The origin of location names

From the (online) book of 1898 by Isaac Taylor “Names and Their Histories: A Handbook of Historical Geography and Topographical Nomenclature” 

I have found some examples that I find very interesting, although only a few have connection to Denmark.

In another book “Annaler for nordisk oldkyndighed (og historie)” from 1838-1839 are many words and meanings from several very different languages, many of them isolated from each other by vast distances and throughout thousands of years, show amazing similarities, both in meaning and spelling. 

Bâton Rouge: A town on the Lower Mississippi in Louisiana is usually said to have taken its name from a pole, painted red, on the shore of the Mississippi, marking the boundary between two native tribes, but according to the local tradition it was from a large, red cypress stem, free from branches, and resembling a giant’s staff, which marked the frontier between the French settlers and the territory of the red men.

Bornholm: A small, rocky (Danish) island in the Baltic Sea. The group of islands to which Bornholm belongs, is the only part of Denmark with rocky ground, and which in geological terms rightfully should belong to Sweden. It is called Burgendaland in the Anglo-Saxon translation of Orosius (a Spanish historian from the late 300’s). In 1245 the name becomes Burgunder Holm, the “island of the Burgundians”.

Burgos: One of the few Teutonic names in Spain, and the capital of the former province of Old Castile, is said to have been founded in 884 by a German knight serving against the Moors (the medieval Muslim inhabitants of Morocco, western Algeria, Western Sahara, Mauritania, the Iberian Peninsula, Septimania, Sicily and Malta). In it’s houses, streets, and Gothic cathedral, it exhibits the style of the Gotho-Castilian period. The German burg occurs in at least 200 German names, dating from the first century onwards, as Salzburg, Regensburg, Magdeburg, Freiburg, Hamburg etc. in Germany. The Scandinavian form is borg as Viborg, Vordingborg, Svendborg etc. in Denmark. In Gothic we have baurgs meaning “town”. The Anglo-Saxon form burh gives burgh, borough, and bury, the last being from byrig, the dative singular from burh.

Cape Catoche at the north-east corner of Yucatan was discovered by Hernandez de Cordoba on March 1st 1517. Bernal Diaz del Castillo tells us that the cazique welcomed the Spaniards with the words con escotoch, con escotoch, meaning come into my house, and hence the Spaniards took Catoche for the name of the village, now tranferred to the cape. According to later researches conex cotoch would mean in the Mayan language come into our town.

Carinthia and Carniola are the Latinized forms of the German names Kärnten (Kärnthen) and Krain in Austria. They are believed to denote the land of the Carni, a tribe, whose name probably meant the mountaineers.

Carson City, the state capital of Nevada, was named from Kit Carson, a famous western hunter, who guided Fremont’s exploring expedition across the mountains in 1842.

Cheyenne, the name of town in Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, is derived from the Shyenne or Cheyenne tribe, who dwelt on the Shyenne River. Their name, according to Boyd, means those who speak a different language. They are a branch of the Crees, who calls themselves Né-a-ya-og meaning those who speak the same tongue. The Assiniboines (a Siouan Native American/First Nations people originally from the Northern Great Plains of the United States and Canada) call them Shi-é-ya, and the Dakotas call them Shi-é-ala, words of nearly the same meaning as Né-a-ya-og.

Corryvreckan is the sound between Jura and Scarba of the Islay Islands in southwestern Scotland. The Gaelic coire, Anglisized as Corrie or Corry, means a cauldron, and appears frequently in the names of deep, round hollows in the mountains, such as Corrie in the Isle of Arran. It also denotes the swirling pool under a waterfall, and hence was used to denote a whirlpool in the sea. In a whirlpool between Antrim and Rathlin Island, Brecan, son of Njal of the nine hostages, was lost with fifty ships. Hence the whirlpool was called Corryvreckan, or Brecan’s cauldron. The name was subsequently transferred by the monks of Iona to the whirlpool between Jura and Scarba, and the legend having been forgotten, the name has been explained as the boiling cauldron, from the Gaelic bruich, meaning to boil.

Dingle in Kerry, Ireland is a corruption of the old Irish name Daingean, meaning strong, denoting a stronghold or fort.

Dog River, an affluent of the Slave River, was so called because the banks was inhabited by the Dog Rib tribe, a translation of the native name Thling-cha-Dinneh. The Dog Ribs are also called the Slave Indians, a translation of the name given them by their enemies the Crees.

Donegal, an Irish county, takes its name from the town of Donegal, anciently Dun-na-nGall, meaning the fort of strangers or the fort of Danes. The old Danish fortress, which stood at the ford over the Esk, was burnt by the Irish in 1159.

Dorset, a corruption of the A.S. Dornsæte, afterwards Dor-sæte, is the name of the same class as Somerset (a tribal name, denoting not the area, but its inhabitants). It must mean the settlers near Dorchester, which is called in Anglo-Saxon Dornwaran-ceaster, Dornwara-cester, Dornware-ceaster, Dornea-cester or Dornceaster, names evidently derived from Durnovaria, the Roman name, which doubtless designated not the modern town, but the huge British fortress, now called Maiden Castle, which crowns the summit of a hill a mile or so south of Dorchester, to which it bears much the same relation as Old Sarum does to Salisbury. The Anglo-Saxons would understand Dorn-wara-ceaster as meaning the chester of the inhabitants of Dorn. The meaning of Durnovaria is obscure. In Celtic dur means a strong place, and -varia means a descent, so that Dur-no-varia might be the fortress of the descent, Maiden Castle standing on the summit of a steep descent leading to Weymouth. It has also been suggested, that the name mey be from the Celtic dwr meaning water. Ptolemy calls the people of Dorset the Dour-o-triges, (Cornish trige, meaning to inhabit) and Asser tells us that in the British tongue Dorset was called Durn-gueis meaning the Durn country, (Welsh: guis, meaning country).

Dresden, the capital of the kingdom of Saxony, is locally called Dräsen. The second d is intrusive, as is shown by the older form Dresen, which would mean at the ferry, from the Slavonic trasi, a ferry. Buttman derives the name from the Wendish drezdzany, meaning a haven or wharf.

Dufferin, a barony in County Down, Ireland, which gives the title of Marquis to the Blackwoods, was anciently Dubh-thrian, meaning the black third, a name referring to an old tripartite division of territory. Trean-Laur, a similar name means the middle third.

Durham, capital of the County Palatine of the same name, stands on a precipitous hill, 80 feet high, almost encircled by a bend of the River Wear. Here, in 995, the monks of Lindisfarne, carrying the body of St. Cuthbert, took refuge from the Danes. They called it Dunholm, the holmor river island forming a dun, or hill-fort. The name Dunholm was softened on Norman lips to Duresme, whence by assimilative folk etymology came the English form Durham.

Dutch, the English form of Deutsche, the national name of the German race, is from the Old High German diot (Gothic: thiuda) meaning people or tribe, whence the Teutoni of Caesar, and the Teutones of Strabo. Deutsche (the people) is used in opposition to Walsche (Welsh), meaning the foreigners or strangers, a name which the Germans give to the Italians and Walloons, while we confine it to the Celts of Wales and Cornwall. An etymology advanced by Mr. Bradley derives Teutones from a primitive Teutonic Theuth-o (Gothic: thiuths) meaning good. As late as the time of Charles I, we used the name Dutschland (German: Deutschland) for Germany, and in the United States Dutchman still means a German. In England it is now restricted to the people of The Netherlands, properly the Low Dutch.

Edinburgh, formerly Edwines burg, means ostensibly the fortress of Eadwine, the Northumbrian king who was converted by Paulinus. He extended the Anglian dominion as far as the Forth, and may probably have erected a frontier fortress on the commanding rock, on which Edinburgh Castle stands. But in the Pictish Chronicle, Edinburgh is called oppidum Eden, translated as Dunedin, and in the annals of Tighernac (A.D. 638) it appears as Etin. These forms point to an older Pictish name, of which Edinburgh may possibly be an assimilated form.

Elk Mountains, Elk River, Elk Creek, Elk Island, Elk Lick, Elkhorn and Elkhart, and other North American names with the prefix Elk, refer either to the Moose (Cervus original), or to the Wapiti (Cervus Canadiensis), which are locally called the Elk. That the true Elk (Cervus alces) was – and still is – found in some parts of Europe is proved by the ancient forms of such names as Ellwangen in Würtemberg (called Elehenwang, meaning Elk field in the 8th century), Altdorf, also in Würtemberg (formerly Alahdorf), or Elbach in Bavaria.

Ely, an episcopal city in Cambridgeshire, England, should have been called Elyborough or Elybury, the Anglo-Saxon name being Eligburh. Bæda’s statement that Ely contained 600 hides, shows that Ely (Anglo-Saxon: Elig, meaning the isle of eels) must have formerly denoted, not the town, but the district now tautologically known as the Isle of Ely, famous for the excellence and abundance of its eels, in which rents were formerly paid.

England, is a corruption of Englaland, meaning the land of the angels (Latin: Anglorum terra), from Engla, gen. plural of Engle. In Bæda’s time (ca. 731) it excluded Wessex, Sussex and Essex, which were the lands of the Saxons, as well as Norfolk and Suffolk, which we now call East Anglia. The old England extended along the eastern coast from Lincolnshire northward as far as the Frith of Forth. Egbert, an Anglian prince, who succeeded to the Saxon throne, extended the name of England to include the whole of his dominions. The Engle or Angles, who gave their name to England, originally inhabited Anglen (Anglo-Saxon: Engel) in Sleswick (Schlesvig), Germany, and are identified with the Anglii of Tacitus, and the Angili of Procopius. They were probably the same people as the Angrivarii, who are called Anglevarii in the Notitia. Zeuss and Förstemann make them the dwellers on the meadows from the Old High German angar, a mead or pasture.

New England is the name given to the north eastern portion of the United States. The coast from Cape Cod in Massachusetts to the Penobscob River in Maine was explored by captain John Smith in 1614, and at his suggestion, his patron, prince Charles, afterwards Charles I, gave the name of New England to this region, which had hitherto been known as North Virginia. Smith’s “Description of New England” which appeared in 1616, gave currency to the name. In 1643 a confederation styled The United Colonies of New England, consisting of the four colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut and Newhaven, was formed for defence againts the Indians, and survived till 1684.

Erzgebirge, the ore mountains, a range dividing Bohemia from Saxony, were so called from a vein of silver ore discovered in 1163.

Eskimos, is the Danish, and Esquimaux the French-Canadian corruption of the name given by the red men to the Arctic race who calls themselves Innuit, meaning (the) people. The name Eskimo, an Algonquin word, seems to have originated in Labrador, being afterwards extended to the tribes in Greenland and on the Polar Sea. The Ojibwa form Askimeg or Ayeskimeou is allied to the Abenaki name Eskimantsic, Eskimatsic or Eski-Mantic, all meaning, in various dialects, eaters of raw fish or flesh. (Not strange since there’s no firewood in the region)

Port Famine, in Magellan Strait is where Cavendish in 1592 inhumanly landed all the sick of his ship The Leicester, and left them to perish. Five years before he had given the name of Port Famine the the Spanish settlement of San Felipe, where in 1587 he found, and then left to their fate, eighteen survivors of the four hundred and thirty people, sent out by Philip II under Pedro Sarmiento. In 1590 John Chudleigh rescued the sole survivor, the rest having perished by hunger and cold, or by attacks of the natives.

Faröe Islands is the incorrect English name of a group of 18 (in 1898: 22) small vulcanic islands in the North Atlantic, which were discovered and occupied by the Norwegians in 861. The name is Norse, and the correct form would be Färöer (Old Norse: Fær-eyjar, meaning sheep-islands), or else Fær or Fair Islands (Old Norse: Fær, meaning sheep), and not Faröe Islands, which strictly means Sheep Island Islands. There is a Fårö off the Swedish coast, and one of the Shetlands is called Fair Isle, and one of the Orkneys, Faray, all of which mean sheep island. Fairfield, the mountain nearest to Helvellyn, is the sheep fell. 

In Denmark there is a tiny island called Farø. This island connects the two road bridges from Zealand (Sjælland) to Falster over the sound Storstrømmen. The bridges were opened in 1985.

Herrnhut in Saxony, the first settlement of the Moravian (from Mähren) brethren, hence called Hernhuter, was founded under the “Lord’s protection”. To their missions we owe numerous biblical names scattered over the map, such as Nain and Hebron in Labrador, Nazareth and Bethany in Jamaica, Mount Tabor in Barbados, Bethel in St. Kitts, Lebanon in Antigua, Emmaus and Bethany in St. Jan.

Intercourse Islands on the north west coast of Australia, were so named by King in 1818, because the natives held friendly intercourse with his crew.