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.

1 comment:

  1. I am trying to compile a list of fact checking and general research sources. Any suggestions? Also, I have a hypothetical question. If you were editing or writing a historical novel where a character refers to someone leaving Moscow's "international airport" in 1942 and wanted to check to see when it came into use in Russia, how would you check that? When did the term "international airport" come in to use? In the US, we refer to any airport that can originate overseas flights as an international airport, no matter how small.