Sunday, 9 July 2017

Seas and Oceans

Chose the perfect week for a UK holiday this year - not a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the low thirties. In an attempt to keep a little cooler we took many boat trips around the Devon coastline. Obviously we all know the origins of the English Channel, etymologicially not geologically - 'English' from 'England' or 'the land of the Angles' and 'channel' correctly referring to 'a bed of running water' in the 14th century (interestingly it was the British Channel prior to 1825) - but I wondered about the origins of others seas and oceans. Doubtless those enjoying the waters of more exotic locations, such as the Irish Sea, will wonder how the names Wonder no more.

Adriatic - named from the town of Atria, modern Adria, in Picenum near Venice. At the time it was a seaport but is now more than 10 miles from the coast. This comes from atra from 'black' or 'the black city'.

Aegean - traditionally named for Aegeus of Greek mythology, the father of Theseus who threw himself to his own death when thinking his son had perished. However the more likely explanation is the Greek aiges 'waves', which is not unlike the Latin aqua from Proto-Indo-European akwa 'water'.

Andaman - thought to come from the Andaman Islands, itself said to be from Andoman, a form of Hanuman, the Sanskrit name of the Indian god.

Arabian - from Arab, itself traceable to the Greek Arabos probably meaning 'inhabitant of the desert' and related to the Hebrew arabha 'desert'.

Aral - in the Turkic tongues aral means 'island' or 'archipelago' and can thus be understood as 'sea of islands', of which some 1,100 were once found here. Correctly the Aral Sea had been the fourth largest lakes in the world but irrigation projects have diverted waters and there are now four small lakes of higher salinity.

Azov - another likely named from a settlement on the shore, here Kipchak Turkish azaq meaning 'lowlands'. However another origin theory points to the Cuman prince Azum who was killed defending a local town in 1067.

Baltic - until the 11th century this was the Mare Suebicum, Latin for 'the sea of the Suebi', the local people who may, depending upon which source is accepted, have named themselves as 'one's own' or were named by the Celts as 'vagabonds'. The modern name is unknown until the German chronicler Adam of Bremen and, while the origin is disputed, may come from the Germanic belt or 'strait' as this is still used for two Danish straits known as the Belts.

Beaufort - an Arctic sea named after hydrographer Sir Francis Beaufort, a naval officer who lived in Ireland but was descended from the French Huguenots and who had the Beaufort wind scale named after him. Despite being self-educated he was associated with contemporary mathematicians of the calibre of John Herschel and Charles Babbage.

Bering - named for the Danish navigator Vitus Bering, the first European to explore the region extensively.

Black - one of four 'coloured seas' in English but one which is difficult to see as in any way darker than others. Thus the modern idea is this related to the Red Sea as the 'north sea' (see below).

Caribbean - named after the Carib people (which is why the American pronunciation is correct). The Kalina people are how they know themselves, the western name comes from the Spanish Caribe, a bad pronunciation of the Arawakan kalingo 'brave ones' or kalino 'strong men'.

Caspian - named for the people who lives on the shores of the Caspian Sea, themselves originally from the Caucasus, who were named Caspii or 'whites' by the Romans.

Coral - abounds with coral as evidenced by the Great Barrier Reef. The word 'coral' is of semitic origin, related to Hebrew goral 'small stone' and Arabic garal 'small pebble' and originally only applied to the red coral found in the Mediterranean.

Dead - the Dead Sea is named because of its salt content (the Bible refers to it as the Salt Sea). Now people will jump up and down and claim all the sea is salty, yet the Dead Sea's salinity at 34.2% is great deal higher than the 3% to 4% of the vast oceans of the world. It is known as the Dead Sea although it does support a very small population of bacteria and microbial fungi and is correctly a lake.

Galilee - is named for the province of Palestine and derived from the Hebrew root galil used here to mean 'district' but usually meaning 'circle'.

Irish - named after the Irish inhabitants of Ireland, itself derived from the Old Irish Eriu and Proto-Celtic Iveriu and understood as 'fat' as in 'prosperous'.

Ionian - of unknown origins but ancient Greek writers attributed it to the myth of Io, who was said to have swum the sea. The name is probably pre-Greek and could be related to Sanskrit yoni 'womb' and reference to a goddess.

Java - named after the most populous island on the planet, itself of disputed origins. This could be from the jawa-wut, a plant also known as foxtail millet grown in India since before records began, and certainly grown in China some 8,000 years ago. Other suggestions point to jau 'distant, beyond' or Sanskrit yava 'barley', or even a Proto-Indonesian word Iawa meaning 'home'.

Labrador - named after the Portuguese explorer Joao Fernandes Lavrador. His family name is 'Fernandes', the last element shows he was a landowner for lavrador means 'farmer, plougher'.

Ligurian - named after the ancient Ligures people who inhabited the area known as Iberia. Little is known of these Celtic people, which may be due to the suggestion their name is Pre-Celtic and only the suffix asco 'village' has survived.

Marmara - the sea, once again, took its name from the island of Marmara. The place is a rich source of marble, which is why the Greek marmaron meaning 'marble'.

Mediterranean - the name is of Latin derivation, where mediterraneus means 'inland' or 'middle of the land', which is a good description of the sea which, one day, will be very much an inland sea.

North - this came to English from Dutch Noordzee as opposed to the Zuiderzee or 'South Sea'. It has also been known as the German Sea, German Ocean, Frisian Sea, Mare Frisicum, and in different languages today as the Nordsoen, Noordzee, Mer du Nord, Noardsee, Nordsee, Noordsee, Weestsiie, Nordsjoen, NNordsjon, An Cuan a Tuath, Noordzee and others.

Norwegian - clearly derived from the country of Norway, itself named for 'the northern way' which is how the English viewed it.

Okhotsk - named after the region giving its name to the town of Okhotsk, the first Russian settlement in the Far East with a name derived from the river Okhota, itself a Tungus word meaning 'river'. Hence a river name gave a district name, which gave a settlement its name, and then to the sea - of of which mean 'river'.

Red - some think this is named from the algal growth or corals, however this does not seem true of the majority of the sea for most of the year. Hence the modern idea is this refers to the 'southern sea' in relation to the Black Sea being the northern version.

Ross - along with Ross Island and the Ross Ice Shelf, the Ross Sea was named after British explorer James Clark Ross who came here in 1841 and whose name is a Gaelic word meaning 'headland'.

Sargasso - named after the Sargassum seaweed which grows in these calm waters. The seaweed was named by Portuguese sailors after a species of rock rose found in water wells in their homeland, Helianthemum. Sargassum is used in Chinese medicine as the answer to "heat phlegm" (neither do I), and of greater interest is the Sargasso Sea, which is unique in having no land borders.

South China - oddly enough it washes the southern shores of China.

Timor - comes from the island of Timor, itself derived from the Malay word timur meaning 'east'.

Tyrrhenian - named after the Tyrrhenian people but a name which is difficult to define. This is due to every early reference we know coming from the Greeks but it is not from a Greek word. It has been connected to an early loan word tursis or 'tower' but this lacks support as we have no idea how this was used. What does seem likely, however, is this shares an origin with the Tusci, the Latin exonym for the Etruscans.

Yellow - named from the sand storms across the Gobi Desert which sprinkles sand particles on the surface waters to make the sea appear yellow.

There are also a number of minor seas around the Antarctic continent, of which we have only examined the Ross Sea. Some interesting names and thus, working clockwise from the Ross Sea, we find .....

Amundsen Sea - named by Norwegian Nils Larsen in 1929 after his compatriot Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, doing so on December 14th 1911. His surname means 'the son of the respectful protector'.

Bellinghausen Sea - named after explorer Admiral Thaddeus Bellinghausen who explored the area in 1821.

Weddell Sea - named after Scotland's James Weddell, he explored this area from 1823 but was not named such until 1900.

Scotia Sea - this was not named from Scotland directly, but after the vessel Scotia of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition in 1902-04 under William Bruce, although the sea was not officially named in 1932.

Lazarev Sea - a name coined in 1962 to honour Russian admiral Mikhail Lazarev but, despite this appearing on Soviet and Russian maps, it failed to gain international approval in 2002.

Riiser-Larsen Sea - another name din 1962, this time to honour Nowegian explorer and aviator Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, who is regarded as the founder of the Norwegian Air Force. Again it appears only on Soviet and Russian maps, failing to be recognised internationally in 2002.

Cosmonauts Sea - yet again named in 1962 and only appearing on Soviet and Russian maps and also rejected at the 2002 international conference. The name was chosen to mark the first manned craft to journey into space and is an interesting word. It is formed of two Greek elements, 'cosmos' and 'nautes'. Here the suffix is 'sailor' derived from a Proto-Indo-European nau 'boat', while the prefix is Greek kosmos 'order'. Interesting to see one of the most recent words is based on a language of one of the earliest civilizations together with what must have been among our earliest Europen words.

Cooperation Sea - another only found on Soviet and Russian maps, named in 1962 and dismissed forty years later, it was meant to mark the idea of international cooperation on this massive continent - which seems to have been overlooked by the international committee of 2002.

Davis Sea - at last one receiving international approval, it was named by Sir Douglas Mawson, leader of the Australian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14 after Captain J. K. Davis, second in command of the expedition and in command of the Aurora.

Mawson Sea - as above except named by the International Hydrographic Organization of 2002 for the commander of the expedition of 1911-14.

D'Urville Sea - named after French explorer and officer Jules Dumont d'Urville.

Somov Sea - for a change not named by the Russians in 1962 but in 2002, the outcome remained the same as it was never approved. It would have honoured Russian oceanologist and polar explorer Mikhail Somov (1908-73) who commanded the first Soviet Antarctic Expedition between 1955 and 1957.

So interested had I been to define the less well known names, I was in danger of omitting the major areas of ocean in the world - or maybe not.

Pacific - named by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan as the Mar Pacifico as he encountered favourable winds on the 'peaceful sea'.

Atlantic - named for the famed island of Atlantis, itself the 'island of Atlas' (the Titan who held up the world and not the book of maps).

Indian - named after India, itself derived from Indus, a river name from Old Persian word Hindu, itself from the Sanskrit word Sindhu which was the Sanskrit name for the Indus River and which means simply 'river' or 'stream'.

Arctic - from the Greek word artikos or 'near the Bear'. Note this is 'Bear' not 'bear' and thus doesn't refer to the mammal but the constellation of either Ursa Major (the Great Bear) or Ursa Minor (the Little Bear) - the latter more likely as it contains Polaris, the Pole Star or the North Star.

English spellings have been used as the piece is written in English

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