Sunday 28 June 2015

Place Names of the Bahamas 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 a look at the Bahamas and some of the largest settlements found on this nation comprisiing more than 700 islands.

Nassau was originally known as Charles Town, named to honour the English king, but after being destroyed by fire in 1684 it was rebuilt and renamed. Again it was an English king who proved the inspiration, this time William III, who was of the Dutch-German House of Orange-Nassau. The name of Nassau is derived from the German town and is also used in the names of ships, of buildings and a kind of bet used in golf. The latter comes from the Nassau Country Club on Long Island and is essentially three bets in one: matchplay over the first nine holes (or front nine), the second nine holes (or back nine), and over all eighteen holes.

Freeport is, as the name suggests, a free trade zone established by the government in 1955.

West End is aptly named as it is the further west of the islands, indeed it is just 50 miles from the coast of the United States of America. It is also known as Settlement Point.

Marsh Harbour is another name of obvious origin, the waterfront still the main attraction for tourists.

Andros takes the name of the island. Originally known as Espiritu Santu by the Spanish, this was known as Andrews Island under early British Colonial rule, with the present name thought to be named after Sir Edmund Andros, Commander of Her Majesty's Forces in Barbados in 1672 and later governor of New York, then Massachusetts, and finally New England.

Spanish Wells was perfectly named as the last stopping place for Spansih vessels heading home, where they replenished their fresh water supplies.

Matthew Town was named after Bahamian Governor George Matthew, who held the position from 1844 to 1849.

Other place name which are self-explanatory but well-worth mentioning are High Rock, Rock Sound, Snug Corner and Pirates Well. Duncan Town on Ragged Island is the 25th most populous settlement on the islands and Albert Town on Crooked Island following at 26th. At the census of 2009 Duncan Town boasted 63 individuals and Albert Town just 23.

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

Sunday 21 June 2015

Azerbaijan 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 a look at Azerbaijan and some of this former Soviet nation's largest cities.

Baku is the capital city and by far the largest. In 2012 the population was given as 2,122,300, more than six times that of the next largest. The city is renowned for being very windy, resulting in it being nicknamed "The City of Winds", while its official name is thought to come from Old Persian Bad-kube which also means 'the wind-pounded city'.

Ganja is traditionally held to have been founded by a Muslim Arab leader, yet historians have shown this to be much earlier and comes from New Persian ganj meaning 'treasury'. This is supported by evidence of the name being recorded as Janza in the 5th century and the population spoke mainly in the Persian language.

Sumqayit has somewhat uncertain origins but that will never prevent folklore offering up a possible origin. It is said the city took its name from the Sumqayit River, itself held to have been named when a hero known as Sum was chosen to fight the monster blocking the path of the river. Sum succeeds in destroying the monster but, in doing so, allowed the waters to crash through and swept the victor away. Apparently he was never seen again but the love of his life, overcome by grief, would often go to the river and cry out in Azerbaijani the words Sum qayit or 'Sum, come back!"

Sheki goes back to the 7th century BC when it was founded by the Sakas, an Iranian people who had come here from the northern Black Sea, to the South Caucasus and to Asia Minor. Saka comes from the Persian and/or Sanskrit term for the Scythians which can be traced to an ancient Indo-European root skeud meaning 'propel, shoot'. This will have referred to them being renowned as the first culture known to mastered the art of mounted warfare, put simply the first cavalrymen.

Yevlakh comes from an Old Turkic word meaning 'a swampy place'.

Lankaran is a modern version of the Persian name of Langarkanan and meant 'the place of pulling up the anchors' and with obvious meaning. There is another explanation, where Median Lan, the name of a tribe in the region of the Caspian Sea, and karan 'border, land' combine to speak of the adjoining region but, at least from an etymological perspective, this seems most unlikely.

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

Saturday 13 June 2015

Weaponry Etymologies

A break from the tour of the place names of the world. This time the post is a result of an overheard conversation - although my interest was a little different and not really related to their conversation save for a couple of the words.

They spoke of a friend or acquaintance in hospital, apparently they were considering paying the patient a visit. It seems he (I say 'he' even though gender was never specified) had been in an altercation (hence my assumption of 'he') and managed to get himself stabbed. It didn't seem as if it was a particularly serious injury - and his acquaintances seemed quite convinced he had always had it coming to him - and asked the question "Why knife, though?" I assume they meant "Why a knife?" and were not questioning why the assaillant had not been armed with a gun, bow, grenade, or rolling pin. Yet I found my etymological mind thinking of the answer to the question they had actually asked. Thus this time I have produced a list of weapons and examined the origins of the words.

Knife seems the sensible place to start, although it did prove to be something of a disappointment for me as the origins were uncertain. The only early forms known were from the Germanic language group: Old English cnif, Middle Low German knif, Middle Dutch cniif, German kneif, Norse knifr, and all from the Proto-Germanic knibaz. None of these mean anything other than 'knife' used solely as a noun - the earliest written use of 'knife' as a verb is found as recently as 1865. Whislt this may be disappointing in one sense, it is quite the reverse in reality for it shows the age of the word referring to what must have been one of the first words ever coined for a tool. Thus it is simply because it is so old that the earliest sense is unknown.

Blade is used as a slang term for a knife, as well as describing something with a sharp edge, and also used to refer to a leaf as in 'a blade of grass'. Amazingingly the third usage is by far the earliest. Seen in many Germanic tongues, these all come from the Proto-Germanic bladaz meaning 'leaf' and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European bhle and bhel with the meaning 'to thrive, bloom' - ironic considering it is now used to describe a weapon.

Hilt is another part, not of a knife but of a sword or dagger. It would have followed these in the list were it not for the origins. This comes to us from Proto-Germanic helt and is ultimately from the Proto-Indo-Germanickel which oddly meant 'strike' - although this is the part which does not strike the opponent.

Sword has its origins in words which we would consider far more appropriate than that of 'blade'. Here Old English sweord, Old Frisian swerd, Old Swedish svard, Middle Dutch swaert, Dutch zwaard, Old High German swert, and German Schwert all come from Proto-Germanic swerdam which mean exactly what it does today. All these come from Proto-Indo-European swer meaning 'cut, pierce'. Just to confuse matters there is also an Old Saxon word heoru, also seen in the related Gothic hairus, both meaning 'sword' but neither etymology is understood.

Dagger came to English from Old French dague. Also seen in Old Provencal dague and Italian daga, these may have come from an early Latin daca and describe 'a Dacian knife' - Dacia being a region of Europe roughly centred on modern Romania and Moldova, with parts of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Ukraine.

Gun is first defined as 'an engine of war that throws rocks, arrows or other missiles from a tube by the force of explosive powder or other substance', this from the 14th century and also seen in gonnilde in an inventory from Windsor Castle when referring to a cannon. Both have the same origin as the woman's name Gunilda, itself from Old Norse where gunnr and hildr both meant 'war, battle' - the first from Proto-Indo-European gwhen meaning 'strike, hit' and the latter sharing an origin with the female name 'Hilda' in Proto-Indo-European kel 'to strike, cut'. Throughout history it has been normal for large weapons of war to be given female names.

Rifle, in terms of weaponry, is a fairly recent development, getting its name from the rifling of the barrel. This cutting of a spiral groove in the barrel improved accuracy by spinning the projectile in flight. The word is seen referring to this cutting much earlier than the 17th century and weaponry. By the early 14th century it was used in the sense 'to plunder', while the original Old French rifler 'strip, filch, peel off, fleece' has been adapted to describe the cutting technique. Hence we find the alternative use of rifle in English as a synonym for 'pilfer' is older than the normal sense.

Cannon is of comparatively recent origin considering the length of time the weapon has been employed in war. It comes from the Italian cannone meaning 'large tube, barrel' and ultimately from the Latin canna and suggesting this represented something similar to 'a reed' or 'tube'.

Bullet is, as we would expect, another recent development. It comes from the Middle French boulette meaning 'small ball' and is a diminutive of boule, also seen in the game, and from the Latin bulla which could be used to mean 'round thing' or 'knob'.

Arrow may be from the Old English arwan, but this was not the normal term used by the Saxons who most often described it as strael and seen in Slavic and Germanic tongues where it meant 'flash, streak'. Ultimately the 'arrow' comes from Proto-Indo-European arku where it described 'the thing belonging to the bow'.

Bow refers to its shape, coming from Old English boga, a word also used to mean 'arch' and 'rainbow'. Ultimately these can be traced to Proto-Germanic bugon 'to bend', Proto-Indo-European bheug also 'to bend', and Sanskrit bhujati 'bends, thrusts aside'.

Bazooka has only been used to refer to the weapon since 1942. This was the name of a junkyard musical instrument used by comedian Bob Burns, and is thought to have suggested itself from the American slang 'bazoo' meaning 'mouth' or 'boastful' and in turn probably from the Dutch bauzin 'trumpet'

Bayonet is first seen in the early 17th century, said to be from the city of Bayonne in Gascony where they were first made.

Cutlass came to English from Middle French, itself from the Latin cultellus 'small knife' and ultimately from the Prroto-Indo-European kel 'to cut'.

Machete is quite badly named as it is derived from the Spanish machete, itself from macho or 'sledge hammer', and that from mazo or 'club'.

Spear has changed little through the many centuries since Proto-Indo-European sper meant 'spear' and also 'pole'. The latter meaning has come to modern English as 'spar'.

Bomb is first used in its modern sense in the late 16th century. This word originated in the Latin bombus or Greek bombos both describing 'a deep hollow sound'.

Dynamite was named by its inventor, Alfred Nobel, who took the name from the Greek dynamis meaning 'power'.

Grenade was once called a 'pomegranate', likening the fragmenting bomb to the seeds of the fruit - the fruit gets its name from pomum granatum or 'apple with many seeds'.

Monday 8 June 2015

Australian 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 we look at Australia which, at least as far as place names is concerned, is very new. Several are named after people, others transferred, and thus some of the explanations are more histories than etymologies.

Sydney is not the capital city but is the largest city, indeed over 20% of Australia's entire population live here. The settlement was officially named on 7th February 1788, recognising the role played by Thomas Townsend in establishing this place. Note it was not named after him directly, but took that of his title. Lord Sydney. This is not actually from a place, as would be the case with most titles, and the history behind it is a little unusual. When offered the title he originally opted for Baron Sidney, itself to honour Algernon Sidney, a member of the family who is better remembered for his opposition to tyranical monarchy. However he feared other members of the family would try to show they had greater claim on this title and so he then went for the village of Sydneham in Kent, very close to his home town, until he opted for the alternative spelling of Algernon's surname.

Melbourne is also taken from a title, Lord Melbourne being the prime minister of Great Britain when the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke, named the newly-founded colony in August 1835. William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, took the title on the death of his father who had adopted the name of a Derbyshire village having a name meaning 'mill stream'. Today the British Melbourne has a population of little more than 5,000 despite having been in existence for over a thousand years. The Australian version, yet to celebrate 200 years, boasts 18.9% of the nation's population with a head count of almost 4.1/2 million in 2014.

Brisbane was officially named after the Brisbane River on which it stands. The river itself is named after is named after the Governor of New South Wales from 1821 to 1825, one Sir Thomas Brisbane. Apart from his political career, the Scotland-born Major General Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane was also a keen astronomer and built the first observatory in Australia.

Perth is the first place not to be named after a person, but comes from another city. Perth in Scotalnd has a population of some 50,000 today, the Western Australian capital city has over 2 million inhabitants. The Scots version is named from a Pictish word meaning simply 'wood' or maybe the smaller 'copse'.

Adelaide is the only other city in Australia to have a population in excess of one million. As any trivia buff will know it was named after the queen consort of King William IV, Queen Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen.

Tweed Heads takes the name of the Tweed River on which it stands, this purported to be named after its Scottish counterpart and there seems little chance of it being anything else. The Scots version comes from the Gaelic thuaidh meaning 'north'.

Newcastle was transferred from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, itself clearly speaking of a rebuilt fortification. The reason for the choice is easy to see when considering earlier names for the settlement - we can ignore Kingstown as the place was aonly known as such briefly - the original name was Coal River, and Newcastle is famous as having been the great port for coal.

Maitland takes us back to places named after people. Here the city is held to have been inspired by Sir George Maitland, Under Secretary for the Colonies and MP for Whitchurch, Hampshire.

Canberra is the first example of an indigenous place name, although the present version has been greatly Anglicised. The tales of this being named Canberry because of the number of the native Australian Cranberry bushes growing around here seems fanciful, at best. Possibly this is indeed an Anglicised version of the old Ngunnawal word meaning 'meeting place', although other sources point to the two mountains which dominate the skyline and thus the river running between them is the nganbira or 'hollow between a woman's breasts'.

Queanbeyan is a second from an indigenous word, although here there is no doubting this is from quinbean meaning 'clear waters'.

Wollongong is another indigenous name but one where the meaning is disputed. Various suggestions have included 'seas of the south', 'great feast of fish', 'hard ground near water', song of the sea', 'sound of the waves', 'many snakes', and 'five islands'.

Hobart was named after Lord Hobart, the Colonial Secretary. Initially it was styled Hobart Town or sometimes Hobarton.

Geelong, founded in 1827, took an indigenous name of Jillong, itself thought to mean 'land' or possibly 'cliffs'.

Cairns was named after the Governor of Queensland at the time, one William Wellington Cairns.

Darwin was named after Charles Darwin, although when HMS Beagle sailed into the harbour on September 9th 1839 the famous naturalist had not been on board for three years.

Ballarat was named by Scottish squatter Archibald Yuille, he establishing his sheep run here in 1837 and taking the local name of balla arat or 'resting place'.

Bendigo was named after the Bendigo Creek, both first mentioned during the Victorian Gold Rush on November 1851. Bendigo has a population of a little over 91,000 individuals and is named after Bendigo's Hut, where a shepherd of that name once lived. This was not his real name but a nickname, itself coming from the Nottingham bare-knuckle prize-fighter William Abendego Thompson, usually billed as Bendigo Thompson. The shepherd is purported to have earned the nickname as he was something of a pugilist himself and is recorded as also being referred to as 'the fighting sailor'.

Wagga Wagga is a reminder of how the native language has no plural form as such but simply repeates the word to show there is more than one. As the Wiradjuri word wagga means 'crow', the name of Wagga Wagga would mean 'place of many crows'. However the basic defintion is disputed and alternative meanings for wagga include 'reeling' and 'dance, slide, grind'.