenistan gets the name of its capital city, Ashgabat, from a combination of Turmenian uskh and Iranian abad meaning 'the pleasant town'. In Tuvalu the name of Funafuti comes from the wife of the founder Telematua literrally meaning 'the she banana'.

In Uganda Kampala is named after the hill on which it stands, itself describing 'the hill slopes where impala graze'. In Ukrainian the name of Kyiv means 'belonging to Kyi'. The United Arab Emirates' capital of Abu Dhabi means 'the father of the gazelle'. In the United States of America the capital of Washington D.C. is named after one of its most famous early citizens and first president of a united nation, George Washington.

Uruguay's Montevideo is thought to represent Portuguese where the cry monte vidi eo meant 'I saw the mountain'. The Turkish tash and Iranian kent unite to tell us the Uzbekistan capital of Tashkent refers to 'the town of stone'. Another Portuguese origin is seen in Vanuatu where Port-Vila tells of 'the port town'.

Vatican City is not onlya city but an independent nation, whether this qualifies as a capital city is debatable, however the name comes from the Mons Vaticanus, the hill of which it stands meaning 'the place of divination', ironically a pagan shrine. The Venezuelan capital of Caracas is named after the warrior tribe who lived here. Vietnam's Hanoi was originally called Kecho, simply 'capital', the present name describes its position 'surrounded by the river'.

The Yemen capital of Sanaa comes from a local term simply meaning 'well fortified'. Zambia's Lusaka is taken from the name of the former chief who resided at the railway siding at the end of the nineteenth century. Lastly Zimbabwe where Harare is said to be named from the chief Neharare who is held to have been buried beneath the hill on which this city stands.

There are those which are unknown such as Bahrain and Manama, Bhutan and Thimphu, Burkina Faso and Ouagadougou, Burundi and Bujumbura, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kinshasa, Cuba and Havana, East Timor and Dili, Fiji and Suva, Honduras and Tegucigalpa, Kiribati and Tarawa Atoll, Macedonia and Skopje, Marshall Islands and Majuro, Federated States of Micronesia and Palikir, Palau and Melekeok, Rwanda and Kigali, Samoan and Apia, Tunisia and Tunis, and also the United Kingdom and our own capital city of London.

Clearly all have some major significance at the time they were named. Many of these may seem of little importance today, yet these represent the most delightful of meanings and origins. Doubtless these will change with time, spelling is easily corrupted, origins and meanings are misunderstood, even lost. We should ensure that each and every one is recorded for posterity. It would be criminal if the length of the previous paragraph of 'unknowns' grew with time.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

US Presidents: Born to lead?

"Some men are born to lead and others have........", well however it went it got me wondering if this was actually true. Whilst social standing would give the child a head start, does the family name or title play any part?

Taken in chronological order, we start with George Washington whose ancestral home is at Sulgrave in Northamptonshire but a surname from the northeast of England describing 'the farmstead associated with a man called Wassa'. Not the best basis for the most powerful man in the world.

John Adams is predictably 'son of Adam' and ultimately from adama the Hebrew word meaning 'earth' and a reminder that the Greek god Zeus is said to have fashioned man from the earth. This could certainly be seen as a man of the people, salt of the earth, and a potential vote winner.

Thomas Jefferson is, again predictably, the 'son of Jeffrey' or Jeufroi when it first came to English shores via the Normans. It is also possibly this is Geoffrey, in which case this is a variant of Godfrey and a name meaning 'peaceful ruler', and certainly an image a politician would hope to project.

James Madison, a name meaning 'son of Maud', a German short form of Matilda which itself means ''strength in battle' and certainly a name which suggests strong leadership.

James Monroe is certainly a Scottish name but one which came to Scotland from Ireland some time during the twelfth century. Here there are two possible Gaelic origins, Maolruadh being 'the red haired tonsured one' or less likely 'a man from the River Roe' in County Derry.

Andrew Jackson clearly 'the son of Jack or Jacques', the christian name is ultimately from the ancient Hebrew Yochanan, itself telling how 'Jehovah has favoured me (with a son)'. Not a particular strong meaning although it could be argued the two strong syllables make the meaning irrelevent.

Martin Van Buren the eighth president takes his name from the Dutch town, thus telling us the family were 'of Buren' in Holland, itself thought to describe 'the dweller in the inner room'. Again not the strongest of meanings for a leader.

William Harrison is, rather predictably, 'the son of Harry, or Henry'. However the name Henry shares its derivation with Heinrich, a German name meaning 'the ruler in the home' and could be seen to be a strong name, in the sense of 'ruler', and also a weakness in only ruling of a few.

John Tyler's family bestowed upon him a name which is a trade name, the 'tiler' is seen in Latin tigele and Norman French tuilier. Hardly an inspirational name, unless the roof of the nation is leaking.

James Polk is an unusual name from one of the Slav nations with an origin speaking of 'the man of Poland'. Doubtless those of Polish descent will find this of interest but it would hardly have universal appeal outside of Poland.

Millard Fillmore at last has a name which may well earmark him for leadership from the day he was baptised. However this is entirely dependent upon this being derived from an Old English christian name, in which case it really does mean 'very famous'.

Franklin Pierce, a name which is derived from the christian name Peter through the French Piers. While this may appeal to Peters everywhere, or even the religious by association with St Peter, it would not be enough to swing an election in his favour.

It is no surprise to find the surname of James Buchanan to be of Old Scottish origin. It is an old place name from Stirlingshire and comes from Gaelic buth Chanain and describes 'the house of the canon' and thus also having religious connections. It seems unlikely the combination of religion and Scotland would be enough to get a person elected.

Universally known as 'Honest Abe', that would certainly have been enough to get Abraham Lincoln elected, however he did not earn that name until around the end of his term of office. His surname is a place name, one derived from the city near the east coast of England, which speaks of 'the Romany colony by the pool'. This is an odd place name for the 'pool' is actually a part of the River Witham which broadens out and is not an actual pool in the accepted sense, while the idea of busy colonists is also incorrect for this was a place set aside for retired legionaires. While the Roman idea might be a vote winner, if the electorate knew this was a retirement colony they might not be so keen to place a cross alongside the name.

Andrew Johnson a name which is clearly 'the son of John' and one where we can go a little further and look at the origins of the christian name. Ultimately this is Hebrew Yochanan and means 'God has favoured me (with a son). Maybe not the most popular surname with the voters.

Ulysses Grant depending whether this migrated to the US from Scottish Grant, Belgian Grand or French Legrand, this is ultimately derived from the same source as Latin graunt meaning 'tall' or alternatively 'large'. Note it was also used in medieval Europe instead of the modern 'senior', when father and son shared the same name. If this last meaning was promoted this may indeed convey the image of grand age and with it wisdom and sagacity.

Rutherford Hayes is a place name, usually one used as a suffix but also found alone, particularly for minor names. As this is fairly common it is difficult to distinguish between the three Old English origins of haes 'the place of brushwood, underbrush', horg 'the enclosure', or hege 'place with a hedge'. None seem in the least beneficial as a strong name for a leader.

James Garfield may be seen to have a name of strength, for this is Old English gara feld and 'the open land shaped as a spearhead (ie triangluar)'. Of course the association with a certain lasagne-loving feline may well detract from any other benefit of the name.

Chester Arthur clearly has a first name for a family name, one which has two possible origins and where both speak of great strength and/or leadership. If this is from Welsh, it is arth 'bear' and gwr 'hero', or if Norse from Arnthorr then arn 'eagle' and Thorr the god of thunder.

Grover Cleveland takes the name of a place in the northeast of England which comes from clif land and tells of 'the cultivated land by the cliff or bank', hardly the most stirring rally call on the hustings.

Benjamin Harrison brings no surprises at as coming from 'the son of Harry or Henry' and, as with William Harrison, ultimately from the German Heinrich meaning 'the ruler in the home' and could be seen to be a strong name, in the sense of 'ruler', and also a weakness in only ruling of a few.

The family of William McKinley had a name which has two possible sources and where Irish or Scottish combines with Norse to refer to 'the son of the white-skinned warrior'. However it is hard to see how this would influence the voters.

Franklin Roosevelt one of two presidents with this surname, the family of merchants from Holland whose Dutch name describes them as coming 'from the rose field'. Their standing in American history would seem to serve them better than the meaning of their name.

William Taft has a name which is a corruption of the Scandinavian toft, although it may be difficult to win many votes for being described as 'an outbuilding'.

Woodrow Wilson is 'the son of William' and a name which would be a potential vote winner if promoted as being introduced to the English-speaking world by William the Conqueror.

Warren Harding has a surname dating from at least the seventh century when most secondary names would describe the warrior, a god, or glorification of some powerful animal. Here the name speaks of 'the son of the hard one', which may be of benefit provided he was not seen as a troublemaker.

The ancestors of Calvin Coolidge brought the family name from Cambridgeshire, a name which describes 'the ridge or escarpment of the hill' from Old English coll ecg. Again nothing particularly stirring about the etymology of this name.

Herbert Hoover is a corruption of the original German name Huber, itself describing 'a man who owns a hube of land', this equates to anything from thirty to sixty acres (depending upon the quality of the soil) for it refers to productivity rather than area.

Theodore Roosevelt the second of this name to serve as president, coming from Holland their name is Dutch and describes them as 'from the rose field'. As previously their reputation probably stands them in better stead than the meaning.

Harry Truman possible the perfect surname for a politician for it means exactly what it says. From Middle English trewe man comes 'the faithful, trustworthy, steadfast man'. Of course this means the electorate would also have to believe him.

Dwight Eisenhower could trace his family's ancestry right back to its origins in Germany where his surname came from their trade as 'iron workers'.

John Kennedy is fairly well known to be from Irish immigrants, the name featuring two elements cinn eide which could be either 'helmeted head' or 'grim head' depending upon the source of the translation. Indeed the translation would be important if it was to be used a potential vote winner.

Lyndon Johnson as with his namesake Andrew this is from 'the son of John' and ultimately Hebrew Yochanan meaning 'God has favoured me (with a son). However the voters did not favour him with a second term of office.

Richard Nixon a name which features a shortened form of 'the son of Nicholas', it is the christian name which may do something to improve the image of a president few would argue is not the least popular in the history of the nation. Nicholas comes from two Greek words nike meaning 'victory' and laos meaning 'people', an excellent vote winner were it not for the association with 'Tricky Dicky'.

Gerald Ford was a man who famously never actually elected to either the presidency or vice-presidency. So perhaps the less than stirring origin of 'the river crossing' hardly matters.

Jimmy Carter takes his name from a trade, carters being 'transporters of goods'. Maybe the thought of transport and hard work would be seen as worthy of election. Ronald Reagan's ancestors emanated from Ireland, their surname comes from Irish riodhgach meaning 'impulsive', not exactly the best trait for a politician.

Of course both George Bush Snr and George W Bush have served terms of office, hence this would tend to suggest this surname did not do a great deal to harm the latter's campaign chances. The name is one of the oldest surnames on record, which started as referring to a place marked by a prominent bush.

Bill Clinton takes his name from a corruption of the village of Glympton in Oxfordshire or Glinton in Northamptonshire. The former describes 'the farmstead on the River Glyme' and the later 'the farmstead marked out by a fence'. Neither of these give an impression of strong leadership.

Barack Obama's family derived their name from an Arabic term meaning 'handsome, good' and, with beauty in the eye of the beholder, may be seen as immodest or boastful and not exactly a desirable trait in a leader.

In conclusion it seems the answer must be a resounding 'no', ancestry in the form of one's name does not suggest good leadership qualities. So back to rolling dice or similarly random selection process.