Saturday, October 5, 2013

An Etymological Map of the District

The greater DC area needed an etymological map.

Okay, so it probably didn't need an etymological map, but it sure could use one. I took 30 minutes out of my morning today to have a bit of fun: mapping the greater Washington, DC area not with its current names, but names built around their historical meanings. For example takoma, as part of Takoma Park, derives from a Native American word meaning "snow-capped mountain." Some of the results were surprising (check out Suitland and Carrollton).


Actual names of cities - Etymological names of cities:

Alexandria – Defender of Men. From Greek alexein "to defend" + -andr- "man" (related to andros and anthro-).

Anacostia – Village Trading Center. From Nacotchatank Algonquin anacost- "trading village."

Arlington – Hygered's Farm. Named after Arlington, England. Anglo-Saxon records from the 800s CE list the name as Hygered-ing-tun. The suffix -ing- is a possessive marker analagous to 's in Modern English. -tun is a suffix for town but in the 800s CE it meant a stately house with farmland (Modern English -ton).

Bethesda – House of Mercy. From Aramaic beth "house" (whence the second morpheme of the word alphabet) + hesda "mercy."

Bladensburg – Sword's Fort. From a Germanic source, possibly Anglo-Saxon. Bladen "sword" or "knife" (contrast Modern English blade) + -s a possessive genitive marker (Modern English 's) + -burg "fort" (though today means something more like city or burrough).

Glenarden – Great Forest Narrow Valley. From English glen "narrow valley" + Latin arden "great forest."

Greenbelt – Rural Land Outside the City. English analogy: a belt of greenland that wraps around a city. A bit dated as nearly cities are surrounded by suburbs today.

Holmes Run – Holly Tree Run. Holme and holmes have many meanings. The one I figured was most likely is a common Middle English name meaning a place of a holly tree. The last name of Sherlock Holmes, for instance, meant "man of the holly tree."

Hyattsville – Village of the Man of High Gate. From Middle English hyatt a dialect shortening of high + gate with a 's genitive and -ville "village."

Lake Barcroft – Farm by the River Bank. From Scotch-Irish English ban- "river bank" + croft "farm."

Langley – Long Meadow. From Old English lang "long" + -lea "meadow" or "woods clearing" (contrast Ashley "meadow between the ash trees").

Marlow – Marsh Hill. From English mar- "marsh" + low "hill."

McLean – Celtic shorthand for (Saint) John's Servant

Mount Rainier – General's Adviser. A rarely employed term. A rainier was once a common position to Frankish and German armies.

New Carrollton – Town of the Slaughter Champion. From older Irish carroll "slaughter champion" + -ton "town."

Potomac River – River of Swans. Disputed etymology, so I chose the prettier one. It could also be from From Algonquin patowmack "something brought," signifying a trading post.

Pimmit Hills – Unknown

Suitland – Senator Samuel Taylor Suit's Land

Takoma Park – Snow-covered mountain. From Lushootseed [təqʷúʔbəʔ] "mother of the waters."

Washington – Wassa's Estate. Contrast Arlington. From Old English Wassa personal name + -ing- possessive suffix + -tun "estate," "farm house."

1 comment:

  1. This is the most marvelous thing I've read in ages and I am so delighted I can't open my mouth to make sounds. I love this and I love this blog.

    ReplyDelete