Sunday, 31 May 2015

Armenian Place 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 began looking elsewhere. This time to Eastern Europe and the nation of Armenia, where the capital contains around a third of the total population of 3 million, and there is only one other settlement with more than one hundred thousand inhabitants. Note that while figures are difficult to prove, it is thought there are more than 5 million Armenians living outside the boundaries of the present nation. We begin with the largest and, as is often the case, the capital city.

Yerevan is not only the capital but can lay claim to one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities on the planet, although it has only been the capital city since 1918 when it became the thirteenth to be nominated as such. Traditionally the city was named after King Yervand IV, the last of his name to rule Armenia and also the last leader of the Orontid Dynasty, which died out around 200BC, and known founder of the city of Yervandashat. More likely is this was named from the Urartian fort of Erebuni, built on the same site as the modern city in 782 BC. This evolved from Erebuni, through Erevani, Erewan, Ervan, Arevan, Revan, Ayravan and Erevan to modern Yerevan. This is recognised in the name of the modern national anthem, Erebuni - Yerevan adopted on September 27th 2004. Little is known about the origin of Erebuni, although writers from the early Christian era in Armenia maintained it came from Noah, whose exclamation meant "It's appeared!" when the ark landed on Mount Ararat. This famed mountain not only dominates the city but is also the symbol of the Armenian nation.

Gyumri has been renamed several times. Founded as Kumaryi it became Alexabdropol under Russian rule from 1837 to 1924, then through Soviet influence the Armenian Leninakan until 1990, when the modern name was adopted. The original name is thought to be a local pronunciation of the Cimmerians who conquered this region around 720 BC. The Cimmerians were of Iranian extraction, possibly known as the Gimirri and hailing from the city of Gamir. The origin of their name is even more uncertain than the history of these people, although the modern Georgian word Gimirri has been used to mean 'hero'. As already stated this is the only other city with a population exceeding six figures and yet that may not be true for much longer if current trends persist. Figures from the 2011 census give this a population of 121,976, a significant reduction from 10 years previously when it numbered 150,917, almost 20%.

Vanadzor is another having several names, Gharakilisa (the Turkic for 'the black church' and a reference to the black stone of the 13th-century church of the Holy Mother of God) under Russian rule, the Soviets knew the place as Kirovakan (after the Bolshevik leader Sergey Kirov), and as the modern name from 1992. The present name comes from the Vanadzor River, itself of unknown origin.

Vagharsapat has evidence of human habitation for at least five thousand years. The first written evidence of the settlement comes from 685 BC when it was known as Kuarlini, although later writings suggest it had been known as Artimed, from the Ancient Greek god Artemis, and later Avan Vardegesi or 'town of Vardges', and got this name from Valashabad and named after King Valash during the Byzantine rule of the 1st century AD. The minor change to the modern form reflects changes in the Armenian language.

Kapan comes directly from the Armenian kapel meaning 'to lock' and describes the topographical feature where the valley is surrounded by mountain chains.

Artashat is of Iranian origin and speaks of 'the joy of Arta', an Iranian religious ideal.

Ijevan was formerly known as Karavansara, each meaning 'inn' in Armenian and Persian, respectively. This is an indication this place was on an important trade route and continues to be so to this day.

Goris was formerly known as Kores and Gorayk, both simply variations of the present name. Several explanations have been offered as to its origins, most often attributed to the Indo-European gor es or 'the rocky place'.

Charentsavan is of recent origins, named in 1967 after Yeghishe Charents, an Armenian poet, writer and activist.

Ararat is a town and province of Armenia, all clearly named after one of the world's most famous peaks. It is also known as Masis, derived from the Armenian King Amasya; as Agri Dagi, the Ottoman Turkish name meaning 'heavy mountain'; as Ciyaye Agiri or 'fiery mountain', a reminder this is a dormant volcano which last erupted in 1840; and as Kuh-e-Nuh, the Persian for 'Noah's mountain' and named from the Islamic viewpoint. The most common of Ararat comes from the ancient kingdom of Urartu, itself of Assyrian origin and thought to refer to a region where several kingdoms or tribes were resident for it means simply 'lands'. The Urartians themselves, first records date from some 3,300 years ago, called the place Khaldini after their god Khaldi.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Antigua and Barbuda Place 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 began looking elsewhere. This time to the Caribbean and the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, although the settlements are not quite on the scale of those covered in previous posts. Indeed it is interesting to note the ten largest settlements have a combined population of just 39,160 and over half of those are in the capital of Saint John's. These figures are based on the census of 2012.

Saint John's is, somewhat predictably, after the dedication of its principal place of worship. The white baroque towers of St John's Cathedral dominate the skyline of a city where the two other major contructions are two sporting arenas used almost solely for cricket.

All Saints is another named for its church, although this is by no means on the same scale as St John's as the population here numbered just 3,412 at the last census.

Liberta is began when former slaves bought up small parcels of land from the estate owner, she having fallen into financial problems. Splitting their time between working their own property, the docks and the plantations, their income enabled a community to spring up virtually instantaneously. Very soon this community had its own shops and in 1842, just seven years after their emancipation, the place erected the first written evidence of the name on the sign showing one had just entered "The Village of Liberta" of 'liberty'.

Potter's Village is near the above-mentioned All Saints, itself a settlement famed for its pottery and this is where Potters Village gets its name. That this, the four largest settlement in terms of population, is still a village is down to it being the only other place, other than the above, to have a population in excess of 2,000.

Bolans was named after the Boland estate, John Boland having staked his claim to this place in 1749. By 1872 the estate, by then known as Bolans, had been split into five smaller estates and the village of Bolans existed by the 1850s.

Swetes, sometimes given as Sweet's, was named after the plantation owner in the early eighteenth century, one Main Swete. He arrived in Antigua having travelled from Modbury in South Devon, United Kingdom. He was a member of the House of Assembly by 1715 and died here twenty years later.

Sea View Farm is a settlement which seems to be named rather badly. For one thing the name seems rather odd considering this place has a population of 1,486, although that can be explained through the growth of the settlement over the years, predominatly through the making of pottery for which this area is well known. However no rational explanation can be found for the name of 'Sea View', especially when we consider the other claim to fame here is the village is ostensibly the exact centre of the island of Antigua. However as one can never be more than 6 miles from the sea in Antigua this place was probably named ironically. Sea View was also known as King Village, again because of its pottery.

Piggotts was named after the Piggot family. They came here from Ireland and built the first sugar mill towers on Antigua.

Codrinton is the largest settlement on the island of Barbuda, here the population reached 1,325 in 2012. It is named after the man who founded the place in 1674, Sir Christopher Codrington, whose family took their name from the village of Codrington in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. One part of the town, founded as part of a sugar plantation, is still named Betty's Hope and was named after Sir Christopher's daughter, Elizabeth Codrington.

Parham is the oldest town on Antigua, sharing its name with Parham Hill and Parham Harbour, a natural and well-protected anchorage which made this choice a simple one. Parham was the name of the Wesleyan family who came here by 1701 when a record refers to "Parham, our second town of trade. We have no guns." Today the place is associated with obeah, a religion of sorcery or folk magic found solely in the Caribbean.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Argentina's Place 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 began casting my net a little wider. This time the country is Argentina and some of its largest towns and cities and beginning with the largest.

Buenos Aires was originally named Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires by Spanish sailors upon their arrival in the River de la Plata. This was to thank 'the Holy Virgin Mary of the Good Winds' for bringing them safely across, what must then have seemed, a most formidable journey across the Atlantic Ocean. When the city was first founded it was known as Holy Mary of the Fair Winds, but this settlement had been abandoned by 1541. In 1580 the present settlement Ciudad de la Santisima Trinidad y Puerto de Santa Maria del Buen Aire or 'City of the Most Holy Trinity and Port of Saint Mary of the Fair Winds' had been named. Its current shortened form had become the norm by the end of the seventeenth century.

Cordoba was founded by the Spaniard Jeronimo Luis de Cabrera in June 1573. The name was probably coined by him to honour the home of his wife, Cordoba in Spain, itself named by the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca as Kartuba or 'City of Juba' after a Numidian commander killed in the battle for the region.

Rosario was officially declared a city as recently as August 3rd 1852, at the time known as Pago de los Arroyos or 'land of the streams' and there are a number of small rivers crossing the landscape here. However Rosario had been the name of the settlement since its earliest record from October 1793, when it was said to already have 457 inhabitants. Rosario translates as 'rosary'.

Mendoza was founded on March 2nd 1561 by Pedro del Castillo and named Ciudad de Mendoza del Nuevo Valle de La Rioja after the then governor of Chile, Don Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza.

La Plata has been designed on a grid system revealed by its nickname of la ciudad de las diagonales 'City of Diagonals', although other sources refer to it as la ciudad de los tilos 'the city of linden trees' and there are a large number. The name comes from the river, the Rio de la Plata being 'the river of silver'.

Tucuman, in full San Miguel de Tucuman, is thought to come from the Quechua language and probably began as Yucuman or 'place of several rivers'. Alternatively this may represent Tucma or 'the end of things' and then a reference to the outer limits of the Inca Empire.

Mar del Plata shares an origin with La Plata, this being 'the sea of the River Plate region'.

Salta is nicknamed Salta la Linda or 'Salta the beautiful', the origin of the name of the Salta Valley in which it lies depends upon which language it came from. Perhaps it is an Indian tribe, or has the meaning 'craggy place', or possibly 'meeting of the outstanding', or even from the Aymara for 'very beautiful'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Angolan Place 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. This time the country of Angloa and some of the largest towns and cities beginning with the largest.

Luanda, earlier given as Loanda, is of uncertain origins but with two most commonly cited meanings. The most popular is this is derived from a native word meaning 'tax' and a reference to the tribute of shellfish sent to the ruler of Congo. Others point to the earlier name of Loanda being a word meaning 'flat land'. From an etymological perspective the second explanation is more likely as it comes from a known word, while also being a typical definition of a place name. While it is easy to see why the first explanation is the most popular, it can almost be discounted entirely and for three good reasons: not least because the root word is unrecorded; conversely the word loanda is known and fits the topography; and the latter definition is exactly what we would expect from a place name (the most simple is invariably correct even if the least desirable).

Huambo, known to the Portuguese as Nova Lisboa or New Lisbon, and gets its name from the Wambo, one of the former Ovimbundu kingdoms of Angola. The Wambo were a Bantu tribe, one of several who migrated here from Namibia. The origin of their name is completely unknown but the word 'wambo' is found elsewhere, although the ancient Proto-Germanic wambo meaning either 'belly, bowels, uterus' and even meaning 'heart' as in the sense 'central' depending upon the context, is certainly not related. From an implausible ancient offering to an impossible contemporary source, yet still worth a mention. The 'word' was used in a scene from Spongebob Squarepants when the eponymous character is discussing a setting on Mermaidman's belt with Patrick Star. Patrick informs Spongebob he has the setting wrong: "You've set it to 'M' for 'mini' when it should be 'W' for 'wambo'. Spongebob: "Wambo? Don't think that's a real word." Patrick: Of course it is! I wambo, you wambo, he, she, me wambo. Wambology, the study of wama. It's first grade, Spongebob!" Having said the latter is an impossible origin for wambo it is quite likely, now this has appeared on the internet, that Patrick Star will one day be cited by someone as the man who named an Angolan city.

Lobito is a city named because of its long use as a trading post, a fitting excuse for also naming the Bay of Lobito as it is one of the finest natural harbours on this coast of Africa. It comes from pitu, an Umbundu word which, when prefixed by olu, can be defined as something akin to 'passageway, door' even 'pathway'. The pronunication has changed from the original Olupitu to Lupitu and through Portuguese influence to the modern form.

Uige was renamed in 1955 as Vila Marechal Carmona, to honour the former president of Portugal, Oscar Carmona. When declared a city it was reduced to Carmona and, in 1975, returned to Uige which is also the name of the province. Pronounced 'weej', the origins of the name are unknown and yet there is an Irish name which comes from a word with the same spelling. The name 'Higgins', and every variant spelling, is derived from the Old Irish uige meaning 'knowledge, skill, ingenuity'.

Namibe, somewhat predictably, shares an origin with the neighbouring Namib Desert and which is from a Nama word meaning 'vast place', a fairly apt description of a strip of land along the coast which has an average width of 124 miles wide but over 1,200 miles long. Note the Nama language is officially called Khoekhoe and is the most widespread of the non-Bantu languages containing click sounds.

Soyo was originally known as Sonho and a province of the Kingdom of Kongo and ruled by the Mwene Soyo or 'Lord of Soyo', he usually a member of the Kongo royal family. Again the meaning of the name of the Angolan place is unknown but, just as with Huambo and Uige, we do find the word used in quite unrelated areas. There is an example found in Tahiti, most often used for the name of a cocktail, and means 'out of this world. Similarly there is a reference to soyo in Paraguay, this a shortened form of so'o josopy where so'o meant 'meat' and josopyre 'crushed'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Algerian Place 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. This time the African country of Algeria and some of its largest cities and towns which are listed in terms of population and begins with the biggest ....

Algiers reflects the French colonial days and comes from the French name of Alger and the Catalan Alger. In turn this comes from the Arabic name of al-Jaza'ir and translates as 'the islands'. Look at a map today and the islands will prove a mystery, yet until 1525 there were four very distinct islands which became a part of the mainland. Al Jaza'ir is an abbreviated form of the earlier name of Jaza'ir Bani Mazghana or 'the islands of the sons of Mazghana', a Berber people. Earlier this had been a Roman town known as Icosium which, as with just about every place name in the Roman Empire, was there version of the existing name, in this case the Phoenician trading post known as Ikosim. This Phoenician name is derived from a Greek legend, the place said to have been founded by twenty companions of Hercules with this being from the Greek word for 'twenty'.

Oran has a link to the capital city of Algiers in the Berber people and, at least in the example, their language. Here we find the Berber root hr meaning 'lion'. Around 3,000 years ago it is said there were lions to be seen around here. Legend has it the last two were killed on a nearby mountain which is now known as The Mountain of the Lions and large statues of these creatures stand outside the city's administrative centre.

Constantine was named in honour of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, although originally the Romans had known the place as Cirta. To the Phoenicians this was Tzirta, but destroyed by the Romans at the beginning of the fourth century and rebuilt by them. The original name simply referred to this as a trading post.

Annaba has some of the earliest examples of advanced flake-tool techniques in the Middle Palaeolithic and has been occupied for at least 200,000 years. While we have no idea what the place was called for the vast majority of its existence - although it would be surprising to find anything other than the most simplistic names such as 'place' or 'home' - we do know it was settled by the Phoenicians around 1300 BC and later known as Hippo Regius by the Romans. Hippo is from the Punic ubon meaning 'harbour' with Regius 'of the king' referring to this being home to Numidian kings. The present name of Annaba is also from the origin ubon.

Blida is from bulaydah and ultimately from the Arabic word belda meaning 'city'.

Sidi Bel Abbes is named after Sidi bel Abbass a Muslim marabout who is buried here. A marabout being a religious leader and teacher.

Biskra was known to the Romas as Vescera although some records refer to this as Ad Piscinam a reference to the large pool of water heated by sulphurous springs to 45 degrees celsius and literally means 'at the waterworks'. It seems Vescera may have been a rather bad translation of the earlier native name. The modern name is Arabic and also refers to the hot waters, although the literal translation of 'boil' should be seen more as a reference to the bubbling of the hot waters.

Tebessa has seen its name change little over many centuries. The Romans, Arabs, French all simply using the existing name, albeit with a little corruption through pronunciation. This comes from the Greek name for the place which translated to 'one hundred gates'.

El Oued is known as 'the City of a Thousand Domes' and yet the name has a much simpler origin from the Arabic for 'river'. The city is built around an oasis, itself fed by an underground river which gave the place its name and helped the people grow their new home by growing dates and the quite rare production of bricks in the desert.

Tiaret is another name of Berber origin and, like Oran, has its origins in a big cat. However here the meaning is 'lioness', pointing to the Barbary lions once living in this region. Barbary lions, also refered to as the Atlas lion, is a species now considered extinct in the wild. The last recorded death by shooting being in 1942, although the species was certainly still in existence until at least the 1950s and some unconfirmed reports speak of sightings in the 1960s. It is thought to be extinct in captivity but, at least genetically, must survive in some form among the many animals bred in European zoos and a programme is looking at a selective breeding programme to eliminate the hybrid elements.

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