Sunday 5 May 2019

Malta 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 Maltese settlements.

Valletta was named after the Grand Master Jean de Valette of the Order of St John, following the Great Seige of 1565 when they defeated the Ottomans.He laid the foundation stone himself, on 28th March 1566.

Mdina had previously been known as Maleth by Phoenician settlers of the 8th century BC, this name changed to Melite by the Romans. The Roman settlement was larger than the present daty Mdina, reduced during the Arab occupation and confined behind the city walls. The Roman name of Melite refers to the 'suburbs' and the Arabic name of medina simply means 'city' or 'town'.

Senglea is named after the Grand Master who built it, Claude de la Sengle, 48th Grand Master of the Order of Malta (1553 to 1557).

Cospicua is known locally as Bormla, from Bir Mula or 'the well of the Lord'.

Zebbug is named for its many groves of olive tress and just means 'olives'.

Zabbar is likely from the Maltese word tizbor, a reference to 'pruning trees', although it is also possible the place took a family name, they earning it because they pruned trees.

Zetjun, as with Zebbug above, simply means 'olives' although here the origin is the Arabic zaytun.

Attard shares the confusion of Zabbar, although here the preferred idea is a family name, this from the Arabic atr meaning 'perfume' and possibly referring to oils obtained from the many blossoms which grew here.

Balzan is certainly from a family name as it is from balsan 'tax collector'.

Birkirkara is understood as either 'cold water' or 'running water', either way the understanding is 'drinking water'.

Birzebbuga has a lot in common with Zebbug above, simply here the name refers to a 'well of olives'.

Dingli is named after Sir Thomas Dingley, an English knight of the Order of St John who owned the lands here.

Fgura is not simply coincidentally similar to the English 'figure', it has the same meaning. Here the reference is to the niche where devotees to Our Lady of Mount Carmel would stop to admire and perhaps give thanks to the statue.

Floriana is named after Pietro Paolo Floriana, an Italian engineer who designed the fortifications.

Gudja refers to the place's location 'on higher ground', not a hill as such but higher than the surrounding area.

Gzira is the Maltese word for 'island', although that island is Manoel Island which today lies adjacent to the main focus of the settlement but likely the original location of the settlement.

Gharghur is probably the Maltese word for 'flooding', although some credence is also given to the idea this refers to Malta's national tree the sigra tal-gharghar.

Ghaxaq probably refers to a noble family recorded as Axiaq. Less likely is the idea this represents the Maltese for 'delight'.

Iklin is derived from a herb which once gre here, Rosmarinus Officinalis and known as i-iklin in Malta. The herb grew in a valley which has now been developed extensively.

Kalkara takes its name from the Latin word for 'lime', Calce, for there had been a lime kiln here since Roman times.

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


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