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 Sri Lankan towns and cities.
Colombo has a couple of theories as to the origins of its name. As it was first recorded as such by the Portuguese, it could be they have taken it from the classic Sinhala Kolon thota or 'port on the river Kelani'. Alternatively this could be Sinhalese kola amba thota or 'harbour with green mango trees'.
Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia has a number of tales told about it. One speaks of Diya Wala, which translates as 'depression filled with water', while another says it refers to a forest of lime trees.
Sri Jayawardhanapura translates as 'resplendent city of growing victory' following its conquest by the Jaffna kingdom in 1391.
Negombo is a Tamil name, where Neerkolombu was corrupted by the Portuguese. The Sinhalese name for this place is Migamuva or 'village of the honeycomb'. Both names refer to the legend of King Kavantissa's army finding honey bees in a canoe on the shore.
Kandy is an Anglicised version of Sinhalese Kanda Uda Rata or 'the land on the mountain'.
Galle was known as Gimhathitha in early records, this probably from classical Sinhalese meaning 'port near the river Gin'. The present name likely comes from gaala or 'where cattle are herded'. While herds of cattle do not grace the city, bullock carts are a common sight in the area.
Trincomalee is an Anglicised version of the Tamil Thiru-kona-malai or 'lord of the sacred hill'. Other translations suggest 'sacred peaked hill' or 'three peaked hill'.
Batticaloa is from Portuguese, a translation of the original Tamil name of Matakkalappu or 'muddy swamp' - it would be difficult to find a swamp which wasn't muddy.
Jaffna is a corrupted form of Yalpanam, itself from a legend. A king is said to have visited a blind musician, a Panan, who was skilled in playing the Yal. So delighted was the kind he gifted a sandy plain to the man who went to his home and brought all his people to live here.
Ratnapura translates, in both Tamil and Sinhala, as 'city of gems' and remains the traditional centre for trading gems in Sri Lanka.
Sri Pada or Adam's Peak is a mountain which is held sacred by Buddhists as it is said to have a rock formation known as Sri Pada, the Sanskrit for 'sacred footprint'. Clearly it is the footprint of Adam when referring to Christian or Islamic tradition.
Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.