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.

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