Sunday, 3 July 2016

French Polynesia 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. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at French Polynesia islands and places.

Marquessas Islands are comprised of two main islands and a number of sea mounts, the name from the Spanish for 'marchioness'. These main islands are known locally as Te Henua Kenana and Te Fenua Enata both mean 'the land of men'. Local legend maintains the Marquessas were created by the gods as their home and thus all the island names relate to the building of a home.

Hiva Oa means 'the long ridgepole', a part of the home of the gods.

Motu One is the local name meaning 'Sand Island', an appropriate name as this is simply a sand bank on the edge of a coral reef.

Windward Islands, named for obvious reasons. Formerly known as the Georgian Islands, named for Hanoverian king George III.

Leeward Islands are simply the reverse of the previous name.

Papeete, when written correctly as Pape'ete, quite literally translates as 'water from a basket' - a topographical description rather than a literal one.

Tuamotus Islands were originally referred to as Paumotus meaning 'subservient islands' until changed to the modern Tuamatos meaning 'distant islands'.

Tokorua is a name meaning 'two' and should be understood as meaning 'companion, mate'.

Austral Islands take a name describing their location for these are 'the southern islands'.

Bass Islands are named after the British naval surgeon and explorer George Bass (1771-1803). He sailed on the Venus on 5 February 1803 bound for Tahiti then the coast of Chile before heading back to Sydney but neither he nor his crew were ever heard of again.

Tahiti is a Polynesian word meaning 'rising sun'.

Pitcairn is famous as where those who mutinied on HMS Bounty took up residence. Many of the surnames of this crew are still evident on the island, indeed the place is named after Robert Pitcairn who, then aged 15, was the first to sight the island.

Bora Bora was first known as Pora pora mai te pora meaning 'created by the gods' later abbreviated to Pora pora. and understaood to refer to 'the first born'. Not until Europeans arrived did the name change to Bora Bora, ostensibly this is an error.

Baie des Vierges (Bay of Virgins) is a spectacular sight at the foot of the village of Hanavave and originally named Baie des Verges (Bay of Penises) due to the phallic volcanic spires adorning the harbour. The Christian missionaries who came here were offended by the name and added an “i” to the word "verges" in order to change its meaning.

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

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