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Placename etymology

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1 Placename Origins

Placename Origins

By Continent


The ancient Romans used the name Africa terra --- "land of the Afri" (plural, or "Afer" singular) --- for the northern part of the continent, corresponding to modern-day Tunisia. The origin of Afer may be the Arabic afer, dust; the Afridi tribe, who dwelt in Northern Africa around the area of Carthage; Greek aphrike, without cold; or Latin aprica, sunny.


Said to be named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who featured his own name name prominently on his cartographic works. An unsophisticated public assumed that the name was the correct toponym for the newly discovered lands.


In early Classical times, the term "Asia" referred only to the small region known today as Anatolia (a part of Turkey). Eventually however, it came to denote the much larger land area with which we associate it today.

The etymology of Asia can only be guessed at. The strongest possibility is that is that it derives from a borrowed Semitic root "Asu", which means varyingly 'rising' or 'light', of course a directional referring to the sunrise, Asia thus meaning 'Eastern Land'.


From the Latin, 'Unknown Southern Land' (Latin - Terra Australis Incognita)


The term "Europe" referred once to only a small land area, roughly modern Turkish Thrace. Through the centuries however, it came to denote the whole land mass with which we are familiar today.

The ultimate etymology of the Greek term "Europa" is unknown. One stronger possibility is that it derives from the ancient Sumerian and Semitic root "Ereb", which carries the meaning of "darkness" or "descent", a reference to the region's western location in relation to Mesopotamia, the Levantine Coast, Anatolia, and the Bosporus. Thus the term would have meant the 'land of the setting of the Sun' or, more generically, 'Western land'.

Ancient civilization offers a folk-etymology: In Greek mythology Europa was the beautiful daughter of the Phoenician king Agenor. As Zeus saw her, he transformed himself into a gentle white bull and approached her and her playing friends. She climbed onto the bull's back and it began so swim off to Crete, where she fell in love with the then-changed-back Zeus and had three sons with him (Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon, the first two of which constitute, together with Aeacus, the three judges of the underworld).

By Cartographic Feature


Main article:
list of country name etymologies


Main article: List of subnational name etymologies


Main article: List of street name etymologies

Hydrography (seas, rivers)

Main articles: List of river name etymologies, List of sea name etymologies

See Also