Sunday, 26 April 2015

Zimbabwean City Names Explained

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. It would seem logical to find any links with English place names to be fewer the further we get from the British Isles, yet this is not always the case.

Harare was, as any trivia buff will delight in telling you, known as Salisbury until 1982. This name came from the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, he being prime minister of Great Britain at the time. Harare took its name from the nearby village now known as Mbare and, with nearby Harare Kopje, taken from the Shona chief Neharawa whose name means 'he who does not sleep'.

Bulawayo was founded in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Ndebele king Lobengula, son of King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana who had brought his people here all the way from Zululand, naming the place KoBulawayo which means 'a place where he is killed'. This is thought to refer to a dispute between two factions of the Ndebele people, those who questioned Lobengula's right of succession fighting his supporters. Indeed at this time Bulawayo was referred to as KoBulawayo UmntwaneNkosi or 'the place where they are fightint or risin against the prince'.

Mutare is a long-established outpost on an ancient trade route - soapstone carvings and figurines have revealed much of its unwritten history. The modern city was founded as a fort in 1897 between the Tsambe and Mutare rivers. Clearly the place took the river name, itself dervied from utare meaning 'iron' or, more likely, 'gold' as the river runs through the Penhalonga Valley where gold was discovered.

Gweru was known as Gwelo until 1982, however neither were original name. Originally this was Kwelu, this the Kalanga word for 'pheasant' and the name given to their chieftain, but when the English arrived they corrupted the pronunciation to Gwelo and thereafter, the original name now largely forgotten, became pronounced as the modern version.

Kwekwe was known as Que Que until 1983 which is not named from the noise of frogs, as is often thought. The true meaning is even stranger, for this was originally isikwekwe and had the rather unusual meaning of 'scurvy', 'mange' or 'scab'.

Kadoma is a corruption of the earlier name of Gadooma, known as such from 1890 until 1982. Previously this was Katuma, named after the cattle enclosure associated with Chief Katuma.

Chinhoyi had been known as Sinoia during its days as a British colony. Both names are simply corrupted versions of the original Tjinoyi, the Lozwi chief who was the son of Lukuluba, himself the third son of Emperor Netjasike.

Norton is clearly of Old English origin and means 'the northern tun or farmstead'. However it came to Zimbabwe as a surname, the Norton family farming this area from the 1890s and who were murdered when nationalist guerrillas rose up against the Rhodesian government in the 1960s.

Marondera was known as Marandellas until 1982. This latter name was the original recording of the place name, in full known as Marandella's Kraal. Bringing this full circle the original place name was a corruption of the present name of Marondera, he the chieftain of the Barozwi people.

Note the spellings are mostly English as the piece is written in English.

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