Sunday, 27 January 2019

Lebanon 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 Lebanese cities.

Beirut is the capital, an Anglicised version of the Arabic Bayrut. This is ultimately from the Phoenician place name Berot or Birut, both seen in the Canaanite or Phoenician be'rot which, some 3,500 years ago, describes this place as 'the wells'.

Tripoli can also be traced back to the Phoenician age, during which time it has had several names. This name is derived from the Greek and means 'the three cities'. The Arabic name is al-fayha 'the scent or smell' and a reference to the vast orange orchards once found here.

Sidon comes from the Phoenician Sidun 'fishing town'.

Tyre refers to its location on a rocky formation and means simply 'rock'.

Byblos is difficult to trace because of the variety of records coming from speakers from several languages. It is most likely a name meaning 'God's well', where the name refers to God's place rather than a source of water.

Aley is from Aramaic and means 'high place', it does indeed stand at least six hundred metres above sea level.

Nabatieh is another from Phoenician, this meaning 'the appearance' and a reference to how it would have been easily recognised from the sea owing to its many grottoes.

Baalbek was known as Helioupolis or 'sun city' to the Greeks. Its present name refers to 'Ba'al, Lord of the Beka'.

Zahle is a Syriac word meaning 'moving places' and points to the continuous danger of landslides in this area.

Zgharta has been explained as coming from the Aramaic zaghar or 'fortress'.

Ehden is a region named from the Aramaic for 'the mountain's base and slope'.

Batroun is from the Arabic al-Batroun and the Phoenician word bater 'to cut'. A reference to the sea wall which created the harbour here.

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


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