Sunday, 28 February 2016

Cuba 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 Cuba and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital.

Havana has probably retained its original name given by the Taino people and a reference to local chief Habaguanex. There is an alternative explanation suggesting this comes from the Middle Dutch havene and refers to 'a harbour', best seen as sharing a root with the English 'haven'.

Holguin is named after its founder, Spaniard Captain Garcia Holguin, who came here in 1545.

Guantanamo may be an infamous name but began quite simply as the Taino for 'land between rivers'.

Cienfuegos is easily translated as 'one hundred fires'.

Mantazas literally means 'massacre', a reminder of when 30 Spanish soldiers attempted to cross the river to attack the camp on the opposite side. Having not boats they enlisted the help of local fishermen but, when in midstream, the fishermen rolled the boats. In their heavy armour the soldiers drowned with just two women surviving.

Sancti Spiritus is a typical Spanish place name, this translating as 'Holy Spirit'.

Moa is another from the native Taino tongue and is thought to mean 'water here'.

Florida, as with every other place of this name, comes from the Spanish for 'land of flowers'.

Contramaestre is another related to water, this simply meaning 'boatswain'.

Artemisa has been said to be named from the Greek goddess Artemis, however it seems odd to find Greek mythology recalled at the beginning of the 19th century as a place name, thus the suggestion of Artemisia, this the Spanish for ragweed or Ambrosia artemisfolia then found in abundance.

Baracoa comes from the local Arauaca tongue meaning 'the presence of the sea'. As this is the spot where Christopher Columbus landed on his first voyage west he probably thought of it as 'the presence of the land' after many days without sight of any coastline.

Banes is another from the native Taino language and a word meaning 'valley'.

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

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