Sunday, 21 July 2019

Namibia 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 Namibian cities.

Windhoek has a number of explanations, although most believe it comes from the Afrikaans wind-hoek or 'wind corner'. Others point to Captain Jonker Afrikaner, who is reported to have named the place after the Winterhoek Mountains in South Africa, home to his ancestry, and suggested as there is no earlier mention of Windhoek until a letter from the captain in August 1844.

Walvis Bay is named, somewhat obviously, after the bay on which it stands. Its name comes from the Afrikaans for 'whale bay'.

Swakopmund is German for 'mouth of the Swakop'. This river name comes from the Nama word Tsoakhaub meaning 'excrement opening'. This rather undignified origin actually refers to the river in flood, when it carries all manner of rubbish to the Atlantic, dead animals were particularly noticeable. There is a second explanation, this from the San language where xwaka ob refers to 'rhinocerous river', although this does not seem likely for these pachyderms are not particularly associated with water.

Henties Bay, the name of the town as well as the bay, recalls 1929 when Major Hendrik 'Henty' Stefanus van der Merwe discovered the place while looking for water. He and his party had been hunting for rhino, he looking to claim a reward offered by a Pennsylvania museum for a complete skeleton. Having killed the beast, it was stripped of its flesh and the bones carried it to the coast where, while desperately searching for water, they discovered this valley and its fresh water. He later returned to this spot to build a hut showing the water source and it developed into a tourist destination.

Omaruru is from the local Otjiherero language, it translates as 'bitter milk' and a reminder of when cattle grazed on a native bush which resulted in their milk tasting bitter.

Otjiwarongo is also from the Otjiherero language, this translating as 'beautiful place'.

Okahandja is a third from the Otjiherero tongue, this referring to 'where two rivers flow together to form one wide one', a rather long explanation for a confluence.

Grootfontein translates as 'large spring' and reminds us of the nearby hot springs.

Mariental is named after the wife of Hermann Brandt, they headed up the first colony to settle here.

Outjo is the Otjiherero word for 'small hills'.

Gobabis had always been a region where elephants were common. This leading to it becoming a base for ivory hunters and doubling as a trading post. The name of Gobabis is said to be named by colonists who spoke of the goba bis 'the place where people quarelled'. However, it is not clear just what they were arguing about, perhaps the sense should be seen as bartering more than a disagreement. Earlier the local Khoekhoegowab word khoandabesor 'where the elephant came to lick'.

Keetmanshoop is named after Johann Keetman, a German industrialist and the city's principal benefactor. Earlier the place had been known as Nutgoaes or 'black marsh'.

Karasburg is a reminder of the 'karst springs' found here, the waters contain a high degree of dissolved minerals from the soft limestone rocks.

Luderitz is named after Hanseat Adolf Luderitz, a merchant and founder of German South West Africa.

Oranjemund is German for 'mouth of the Orange', the river named by Colonel Robert Gordon in honour of William V of Orange. Previously it had been known as the Groote Rivier or 'great river' by the Dutch, and earlier still as the Gariep, a name which has returned to favour recently, means 'big water'.

Arandis comes from the Khoekhoegowab meaning 'the place where people cry' and is home to the world's largest uranium mine.

Usakos is from the Damara word for 'grab the heel'.

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


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