Sunday, 12 January 2020

Saudi Arabia 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 Saudi Arabian cities.

Abha is probably the same as the Sanskrit abha and means 'splendour, light'.

Tabuk is mentioned in the Quran and dated at 3500BC as being known as Ashab al-Aykah or 'the companions of the wood'.

Ta'if has a name describing its early use, for this former fortified town's name means 'with a wall around'.

Najran was traditionally named after the first man to settle here, one Najran ibn Zaydan ibn Saba ibn Yahjub ibn Yarub ibn Qahtan. The Arabic word najran does have a couple of other meanings, 'thirsty' could well be the origin of a place name, while the idea of this referring to 'the wooden frame on an opening door' sounds rather forced, at best.

Ar Rass comes from the Arabic and means '(place) at the old well'.

Riyadh simply means 'gardens', a reference to the earlier oasis towns which were effectively the origin of the city.

Uyun AlJiwa is another from a water reference, referring to the water ponds which once surrounded the area and translating as 'the valley's ponds'.

Qatif translates to either 'harvest' or 'grain' depending on the context.

Ras Tanura is Arabic for 'cape oven' or 'cape brazier', thought to be a reference to the heat generated by the topography.

Jeddah has two possible origins. Somethimes explained as the Arabic word for 'grandmother', traditionally this is where Eve's tomb is to be found. Alternatively this is named after Jeddah ibn Al-Qudaa'iy, the clan chief.

Dammam has two explanations: either from the Arabic dawwama 'whirlpool' and a warning to shipping that such had to be avoided, or it is onomatopoeic and sounds like the drums sounded to alert the villagers that the fishing fleet were returning.

Medina comes from the Arabic al-Madinah meaning simply 'the city'.

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

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