Sunday, 19 August 2018

Hungary 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 the largest Hungarian cities.

Budapest is, as many will know, two places on opposite sides of the Danube named, unsurprisingly, Buda and Pest and first combined as a hyphenated name as recently as 1831. While the combination is well within recorded history, the origins of the two names on opposite sides of the river have never been adequately explained. Of course, that does not stop suggestions and there are suggestions aplenty. Buda has been suggested as coming from a personal name Bod or Bud of Turkic origin and meaning 'twig'; a Slavic personal name Buda and short for Budimir; a Germanic root of boda meaning 'water'; and the traditional founder Bluda, brother of Attila. Similarly Pest could be the name of the Roman fortress Pession; the Slavic word pestera or 'cave'; or pest 'limekiln'.

Danube comes from a Proto-Indo-European root danu used to mean both 'fluid' and 'drop', the root giving the river its name in many European languages. It has also given us the Scythian and Avestan generic word for 'river' (these spoken in and around modern Iran); for the Greeks it was Istros or 'strong, swift' and related to the Sandskrit isiras 'swift' - these seemingly very different forms do have the same root but appear different in our eyes as the western languages speak of the river as masculine while further east they are feminine. For reasons unknown the Phrygian name (the language spoken in Asia Minor or much of modern Turkey) was very different, and Mataos meant 'the bringer of luck'.

Debrecen is probably from the Turkic word debresin meaning either 'live' or 'move' and also used as a male name, although others will point to a Slavic origin meaning 'well-esteemed'.

Szeged is from the Hungarian for 'corner' for it stands on a bend in the river Tisza.

Miskolc is simply the Slavic form of Michael, also used for the name of the Miskolc clan who first settled here.

Pecs is difficult to see unless we go back to its earliest name, this from the Celtic sop 'marsh' and giving the Roman version of Sopianae. Note this refers to the region and not a single settlement, for not until 871 do we find the first name of the city itself as Quinque Basilicae or 'five cathedrals', this also found in German and Slovak translations of the name. This enables us to see why the root is the Turkish bes meaning simply 'five'.

Gyor was known as Ara Bona 'good altar', shortened forms of Raab and Rab are still used respectively in German and Slovak for this city. Not until the Magyars arrived, settling in the area recently vacated by the Romans, does the Hungarian name, itself a personal name. During the Ottoman occupation the city was under Turkish rule and known as Yanik kale 'burnt castle' for the Turks arrived to find the town burned to the ground by the locals before they left it to the advancing army.

Nyiregyhaza is a composite of two Hungarian words nyir 'birch' and egyhaz 'church'.

Kecskemet is from a Hungarian root keckse meaning 'goat'.

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

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