Sunday, 22 May 2016

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

Asmara is known locally as Asmera meaning 'the four made them unite'. These four are feminine and refer to the women from four clans who, tired of the fighting, forced the Gheza Gurtom, Gheza Shelele, the Gheza Serenser and Gheze Asmae to unite. The modern westernised version came from European colonial times.

Keren is something of a mystery, it possibly shares a root with Semetic tongues and thus could mean 'shine' or 'ray of light' and thus describe a place being notably brighter than its surroundings and Keren is on high ground.

Teseney or Tessenei originally came from Tigre meaning 'let it be nice to dwell'. During the era of Italian colonization it was known as the Village of Gasperini, taking the name of the Italian governor of Eritrea.

Mendefera is almost my favourite Eritrean place name. It is named after the hill in the centre which dominates the area and has a name meaning 'no one dared'. During colonial days this proved to be the stronghold for those fighting for independence from the Italians.

Assab is so close to the Ethiopic Azab it seems unlikely to mean anything other than 'south'.

Massawa beats Mendefera as my favourite name here. With the delightful meaning of 'to shout loudly' the most popular explanation for this tells how a fisherman became stranded on a nearby inhabited island when caught in a storm. He discovered by shouting loudly he could be heard on the other side of the island and was thus rescued, this then became known as Massawa or 'to shout loudly'.

Senafe was formerly known as Hakir. Traditionally this was changed when one Abdullah arrived here from Sana'a in Yemen. When he married he is held to have said Sana-fen, the Arabic for 'where is Sana'a' and the name was born.

Adi Keyh is an Arabic name meaning simply 'red village'.

Irafayle is a tiny fishing village with the strange origin of 'place of elephants', although there is little chance of spotting a pachyderm here today.

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

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