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.

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