Sunday, 28 December 2014

Origins of Place Names: Germany

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere.Last time I looked at the origins of the names of the biggest cities in France and now move on to Germany.

Berlin has never been explained with any certainty which, as so often happens, has resulted in many suggestions. Such include the personal name Berla, 'lake', 'hill', 'dam', 'judgement place', 'customs point', 'sandy place' and others depending upon which Germanic, Slavonic or Celtic language is consulted. Popularly the name is said to come from the German word for 'bear', although there is no etymological evidence to support this.

Hamburg is either from the Germanic ham and burg to speak of 'the fortified place at the inlet' or perhaps this represents the Hammaburg or 'fortification in the wood' founded by Charlemagne in the ninth century.

Munich comes from Old High German munih meaning 'monk'. This is a reference to the Benedictine monastery previously found here.

Cologne was founded by the Romans in 38BC. The Latin name of Colonia Claudia Agrippina means 'the colony of Claudia Agrippina', this woman was the mother of the notorious Emperor Nero and wife of the Emperor Claudius, whom she murdered.

Frankfurt is first recorded as Frankonovurd in Old High German and in Latin as Vadum Francorum, both from a document dated 794. Standing on the River Main it was named to point out this was 'the ford used by the Franks'.

Stuttgart is seen in a document dated 1229 as Stutengarten, this describes 'the garden where mares are reared'. Compare this with the city's coats of arms through the ages, all of which depict horses. As English belongs to the Germanic group of languages it is worthwhile noting this name is from Old High German stute 'mare' and related to Old English stod 'stud' and Old High German garten, still easily seen as 'garden'.

Dusseldorf takes its suffix from German dorf 'village' following the name of Dussel, this the river on which stands. As with many river names the Dussel is simplistic in meaning, this comes from Celtic dur and means simply 'river'.

Dortmund is recorded as Throtmenni in 890, the name of the channel here and coming from the Old High German word for 'throat' and a description of the topographical feature. The modern spelling represents the change in pronunciation, thus the original meaning is the same today.

Essen was known as Astnida in 897, this literally being 'hills, smelting place' and derived from an earlier Indo-European 'to dry or burn'. The meaning is difficult to see but possibly describes a place cleared by burning.

Bremen is from Old High German brem describing its location at 'the marshy shore'. There is archaeological evidence of these marshlands being settled for more than 14,000 years. Note how brem can be seen to be related to modern English 'brim' with the same understanding.

Clearly I have used English spellings for these place names - makes sense as the post is written in English.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Origins of Place Names: France

Over the last few years I have sampled several of my books on the origins of place names, all of which refer to those found in England. On occasions I have also looked at the etymologies of the nations of the world and followed up with their respective capitals. This only gave a glimpse into the origins of non-English place names and, with many overseas names being found on England's welcoming signs as a result of town twinning, I thought it time to look at the origins of the place names of other nations.

I decided to start with France. This was an arbitrary decision not influenced by anything etymological (although I was thinking about croque-monsieur moments earlier).

Paris was known to the Romans as Lutetia Parisiorum or 'Lutetia of the Parisii'. Here the Latin lutum 'clay' or perhaps 'mud-like' precedes the name of the local tribe, the Parisii a Gaulish people is either from a Celtic par 'ship' and a reference to those living and working on the Seine or from a word meaning 'border town' where, once again, the Seine is influential, this time in marking the border.

Marseille is first seen as Massalia, a Latin reference to a town founded by the Phoenicians about a millennium earlier and named after the Massili tribe. The tribal name is of uncertain origin but is thought to be based on the mas- element which probably meant 'spring'.

Lyon was known as Lugdunum by the Romans, a name featuring the Gaulish suffix dun 'fortress'. The first element has three possible origins: lugus meaning 'little'; the Celtic pagan god Lug; or Celtic lucodunos 'bright mountain'.

Toulouse on the River Garonne is first recorded as Tolosa, then the home of the Tolosates. The name has never been adequately explained but may take the Celtic tul as its first element, this meaning 'mountain'.

Nice was founded and named as the Greek colony of Nikaea, itself named after goddess of victory Nike.

Nantes was named after the Gaulish tribe Namneti, although their name has never been explained.

Strasbourg is as close to an English place name as we are likely to find in France. This is derieved from a Frankish name Strateburgum, linked to strasse 'street' and burg here used in the sense of 'town' and thus speaking of 'the town by the road'. This important way took traffic from the River Rhine and across the Vosges.

Montpellier is recorded in a document dated AD 975 as Mons pestellarius, Latin for 'woad mountain'. Doubtless it was named such as the blue dye was produced here.

Bordeaux was known as Burdigala to the Romans, itself taken from the Gaulish tribal name Bituriges Vivisci. AUnfortunately the origins of the tribal name are unclear.

Lille has finally given us a place name in France named from the French language. Here this is from Old French l'isle meaning 'the island' and a reminder of the city being founded as a fortress on a virtual island in the marshland.

Next time I shall move east and examine some German place names.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Summer Holiday

Nothing to do with Harry Webb's film and/or song, I had been plotting 2015's sojourns to the sun when I recalled a couple of words which I would be more than happy to answer to.

One of my favourite parts of the world to visit is the southwest of England, in particular the English Riviera. Indeed I have been so often I more often than not refer to the main touristy thoroughfare - with its succession of gift shops, take-aways, and cheap clothing outlets - just as the locals would know it, Grockle Alley.

For those who are unaware, the term 'grockle' is a less than complimentary term describing tourists. Locals continue to use it and a little research suggests it has recently been spreading along the south coast through Dorset, Hampshire and at least as far as Sussex. One source suggests this came from the The Dandy's strip known as Danny and his Grockle, the Grockle here being a dragon. The reason it is particularly associated with Devon is probably down to the 1960s film The System, the scriptwriter one Peter Draper, who had met Freddie Fly in Torquay and picked up ther term when the latter was working as a barman in the resort. Freddie had previously worked at the boating lake still found at Goodrington and heard it there. There are records of the term being used from the 1970s in the Isle of Man, in Ibiza and even in the former Rhodesia.

Yet dig a little deeper and we find the term did not originate in Devon but had been used in New Forest for centuries. Indeed the term is so old we have no notion as to its origins.

Further southwest we come to Cornwall where tourists are referred to as 'emmets'. This term is not Cornish, the Cornish for 'ant is moryonenn, but ironically a Cornish dialect loanword from Old English aemete or 'ant', a reference to how both seemingly mill around with no apparent destination or goal.

We can trace the origin of the Old English word back to a Proto-Indo-European ai mai which is literally describing an ant as 'the biter off'. Perhaps this should be taken into consideration when using a derogatory term for tourists whose money is the lifeblood of the region - although I quite like being a 'grockle'.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Naming Baby (Him)

After looking at some of the more unusual origins of female names last time, I thought it best to redress the balance by looking at male names. As I stated last time I often roll my eyes, even cringe when hearing some of the names given to the children by parents in the 21st century. Of course this will have been true of every generation.

Normally associated with place names, there are other proper nouns of interest to me. Over the years my research has uncovered details of the origins of personal names. Many have fallen out of use but may well return in the future. There has always been those who use a relevant surname as a christian name - ironically some of the earliest surnames are adaptations of christian names - but it those which began as words which interest me. Some will have been insults, others whimsical, and even a few complimentary.

After female names last time I now turn to the male names and offer a list of examples in alphabetical order.

ALFRED is a true English name and comes from a term meaning 'elf counsel'.

BARRY may mean 'fair-haried' but, if this is the pet form of BARRINGTON, then it refers to 'a troublesome tribe or individual'.

CAMPBELL and CAMERON seem to be increasingly popular choices for male infants. They also happen to be the surnames of two influential British politicans, although this could be coincidental. The former is a term meaning 'twisted mouth', the latter 'one with a crooked nose'.

DARCY is clearly a name from classic English literature. One wonders whether Jane Austen was aware the surname is of French derivation and refers to 'someone from Arcy'.

EDGAR has never been the most popular of names but has hardly ever fallen out of favour completely even with a dated meaning of 'prosperity from the spear'. Should anyone followers of Dickens be considering naming their yuletide child after one of his most famous characters, EBENEZER means 'the helping stone'.

FRASER is also endured over the years. It means 'from a growing strawberry'. And if you think FABIO is a good idea for a modern international name, remember it does mean 'bean farmer'. Also, should you decide to call him after a favourite pet, FANG has the unusual origin of 'pleasant-smelling'.

GILES refers to 'a wearer of goat skin' and GRAHAM 'one from a gravel clearing'.

HAMLET might seem a good idea to devotees of the bard, until we realise it means 'home'. And if you think HARDING sounds like a good surname to turn into a given name, just remember it means 'son of the hard one'.

IRVIN or IRVINE or even IRVING all mean 'water of green' or, should you be a fan of Gershwin you might want to call him IRA which means 'alert' (and to quote a t-shirt from yesteryear remember "Be alert, England needs lerts").

JACOB is a timeless biblical name gaining in popularity despite a meaning of 'following after'. If you were raised on Disney's Aladdin you might not want to call him Jafar as it means 'small stream'. And whether you spell it JADEN, JAYDEN, JAIDEN, JADYN, or any other 'creative' spelling, this is a name I had personally found quite pointless even before I discovered it had been invented during the 1930s and has no etymological value whatsoever.

KAI seems to be astoundingly popular at present. It is said to mean 'from the sea', (although as anyone from Birmingham will tell you it is something which operates a lock).

LEE means 'a clearing', although if you want to be really clever and name the poor thing LEGOLAS after the Tolkein character, be aware it means 'leaf'.

MARK might seem a decent dependable name - it comes from Mars and thus means 'warlike'. And MELVIN might not be a good idea either, it comes from 'bad settlement'.

NIGEL is surely a dependable name, although 'coming from clouds' might not support that image. NARCISSUS might seem clever - it's from Greek mythology, surely nothing can be wrong here - but does mean 'numb or sleepy'.

ORVILLE was a real person's name until some irritating green duck puppet became known by this name - not a particularly appropriate name for green waterfowl as it means 'a golden village'. And forget the Greek mythological figure ODYSSEUS, has a name meaning 'to hate' so perhaps not a good choice.

PAUL might not want to hear his name means 'tiny,' when he grows up.

QUENTIN and QUINCY share of an origin of 'fifth'.

RALF or RALPH have an origin of 'wise as a wolf' (depends upon one's point of view, I suppose).

STANLEY began as a place name meaning 'the stony clearing'. And forget thinking naming him SHERLOCK will give him a good start in the intellectual stakes, it means 'blonde'.

TODD uses an old word for 'fox'. While TARZAN might evoke thoughts of strength and speed, Edgar Rice Burroughs knew what he was doing when he gave his hero a name meaning 'white-skinned one'.

UTHER may seem a good idea, Uther Pendragon was the father of King Arthur, yet consider its meaning of 'terrible or abhorrent'.

VAUGHAN or VAUGHN will not only prove a challenge when it comes to writing his name when the poor blighter starts school, he also may object to a name meaning 'the small one'.

WILBUR comes from 'wild pig'. And while WILLIAM is, quite literally, a 'strong' name, WILL-I-AM refers, rather ungrammatically, to something hidden from just about everyone until after death.

XAVIER was about the only English(ish) name I could find, this name means 'new home'.

YVES was the best I could find and the French equivalent of YORK, both meaning 'yew tree'.

ZEB, short for ZEBEDIAH, was the best I could find. However the meaning of 'God lends' does not explain what is being loaned or at what cost.

I did ask a very few couples whether the father or mother had influenced the name and discovered the mother is by far the more influential in naming the child. Personally I listened to every suggestion and vetoed every single one, then offered my own ideas which were accepted quite quickly.