Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Etymology of the Names of the World’s Airports

The bad weather of recent winters, coupled with the infamous dust cloud of the Icelandic volcano, has made the world's international airports headline news. Lists of the delayed and cancelled flights contained a list of perplexing names of unknown etymologies.

Hence the following explains those names, their meanings and origins. Although some require no explanation, such as John Lennon at Liverpool which is named after arguably the city's most famous son. Heathrow, the world's busiest airport, has its earliest surviving record from the early fifteen century, where it appears as La Hetherewe. These are from Old English haeth raew and 'the row of houses on or near a heath'. With equally inauspicious beginnings comes Gatwick 'the farm specialising in goats', with Stansted describing 'the stony place'.

European airports include Charles de Gaulle outside Paris is named after the general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II, founded the Fifth Republic in 1958 and became its first president the following year, a position he held for ten years. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the word order is Dutch, is named for the company which owns this, and several other, airports. Frankfurt takes the name of the city, original speaking of 'the ford of the Franks'. Munich takes its name from Old High German munih 'monk', reminding us the city was built on the site of a Benedictine monastery.

Madrid-Barajas Airport takes the Spanish capital together with the name of the adjacent district. Madrid takes its name from the Moorish fort of Marjit which is thought to refer to 'the place of abundant water'. Barajas may also refer to water, for although the meaning remains uncertain it may be from baiae 'watering place' or alternatively varalia 'a fenced area'. Zurich is a modern representation of its Latin name, Turicum coming from Celtic dur with a Latin suffix and describing its location on the shore of a large lake.

Copenhagen's airport takes the name of the Danish capital city, itself a reference to its important port. The name comes from the Danish kiopman 'the merchants' harbour'. The city of Vienna is synonymous with the River Danube, no surprise to find both names share a common origin. Danube comes from Celtic vedunia meaning 'trees', those which grow along the shores, while the city was influenced by the Roman name for the settlement Vindobona.

Barcelona is said to have been named after its founder in 230BC, the Carthiginian general Hamilcar Barca. From the Irish dubh linn 'the black lake' comes the name of its capital city of Dublin and its main airport. Brussels also has a 'watery' name, it was originally recorded as Bruoc-sella meaning 'the settlement in the marshes', that being on an island in the marshes of the River Senne, a tributary of the River Scheldt. Palma de Mallorca features the Spanish version of its old Roman name, itself speaking of 'the great island'. Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport takes the name of one of the most giften men of all time, his name chosen for him having designed a prototype helicopter and a winged flying machine, while the town of Fiumicino has a name meaning 'little river'.

Ataturk International Airport was named in 1980 to honour Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey. Antalya Airport serves the increasingly busy Turkish holiday resorts on the Mediterranean coastline. Its name is traditionally held to be a result of the Pergamum king Attalos II sending his men out to find 'heaven on earth', the Greek name for the place.

Dubai's airport gets its name from the place, itself of disputed origins. The confusion comes from the language of origin, not the word which is agreed is daba. If this be a Persian word it would be 'creep', a reference to the very slow movement of the tidal Dubai Creek, or if of Arabic beginnings it would mean 'locust'. It does occur that the name for the locust could easily have been borrowed from Persian, the swarms would appear to 'creep' across the land as a mass, if not individually. Hence while the word is not disupted the understanding requires examination.

Hong Kong comes from the Cantonese hiangkiang which translates to 'fragrant harbour'. Its airport is known locally as Chep Lap Kok, the name of the island which was extended with land reclaimed from the sea to house the new airport when its predecessor of Kai Tak closed. Chep Lap Kok is named after a local fish, the red tripletail perch, although whether it alludes to the shape of the island or that such were caught here is uncertain.

Singapore Changi Airport is operated by, and named after, the Changi Airport Group. The city's name is from Sanskrit singa pura or 'lion town', this is unusual for lions are not indigenous to this area and hence is probably used to convey a message of 'strength'. Thailand's Suavamabhumi Airport is from Sanskrit, with suvarna bhumi meaning 'the gold land'.

Japan's Narita International Airport is a place name with a very complex history, especially considering it is effectively not yet fifty years old. With the coming of the Olympic Games in 1964, the authorities felt the traditional naming of houses and streets would be far too confusing for the foreign influx and so instituted a very rigid system which proved none too popular. Two existing names, Narimune and Tabata, were combined to form the new district name of Narita. Narimune is held to come from the eldest of three brothers of the Nakano family who went away to become samurais, while Tabata dates from at least the sixteenth century and describes 'the edge of the paddy field'.

What was once named after the late president Chiang Kai-shek was renamed in 2006. Presently Taoyuan International Airport takes the name of the county, itself referring to the 'garden of peaches' for the many peach blossoms once found here. In Malaysia the Kuala Lumpur International Airport is named from the capital city and comes from Malay kuala lumpur 'the muddy estuary', a good description of its location at the mouth of the River Kelang.

Over to North America where the John F. Kennedy International Airport, previously unofficially known as Idlewild after the local golf course, was named to honour the fourth president of the USA to be assassinated. Miami takes the name of the city and resort, the original name of which was Mayaimi from the native Tequesta language for 'big water'. This may have referred to Lake Okeechobee, the largest in the southern USA, or to the marshes of the Everglades.

Chicago's O'Hare Airport was originally known as Orchard Depot Airport, hence the code ORD is still used for identification purposes. It was renamed in 1949 to honour the World War II flying ace Lieutenant Commander Edward 'Butch' O'Hare of the US Navy. He was awarded the Medal of Honor following his leading of the first ever fighter attack to be launched from an aircraft carrier during hours of darkness.

Washington DC's airport is named after Dulles, Virginia. Dulles is not the official name of the city, correctly known as Sterling, but is considered an acceptable alternative considering Dulles is known internationally while, by comparison, Sterling is almost unknown. The name was chosen for the airport to commemorate former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who had died just a month before and who was known for voicing his like of flying. Toronto Pearson International Airport is both the largest and busiest in Canada. Toronto was the Native American Iroquois name from toron-to-hen meaning 'the timber in the water'. Lester B. Pearson (1897-1972) was the fourteenth Canadian prime minister and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in resolving the Suez Crisis

Note how many of the airports still bear the name of the city, although this is becoming less common as individuals are honoured and events commemorated.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Etymology of the Names of the World's Ancient Kingdoms

An interest in etymology is fundamentally a walk back through the development of language. Theoretically tracing these tongues back we would arrive at an original language, such as the Proto-Indo-European held to be the ancestor of the many languages across Europe, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

That journey can be followed in part through basic words. Water for example, although not in the words for water itself for they are often little more than a vowel sound and they are the most easily changed. Better to trace the names of rivers, for while they are often simplistic they change little over centuries. Tree names can also be a good trail to follow for most are named for the use of the wood. Through these it is possible to see links between the Germanic and Latin groups and even parallels with Sanskrit. For there to be a language there has to be people. Those people have their community and territory, their cultures and languages, all of which contribute to the names of the nation and people. Here we examine those ancient kingdoms and empires to see why they were so named and see what is revealed.

Among the earliest are those of the Near East. Sumer describes 'the land of the civilised lords'. In the Bible Shem's eldest son gave his own name to the country of Elam. Medes took the name of Medea, the sorceress daughter of the King of Colchis who features in the Greek mythological story of Jason and the Argonauts. The Achaemenid derives its name from the dynasty's founder Achaemenes, a name describing him as 'having a friend's mind', certainly a good start in any diplomatic negotiations.

Across to the African continent and the ancient name of Egypt has many suggestions, most often given as from the Greek for 'the land below the Aegean Sea'. Greece itself is named from the people, the Greeks were held by Aristotle to be the original people of Epirus, itself meaning simply 'mainland'. The modern capital of Athens and the ancient city state are named from the goddess Athena. It's great enemy of Sparta was the name of the daughter of Eurotas and wife of Lacedaemon, who bore him Amyclas, Eurydice and Asine - note the city is recorded as often by the name of the king as it is his wife, unlike the state which is always Sparta.

The Minoans was a term coined by a historian, named from the mythical King Minos, it is not known how the Minoans referred to themselves. The city of Mycenae gave its name to the civilization whose name in Greek was Mukanai and comes from one of the tongues formerly spoken in Greece but which are unknown.

Alexander the Great hailed from Macedon, from the Greek meaning 'highlander' or 'tall one', suggesting they were noticeably taller than their neighbours. One of Alexander's generals took control of the Seleucid Empire, that man being Seleucus. Similarly Ptolemy left his mark on Ptolemaic Egypt. Carthage takes its name from the city, established by those great seafarers the Phoenicians who simply referred to it as khadash 'new town'.

India had a succession of powerful empires and nations. Mahajanpadas is from Sanskrit maha janapanda 'the great foothold of the tribe'. Most of the others take the name of the ruling family, and include Nanda, Maurya, Sunga, Satavahana, Kushan, and Gupta. The Roman Empire covered the largest area of any, named after the place traditionally founded in 753BC by Romulus. The eastern Roman Empire became known as the Byzantine and outlasted Rome itself by a thousand years, this coming from Byzantium, the city named after King Byzas, the mythological son of the god Poseidon. That was a part of modern Turkey, the Turks had their own empire and a name derived from the Turk's Head (or fez) cactus.

One of the invading forces which ravaged the Roman Empire were the Huns, whose own empire stretched from their homeland in the east where they took the name of the Hun River, itself meaning 'muddy'. China itself comes from a Sanskrit word for the tribe of Qin, a royal clan name of unknown etymology. The Franks, and of course France, are derived from the people whose name comes from a Proto-Germanic word frankon meaning 'javelin, spear'.

Three famous peoples dominated the Americas. Unfortunately the Mayan civilizations were named by Europeans and related to both Poseidon and Atlas. Some maintain this is evidence that European voyagers reached the Americans many years before either Columbus or the Vikings, however this does not stand up to scrutiny. The Mayans were connected by the family of languages which came under this banner, the original people are now referred to as the Olmecs, itself meaning 'rubber people', ie those who produced rubber.

Inca is different, Inka means 'lord, ruler' in the Quechua tongue. The natives referred to the empire as Tawantinsuyu meaning 'the four parts' and showing it consisted of four nations. Lastly the Aztecs, a Nahuatl word for 'the people from Aztlan', itself a mythological place in the early religion of the people.

To trace language family tree of the names of the people and places would take more room than we have here. When discussing the evolution of modern speech the length of time is often underestimated. Farming is about fifteen thousand years old, writing about half as old. With humanity spread across vast swathes of the planet differences in pronunciation would soon creep in and before long the language would be mutually unintelligible to two groups with a common ancestry.

If this comes as a surprise consider this. The north/south split in England which amounts to a length of some four hundred miles and yet there are a great deal of differences in regional accents and dialects. Furthermore listen to the generation before, or more so the younger generations - they use words and expressions which we have to learn before we understand what they are saying.

This is all during an age when language should be less susceptible to change as the vast majority today are literate and have the benefit of a good education.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Etymology of the Most Famous Steam Locomotives in History

Flying Scotsman was named such for it was chosen to haul the non-stop London to Edinburgh run. Indeed the engine was at the head of the inaugural service on May 1st 1928.

Golden Arrow is the train as much as the engine. It refers to the express service between London and the ferry to Europe from Dover, where the engine pulling it would be emblazoned with a diagonal golden arrow on the front, which copies the symbol shown on advertising posters, effectively showing the southeast direction taken to reach the boats.

The London and North Eastern Railway Class A4 4-6-2 Pacific serial number 1870 was built at Doncaster in 1938 and, as any railway enthusiast will be aware, was named Mallard. It was in service until 1963 during which time the 165 ton locomotive covered almost two and a half million miles.

The distinctive shape and garter blue with red wjeels and rims mark Mallard out as a special engine. Sir Nigel Gresley designed and built this A4, which was later tested in a wind tunnel to prove its streamlining. Made to exceed a sustained speed of over 100mph on a regular basis, it was the night of 3rd July 1938 when this vehicle ensured a permanent place in the record books. On a slight downslope south of Grantham the engine reached a speed of 125.88mph, a world record speed for a steam engine which will undoubtedly never be broken.

Sir Nigel Gresley takes the name of arguably the most famous of steam locomotive engineers who worked for the London and North Eastern Railway. His designs were marked by their elegance, both aesthetically and mechanically and many of the best known engines in British history can be attributed to him.

City of Truro was built at Swindon in 1903 and most often cited as the first steam locomotive to exceed a speed of one hundred miles per hour. This happened in May 1904 when hauling the Ocean Mails special from Plymouth to London Paddington. This was one of ten City Class engines built at the Great Western Railway works at Swindon and named after cities on the GWR routes.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Stories Behind the Names of the Most Famous Ships in History

Having felt as much as heard the blast from the horn of the Queen Mary when it berthed at Southampton while I was visiting one Saturday afternoon, the subject of name origins was soon raised.

Queen Mary is one of the most famous names in modern shipping. The original Queen Mary took the name of the consort of George V, Mary of Teck. Similarly the original Queen Elizabeth referred to the consort of George VI, while what became known as the QEII eventually referred to her daughter, the reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

However while undoubtedly the most famous ocean-going vessel of the twentieth century it also had the shortest life. RMS Titanic was named for it being the largest vessel ever to sail the high seas. Its dimensions certainly were 'titanic' in every respect: displacement of 52,310 tons, length 882 feet, nine decks, 3,547 passengers and crew were propelled at a cruising speed of 21 knots by the combined 46,000 horsepower engines.

As everyone knows this vast vessel sank on its maiden voyage with great loss of life. However 705 survivors made it to the New World thanks to the efforts of the captain and crew of RMS Carpathia. This vessel was named from the Carpathian Mountain range, itself traceable back to an early Proto-Indo-European word related to Albanian karpe 'rock' and simply describing 'the rocky mountains'.

Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, was probably the best-named vessel ever. It is certainly the longest serving vessel ever for, even though it has been in dry dock in Portsmouth for many, many years, it is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. The honour of the oldest warship still afloat is claimed by USS Constitution, clearly named to mark the signing of the American constitution which it defended in the War of 1812 against the British.

Another famous ship is HMS Temeraire, a vessel which would probably have been forgotten were it not for the 1838 painting by J. M. W. Turner, The Fighting Temeraire which showed her being tugged home to be broken up. This very un-English name is due to the British custom of naming vessels after old prizes, the original being a French ship taken at the Battle of Lagos in 1759. The name is derived from the Latin temerarius and means 'casual, rash, accidental', what seems to us a very odd name for a vessel.

HMS Hood has been used for several ships since the mid-nineteenth century, all named after the Hood family which produced generations of mariners. The most famous is the battlecruiser launched in 1918 and in service until 1941. This particular ship was named after the eighteenth century Admiral Samuel Hood, who saw action in the Armerican Independence and French Revolutionary Wars and was also a mentor of Admiral Lord Nelson.

The Hood was sunk in 1941 by the Bismarck. Launched in 1939, the German battleship Bismarck was named after the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and, at over fifty thousand tons, the then largest warship ever commissioned. The other famous German vessel of World War II was the Admiral Graf Spee, named after the World War I Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee who was killed, along with two of his sons, in the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December 1914.

It may only be a part of Greek mythology, but the Argo is certainly one of the most famous in ancient history. It is named after Argus, the one hundred-eyed monster who built it. Another potentially fictitious name is generally known as Noah's Ark, although nowhere in the Bible is it referred as such. The word 'Ark', if it is of Ancient Hebrew derviation, does not refer to a boat or ship, it simply means 'box'.

One of the lesser known vessels, yet one which was certainly played a pivotal in English history, is the so-called White Ship. On November 25th 1170, off the Normandy Coast near Barfleur, the most impressive ship of its day sank with just a single survivor, a butcher from Rouen. The drunken revelry of the passengers and even the crew resulted in the deaths of many of the youth of the English court, including the only legitimate son of King Henry I, William the Aethling. This resulted in a dispute on the subject of succession following Henry's death, a war between Matilda, the king's daughter whom he had attempted to guarantee would succeed him, and Stephen of Blois who did eventually accede to the throne. It was written at the time how "No ship ever brought such misery to England". Clearly the vessel was painted white in order to stand out wherever it was afloat.

Cunard's RMS Lusitania famously sank off Ireland in May 1915 having been torpedoed by a German U-Boat who claimed it was bringing munitions from the US to Britain. The name of Lusitania is derived from the Roman province on the Iberian peninsula, roughly corresponding to all of Portugal with the addition of the Spanish lands as far as the Douro. The name referred to a tribe, the Lusitani, who lived here and who may have taken their name from Lus Tanus 'the tribe of Lusus'.

In 1947 Norway's Thor Heyerdahl built a reed boat and attempted to show the ancients could have travelled across the Pacific Ocean from South American to the islands of Polynesia. The vessel he named Kon-Tiki an earlier name for the Inca sun god Viracocha. The creator god was also known as Apu Qun Tiqsi, Wiraqutra, and Con-Tici depending upon the period involved.

The first man to complete a circumnavigation of the globe was Sir Francis Drake. He left in 1577 aboard the Pelican, however by the time he returned in 1580 Drake had renamed his vessel the Golden Hind. Drake had good reason for the name change, it was to commemorate the role played by Sir Christopher Hatton as patron of his journey, and whose crest featured a female deer, known in heraldry as a 'golden hind'.

A century earlier Christopher Columbus set sail for the west to prove it was possible to reach the East Indies by what he considered would be the shorter route. What he found was the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. He had three vessels under his command, led by the Santa Maria, originally named La Gallega as it was built in the region of Galicia, with two smaller vessels alongside, the Pinta 'the painted' and Santa Clara, more often referred to by its nickname of Nina 'the girl' and based on the name of her owner Juan Nino of Moguer.

Another famous crossing of the Atlantic took place in 1620, when the English Separatists, better known as Pilgrims, left Plymouth and sailed for the New World. Just where the name Mayflower came from is uncertain, although it certainly spawned a number of later vessels named such.

An infamous name is that of HMS Bounty, originally commission as His Majesty's Armed Vessel the Bounty, and named for its first botanical mission. The principal target was the breadfruit plants of Tahiti and transport them to the West Indies, hoping they would flourish and become a cheap and bountiful source of food for the slaves.

Also famous for its voyages around the eastern Pacific is HMS Beagle, which took one Charles Darwin on a voyage which led to the eventual publication of On the Origin of Species. There is nothing recorded as to why the name of the dog was chosen, however we do know the origin of the name of the hound, it comes from the French beegueule meaning 'one who whines insistently'.

Finally the famous research vessel of Jacques Cousteau, Calypso was named after the figure from Greek mythology. She is best remembered for her role in Homer's Odyssey in which she held the eponymous her captive. Calypso is generally held to be the daughter of the Titan Atlas.

It seems any name chosen was never meant to last. Whatever the reasons behind the selection when the vessel was launched or renamed soon become insignificant which is surely the lesson to be learned here. Perhaps a little more thought into new and significant names and less examples of old names being reworked and passed off as 'traditional'.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.