Sunday 24 March 2019

Macedonia 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 Macedonian places.

Skopje is not only the largest city but also the nation's capital. Its name comes from the Paeonian language (here around 2,400 years ago) and probably refers to these people as 'watchers, observers', a reference to this being at a high place and thus not saying they were observant but that they could be.

Bitola is from the Old Church Slavonic word meaning 'monastery, cloister', this city long associated with its monastery.

Kumanovo is from the Cumans, a branch of the Kipchaks, who invaded this region in the early 12th century. While the name of the Cumans is difficult to define, it may be a Turkic word describing these people as 'sallow, pale' as they had a lighter skin colour than most in this region. The Kipchaks report their name comes from 'hollow tree', for their original ancestor gave birth to her son inside a hollow tree. Other suggestions include origins such as 'angry, unfortunate, good fortune, and unlucky'.

Prilep is from a Macedonian word meaning 'sticky', said to be a reference to the method used to construct the first homes here - presumably something akin to wattle and daub.

Ohrid is thought to originate from the ancient Greek Lychnis or 'city of light'. Later Latin and Byzantine writers and Macedonian speakers changed this through Lychnidos, Lychnos, Lichnidion and eventually the modern form.

Strumica was originally known as Astraion or 'starry' by the Greeks, later as Tiberiopolis by the Romans, with its present name developing through Slavic settlers during the Middle Ages.

Kicevo is first recorded as Uskana, the name used by the Illyrian inhabitants, used until the Slavs arrived in the 7th century when the modern name appears. This Brsjaci tribe clearly named it but just what they were referring to is unknown.

Struga certainly originates from the Old Church Slavoinic tongue, but what it means is disputed. Three theories have thrown up such explanations as its location in the valley means it tends to be quite windy and thus the Macedonian meaning 'it blows wind'; or perhaps it from a word meaning 'cross'; or even something describing the area as 'water branch'.

Radovis is known, but again there are two quite different explanations. Traditionally it comes from a princess here around a millennium ago who was looking over the wall of the fortress when her fiancee cried out Rado vish 'Rada look', for the enemy were approaching from a different direction. Others point to a personal name Radu, a pet form of several names and therefore impossible to say who it may have been named after.

Kriva Palanka takes its name from the River Kriva, this referred to as 'the curved river'.

Sveti Nikole is the Macedonian term for Saint Nicholas.

Delcevo takes its name from more recent times. In 1950 the town was renamed after revolutionary hero Gotse Delchev.

Vinica is named for its vineyards.

Demir Kapija is from the Turkish Demir Kapi or 'iron gate'.

Demir Hisar is also Turkish and means 'iron town'.

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


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