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Stories That Words Tell Us By Elizabeth O'Neill Characters: 26032

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

We have seen in how many different ways many of the old places of this world got their names. Some names go so far back that no one knows what is their meaning, or how they first came to be used. But we know that a great part of the world has only been discovered since the fifteenth century, and that a great part of what was already known has only been colonized in modern times.

With the discovery of the New World and the colonization of the Dark Continent and other far-off lands, a great many new names were invented. We could almost write a history of North or South America from an explanation of their place-names.

In learning the geography of South America we notice the beautiful Spanish names of most of the places. The reason for this is that it was the Spaniards who colonized South America in the sixteenth century. Very little of this continent now belongs to Spain, but in those days Spain was the greatest country in Europe. The proud and brave Spanish adventurers were in those days sailing over the seas and founding colonies, just as the English sailors of Queen Elizabeth soon began to do in North America.

Let us look at some of these names-Los Angelos ("The Angels"), Santa Cruz ("The Holy Cross"), Santiago ("St. James"), all names of saints and holy things. Any one who knew no history at all might guess, from the number of places with Spanish names spread over South America, that it was the Spaniards who colonized this land. He would also guess that the Spaniards in those days must have been a very great nation indeed. And he would be right.

He would guess, too, that the Spaniards had clung passionately to the Catholic religion. Here, again, he would be right. Any great enthusiasm will make a nation great, and the Spaniards in the sixteenth century were filled with a great love for the old Church against which the new Protestantism was fighting. The Pope looked upon Spain as the great bulwark of Catholicism. The new religious feeling, which had swept over Europe, and which had made the Protestants ready to suffer and die for their new-found faith, took the form in Spain of this great love for the old religion. The nation seemed inspired. It is when these things happen that a people turns to great enterprises and adventure. The Spaniards of the sixteenth century regarded themselves, and were almost regarded by the other nations, as unconquerable. The great aim of Elizabethan Englishmen was to "break the power of Spain," and this they did at last when they scattered the "Invincible Armada" in 1588. But before this Spain had done great things.

The Portuguese had been the first great adventurers, but they were soon left far behind by the Spanish sailors, who explored almost every part of South America, settling there, and sending home great shiploads of gold to make Spain rich. And wherever they explored and settled they spread about these beautiful names to honour the saints and holy things which their religion told them to love and honour.

It was the great discoverer Christopher Columbus who first gave one of these beautiful names to a place in South America. He had already discovered North America, and made a second voyage there, when he determined to explore the land south of the West Indies. He sailed south through the tropical seas while the heat melted the tar of the rigging. But Columbus never noticed danger and discomfort. He had made a vow to call the first land he saw after the Holy Trinity, and when at last he caught sight of three peaks jutting up from an island he gave the island the name of La Trinidad, and "Trinidad" it remains to this day, though it now belongs to the British. As he sailed south Columbus caught sight of what was really the mainland of South America, but he thought it was another island, and called it Isla Santa, or "Holy Island."

It might seem curious that as Columbus had discovered both North and South America, the continent was given the name of another man. As we have seen, its name was taken from that of another explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. The reason for this was that Columbus never really knew that he had discovered a "New World." He believed that he had come by another way to the eastern coast of Asia or Africa. The islands which he first discovered were for this reason called the Indies, and the West Indies they remain to this day.

It was Amerigo Vespucci who first announced to the world, in a book which he published in 1507 (three years after Christopher Columbus had died in loneliness and poverty), that the new lands were indeed a great new continent, and not Asia or Africa at all. People later on said that Amerigo Vespucci had discovered a new continent, and that it ought to be called by his name. This is how the name America came into use; but of course the work of Vespucci was not to be compared with that of the great adventurer who first sailed across the "Sea of Darkness," and was the real discoverer of the New World.

Though it was the Spaniards who discovered North America, it was the English who chiefly colonized it.

It is interesting to notice the names which the early English colonists scattered over the northern continent. We might gather from them that, just as the love of their Church was the great passion of the sixteenth-century Spaniards, so the love of their country was the ruling passion of the great English adventurers. (Of course the Spaniards had shown their love for their old country in some of the names they gave, as when Columbus called one place Isabella, in honour of the noble Spanish queen who had helped and encouraged him when other rulers of European countries had refused to listen to what they thought were the ravings of a madman.)

The English in Reformation days had a very different idea of religion from the Spanish. Naturally they did not sprinkle the names of saints over the new lands. But the English of Elizabeth's day were filled with a great new love for England. The greatest of all the Elizabethan adventurers, Sir Francis Drake, when in his voyage round the world he put into a harbour which is now known as San Francisco, set up "a plate of brass fast nailed to a great and firm post, whereon is engraved Her Grace's name, and the day and the year of our arrival there." The Indian king of these parts had freely owned himself subject to the English, taking the crown from his own head and putting it on Drake's head. Sir Francis called his land New Albion, using the old poetic name for England.

But the colonization of North America was not successfully begun until after the death of Elizabeth, though one or two attempts at founding colonies, or "plantations," as they were then called, were made in her time. Sir Walter Raleigh tried to set up one colony in North America, and called it Virginia, after the virgin queen whom all Englishmen delighted to honour. Virginia did not prosper, and Raleigh's colony broke up; but later another and successful attempt at colonizing it was made, and the same name kept. Virginia-"Earth's only Paradise," as the poet Drayton called it-was the first English colony successfully settled in North America. This was in the year 1607, when two hundred and forty-three settlers landed, and made the first settlement at a point which they called Jamestown, in honour of the new English king, James I.

The first settlers in Virginia were men whose chief aim was to become rich, but it was not long before a new kind of settler began to seek refuge in the lands north of Virginia, to which the great colonizer, Captain John Smith, had by this time given the name of New England. It was in 1620 that the "Pilgrim Fathers," because they were not free to worship God as they thought right at home, sailed from Southampton in the little Mayflower, and landed far to the north of Virginia, and made a settlement at a place which Smith had already called Plymouth.

Before long new colonies began to spring up all over New England; and though we find some new names, like the Indian name of the great colony Massachusetts, we may read the story of the great love which the colonists felt for the old towns of the mother-country in the way they gave their names to the new settlements.

A curious thing is that many of these new towns, christened after little old towns at home, became later very important and prosperous places, while the places after which they were called are sometimes almost forgotten. Many people to whom the name of the great American city of Boston is familiar do not know that there still stands on the coast of Lincolnshire the sleepy little town of Boston, from which it took its name.

Boston is the chief town of Massachusetts; but the first capital was Charlestown, called after King Charles I., who had by this time succeeded his father, James I. The place on which Charlestown was built, on the north bank of the Charles River, was, however, found to be unhealthy. The settlers, therefore, deserted it, and Boston was built on the south bank.

It was not long before the Massachusetts settlers built a college at a place near Boston which had been called Cambridge. This is a case in which the old town at home remained, of course, much more important than its godchild. If a person speaks of Cambridge, one's mind immediately flies to the English university city on the banks of the river Cam. Still the college built at the American Cambridge, and called "Harvard College," after John Harvard, one of the early settlers, who gave a great deal of money towards its building, is famous now throughout the world.

It was natural and suitable that the early settlers should use the old English names to show their love for the mother-country; but it was not such a wise thing to choose the names of the great historic towns of Europe, and give them to the new settlements. To give the almost sacred name of Rome to a modern American town seems almost ridiculous. Certainly one would have always to be very careful to add "Georgia, U.S.A." in addressing letters there. The United States has several of these towns bearing old historic names. Paris as the name of an American town seems almost as unsuitable as Rome.

But this mistake was not made by the early colonists. If we think of the names of the colonies which stretched along the east of North America, we find nearly always that the names are chosen to do honour to the English king or queen, or to keep the memory fresh of some beloved spot in the old country.

In 1632 the Catholic Lord Baltimore founded a new colony, the only one where the Catholic religion was tolerated, and called it Maryland, in honour of Charles I.'s queen, Henrietta Maria. Just after the Restoration of Charles II. in 1660, when the country was full of loyalty, a new colony, Carolina, was founded, taking its name from Carolus, the Latin for "Charles." Afterwards this colony was divided into two, and became North and South Carolina.

To the north of Maryland lay the New Netherlands, for Holland had also colonized here. In the seventeenth century this little nation was for a time equal to the greatest nations in Europe. The Dutch had very soon followed the example of that other little nation Portugal, which, directed by the famous Prince Henry of Portugal, had been the first of all the European nations to explore far-off lands. Holland was as important on the seas as Spain or England; but this could not last long. The Dutch and the English fought several campaigns, and in the end the Dutch were beaten.

In 1667 the New Netherlands were yielded up to England. The name of the colony was changed to New York, and its capital, New Amsterdam, was given the same name. This was in honour of the sailor prince, James, Duke of York, afterwards the unhappy King James II. Another of the Stuarts who gave his name to a district of North America was Prince Rupert, the nephew of Charles I., who fought so hard for the king against Cromwell. In 1670 the land round Hudson Bay was given the name of Rupertsland.

Sometimes, but not often, the new colonies were given the names of their founders. William Penn, who founded the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania, gave it this name in honour of his father, Admiral Penn. Sylvania means "land of woods," and comes from the Latin sylvanus, or "woody."

But it is not only in America that the place-names tell us the stories of heroism and romance. All over the world, from the icy lands round the Poles to the tropical districts of Africa, India, and Australia, these stories can be read. The spirit in which the early Portuguese adventurers sailed along the coast of Africa is shown in the name they gave to what we now know as the Cape of Good Hope. Bartholomew Diaz called it the Cape of Storms, for he had discovered it only after terrible battlings with the waves; but when he sailed home to tell his news the king of Portugal said that this was not a good name, but it should instead be called the Cape of Good Hope,

for past it lay the sea passage to India which men had been seeking for years. And so the Cape of Good Hope it remains to this day.

After this it was not long before the Portuguese explored the south and east coasts of Africa and the west coast of India to the very south, where they took the Spice Islands for their own. From these the Portuguese brought home great quantities of spices, which they sold at high prices in Europe.

It was the great explorer Ferdinand Magellan who first sailed round the world, being sure, as he said, that he could reach the Spice Islands by sailing west. And so he started on this expedition, sailing through the straits which have ever since been known as the Magellan Straits to the south of South America, into the Pacific, or "Peaceful," Ocean, and then ever west, until he came round by the east to Spain again, after three years of great hardship and wonderful adventure.

The adventures of the early explorers most often took the form of seeking a new and shorter passage from one ocean to another, and so many straits bear the names of the explorers. The Elizabethan explorer, Martin Frobisher, sought for a "North-west Passage" from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and for a time it was thought that he had found it in the very north of North America. But it was afterwards found that the "passage," which had already been given the name of Frobisher's Straits, was really only an inlet, and afterwards it became known as Lumley's Inlet.

Frobisher never discovered a North-west Passage, for the ships of those days were not fitted out in a way to enable the sailors to bear the icy cold of these northern regions. Many brave explorers tried later to discover it. Three times John Davis made a voyage for this purpose but never succeeded, though Davis Strait commemorates his heroic attempts. Hudson and Baffin explored in these waters, as the names Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay remind us.

It was nearly two hundred years later that Sir John Franklin sailed with an expedition in two boats, the Erebus and Terror, determined to find the passage. He found it, but died in the attempt; but, strangely enough, his name was not given to any strait, though later it was given to all the islands of the Arctic Archipelago.

The winning of India by the British in the eighteenth century did not give us many new English names. India was not, like the greater part of America, a wild country inhabited by savage peoples. It had an older civilization than the greater part of Europe, and the only reason that it was weak enough to be conquered was that the many races who lived there could not agree among themselves. Most of the place-names of India are native names given by natives, for centuries before France and England began to struggle for its possession in the eighteenth century India had passed through a long and varied history.

When we remember that the natives of India have no name to describe the whole continent, it helps us to understand that India is in no way a single country. The British Government have given the continent the name India, taking it from the great river Indus, which itself takes its name from an old word, sindhu, meaning "river."

In the days of the early explorers, after the islands discovered by Columbus were called the West Indies, some people began to call the Indian continent the East Indies, to distinguish it; and some of the papers about India drawn up for the information of Parliament about Indian affairs still use this name, but it is not a familiar use to most people.

The mistake which Columbus and the early explorers made in thinking America was India has caused a good deal of confusion. The natives of North America were called Indians, and it was only long afterwards, in fact quite lately, that people began to write and speak of the natives of India as Indians. When it was printed in the newspapers that Indians were fighting for the British Empire with the armies in France, the use of the word Indian seemed wrong to a great many people; but it is now becoming so common that it will probably soon seem quite right. When it is used with the old meaning we shall have to say the "Indians of North America." Some people use the word Hindu to describe the natives of India; but this is not correct, as only some of the natives of India are Hindus, just as the name Hindustan (a Persian name meaning "land of the Hindus," as Afghanistan means "land of the Afghans"), which some old writers on geography used for India, is really the name of one part of the land round the river Ganges, where the language known as Hindi is spoken.

The place-names of India given by natives of the many different races which have lived in the land could fill a book with their stories alone. We can only mention a few. The name of the great range of mountains which runs across the north of the continent, the Himalayas, means in Sanskrit, the oldest language used in India, the "home of snow." Bombay takes its name from Mumba, the name of a goddess of an early tribe who occupied the district round Bombay. Calcutta, which stretches over ground where there were formerly several villages, takes its name from one of these. Its old form was Kalikuti, which means the "ghauts," or passes, leading to the temple of the goddess Kali.

In Australia, where a beginning of colonization was made through the discoveries of Captain Cook towards the end of the eighteenth century, the place-names were sometimes given from places at home, sometimes after persons, but they have hardly the same romance as the early American names.

Botany Bay was the name chosen by Captain Cook in a moment of enthusiasm for an inlet of New South Wales. He gave it this name because of the great number of plants and flowers which grow there.

In Africa a good deal of history can be learned from the place-names. Although the north of Africa had for many hundreds of years had its part in the civilization of the countries round the Mediterranean Sea, the greater part of Africa had remained an unexplored region-the "Dark Continent," as it was called. In the fifteenth century the Portuguese sailors crept along the western coast, and afterwards along the south, as we have seen, past the Cape of Good Hope. But the interior of the continent remained for long an unexplored region.

The Dutch had, very soon after the discovery of the Cape, made a settlement there, which was known as Cape Colony. This was afterwards won by the English; but many Dutchmen still stayed there, and though, since the Boer War, when the Boers, or Dutch, in South Africa tried to win their independence, the whole of South Africa belongs to the British Empire, still there are naturally many Dutch names given by the early Dutch settlers. Some of these became very well known to English people in the Boer War. Bloemfontein is one of these names, coming from the Dutch word for "spring" (fontein), and that of Jan Bloem, one of the farmers who first settled there. Another well-known place in the Transvaal, Pietermaritzburg, took its name from the two leaders who led the Boers out of Cape Colony when they felt that the English were becoming too strong there. These leaders were Pieter Retief and Georit Maritz. This movement of the Boers into the Transvaal was called the "Great Trek," trek being a Dutch word for a journey or migration of this sort. Since the days of the Boer War this word has been regularly used in English with this same meaning. Like the English settlers in America, the Dutch settlers in South Africa sometimes gave the names of places in Holland to their new settlements. Utrecht is an example of this.

Up to the very end of the nineteenth century no European country besides England had any great possessions in Africa. The Portuguese still held the coast lands between Zululand (so called from the fierce black natives who lived there) and Mozambique. Egypt had come practically under British rule soon after the days of Napoleon, and in the middle of the nineteenth century the great explorers Livingstone and Stanley had explored the lands along the Zambesi River and a great part of Central Africa. Stanley went right across the centre of the continent, and discovered the lake Albert Edward Nyanza. Nyanza is the African word for "lake," and the name Albert Edward was given in honour of the Prince Consort. Victoria Nyanza, so called after Queen Victoria, had been discovered some years before. It was all these discoveries which led to the colonization of Africa by the nations of Europe.

In 1884 the great German statesman, Prince Bismarck, set up the German flag in Damaraland, the coast district to the north of the Orange River; and soon after a German colony was set up in the lands between the Portuguese settlements and the Equator. This was simply called German East Africa. At the same time the other nations of Europe suddenly realized that if they meant to have part of Africa they must join in the scramble at once. There were soon a British East Africa, a Portuguese East Africa, a Portuguese West Africa, a German South-west Africa, and so on. All these are names which might have been given in a hurry, and in them we seem to read the haste of the European nations to seize on the only lands in the world which were still available. They are very different from the descriptive names which the early Portuguese adventurers had strewn along the coast, like Sierra Leone, or "the lion mountain;" Cape Verde, or "the green cape," so called from its green grass.

Still, romance was not dead even yet. There is one district of South Africa which takes its name in the old way from that of a person. Rhodesia, the name given to Mashonaland and Matabeleland, was so called after Mr. Cecil Rhodes, a young British emigrant, who went out from England in very weak health and became perfectly strong, at the same time winning a fortune for himself in the diamond fields of Kimberley. He devoted himself heart and soul to the strengthening of British power in South Africa, and it is fitting that this province should by its name keep his memory fresh.

The story of the struggle in South Africa between Boer and Briton can be partly read in its place-names; and the story of the struggle between old and new settlers in Canada can be similarly read in the place-names of that land.

The first settlers in Canada were the French, and the descendants of these first settlers form a large proportion of the Canadian population. Many places in Canada still have, of course, the names which the first French settlers gave them.

The Italian, John Cabot, had sailed to Canada a few years after Columbus discovered America, sent by the English king, Henry VII., but no settlements were made. Thirty-seven years later the French sailor, Jacques Cartier, was sent by the French king, Francis I., to explore there. Cartier sailed up the Gulf of St. Lawrence as far as the spot where Montreal now stands. The name was given by Cartier, and means "royal mount." It was Cartier, too, who gave Canada its name; but he thought that this was already the Indian name for the land. A story is told that some Red Indians were trying to talk to him and making signs, and they pointed to some houses, saying, "Cannata." Cartier thought they meant that this was the name of the country, but he was mistaken. They were, perhaps, pointing out their village, for cannata is the Indian name for "village."

Cartier, like Cabot, sailed away again, and the first real founder of a settlement in Canada was the Frenchman, Samuel de Champlain, who made friends with the Indians, and explored the upper parts of the river Lawrence, and gave his name to the beautiful Lake Champlain, which he discovered. It was he who founded Quebec, giving it this Breton name. Sailors from Brittany had ventured as far as the coast of Canada in the time of Columbus, and had given its name to Cape Breton. And so French names spread through Canada. Later, in one of the wars of the eighteenth century, England won Canada from France; but these French names still remain to tell the tale of French adventure and heroism in that land.

We have seen many names in new lands, some of them given by people from the Old World who settled in these lands. In the great European War we have seen people from these new lands coming back to fight in some of the most ancient countries of the Old World. The splendid Australian troops who fought in Gallipoli sprinkled many new names over the land they won and lost. One, at least, will always remain on the maps. Anzac, where the Colonials made their historic landing, will never be forgotten. It was a new name, made up of the initial letters of the words "Australian and New Zealand Army Corps," and will remain for ever one of the most honoured names invented in the twentieth century.

Children who like history can read whole chapters in the place-names of the old world and the new.

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