Sunday, 3 April 2016

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

Santo Domingo is quite simply the Spanish for 'Saint Dominic'. Founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496, the younger brother of Christopher, it was originally on the east bank of the river but moved to the west bank six years later. Santo Domingo de Guzman, to give its official name, is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in all the Americas. When first discovered the place was known by the native Taino people by two names, either Quisqueya 'mother of all lands' or Ayiti 'land of the high mountains'.

Santiago should be known by its official name of Santiago de los Caballeros, the name being Spanish for 'Saint James of the thirty Knights'.

La Vega is another Spanish name, this meaning 'the meadow' and shares its name with the district.

San Cristobal is another from the Spanish, this referring to 'Saint Christopher'.

San Pedro is certainly referring to 'Saint Peter' but it is unclear whether this was inspired by the name of San Pedro Beach, former president General Pedro Santana, or simply to distinguish it from San Francisco (a reference to Sanit Francis of Assisi) to the north which shares the addition de Macoris, this a reference to the Macorix tribe inhabiting the region prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The Macorix were thought a neo-Taino people, however their languages were not mutually intelligible suggesting the split had happened a very long time ago indeed or, more likely, the two groups are unrelated.

La Romana certainly has the best origin in the Dominican Republic, and must rank among the best in the entire Americas. The word romana simply means 'balance' and is a reminder of this being used to weigh all merchandise for export. That the name ever came into use shows how unusual something we would simply expect as the norm must have been.

Higuey is certainly a name given by the indigenous people, however the similarities between the dialects and tongues of the region's Taino peoples make translation uncertain. Among many indigenous people the term guey or huiou - the difference in spelling simply reflecting pronunciation - can be seen to mean 'sun, light, day' and thus, being at the eastern shore, this may be interpreted as 'land where the sun is born'.

Puerto Plata was named by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage, albeit indirectly. When he first saw this land he saw the nearby mountain shrouded in fog giving it a silver appearance in the sunlight and thus called Monte de Plata. This name was transferred to Puerto Plata or 'the silver port'.

Moca is named after a tree found overlooking the nearby river banks, or perhaps derived from Mocan region, or even based on the coffee crops grown here known as Mocca - thus in truth nobody really knows.

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

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