Sunday 21 February 2016

Croatia 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 to cast my net a little wider. This time Croatia and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital.

Zagreb is also the largest city in Croatia. The name is first seen in a document dated 1134, however the origins of its name are disputed. Taking the Croatian word zagrabiti as the basis, this meaning 'to scoop', has seen a number of suggestions. Traditionally this is held to be from when a Croat viceroy leading his thirsty soldiers across a dry plain drove his sabre into the ground only to see water pour forth. He ordered his men to dig and thus created the first well. Archaeologists and geologists support the story from what is known of the area, yet balance that by pointing out no settlement would ever be founded without a reliable source of fresh water. A similar tale points to what is now the fountain in Ban Jelacic Square, also known as Mandusevac Well. It seems the city's governor ordered a girl named Manda to fetch him water from the well saying "Zagrabi, Mando" or 'scoop it up, Manda'. More plausible explanations include za bregom 'beyond the hill' and this the river bank on the River Sava, for an early use of breg was also 'bank' as well as 'hill'. Alternatively za gragom or 'beyond the moat' is equally possible, this place heavily fortified since early days.

Split is easier to understand, it coming from the local fauna and in particular calicotome spinosa, commonly known as the spiny broom. It was named as such by the Greeks who colonised the region as Spalathos. Later as a Roman possession this was corrupted to Spalatum and eventually the Italian version of Spalato. Over the years the Croatian version began to displace the Italian, with the modern form officially adopted by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia at the end of the First World War.

Rijeka is known by many different names depending upon the language used. Croatian Rijeka, Slovene Reka, Italian Flume, and historically as Tharsatica and Vitopolis, all sharing a single meaning of 'river'. This is correctly Kvarner Bay, an inlet of the Adriatic Sea.

Osijek gets its name from being on dry ground in a flood plain. It is derived from the Croatian word oseka meaning 'ebb tide' and should be seen as the logical place to settle for it provided a natural defensive feature.

Zadar is similar to Rijeka and Osijek in originating from water, although the name is so ancient the exact meaning will never be known. The earliest known forms are as Iadera and Iader, but is certainly older and thought to predate the Indo-European language, the mother of the majority of tongues across Europe, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. These early forms is later influenced by the early Dalmatian language as Jadra, Jadera and Jadertina, then by the pronunciation in the Croatian language as Zadra and Zadar, this seen as early as the 12th century.

Velika Gorica is from two words where velika, 'great', precedes the local Kajkavian dialect word gorica or 'vineyard'. The area has produced wine since before recorded history.

Slavonski Brod features the regional name of Slavonia, from the Slav people who settled here. Ther term brod may mean 'ship' in modern Croatian, however its earlier use was as 'water crossing' - not in terms of a ship but in the sense 'ford'.

Pula may have evidence of habitation dating back more than a million years, that is before the time of Homo sapiens, but the name dates back to the era of a Greek colony known as Polai meaning 'city of refuge'. Later forms, such as the Italian Pola and Croatian Pula are simply corruptions of the original.

Karlovac is a much more recent name than others, this from its founder Charles II, Archduke of Austria and thus is a Croatian version of 'Charles' town'.

Sisak can be traced to the Celtic and Illyrian ears when the place was known as Segestica. Later forms, including that of Sisak, are simply corruptions of the original referring to its location by water, there are three significant rivers here.

Dubrovnik was historically known as Ragusa, itself from the earlier Greek name Lausa meaning 'precipice'. The modern name was adopted officially in 1918 after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, although this name can be found as early as 1189. This comes from dubrava or 'grove of oak trees'.

Vukovar describes itself as 'the town on the Vuka'. While var is the Hungarian for 'fortress', the river gets its name from the Slavic vuk or 'wolf'.

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

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