Columba - Columbia - Colombo - Columbus

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Do not confuse the names Columba, Colombia, Columbia, Colombo and Columbus. (Note particularly whether the second vowel is a '-u-' or an '-o-'.) There are also common nouns such as columbine, coulomb. Most share a root in the Latin columba, 'a dove', many through the names of Saint Columba, Christopher Columbus, and C-A de Coulomb.

  • Saint Columba (c.521-597) was an Irish missionary who went to Scotland in 563. (Columba is the Latin form of a Gaelic name, Colum Cille, 'Dove of the church'.) He converted the Picts, and from the monastery he founded at Iona, many other churches and communities. Lindisfarne was a Columban foundation.
    • The adjective meaning 'to do with Columba' is columban. It can also be a noun meaning 'a disciple of St Columba'.
    • Another Irish missionary was Saint Columbanus, or in a more English form Columban. Columban, who may have been born around 543 and died in 615, founded monasteries in Gaul from 591.
  • Christopher Columbus (born in the Italian state of Genoa as Christoffa Corombo in dialect; Cristoforo Colombo in modern Italian; Cristobal Colón in his adopted country of Spain) was the first European known to cross the Atlantic. This he did with a flotilla of three small ships, the Pinta and Niáta and the biggest, the Santa Maria of 100 tons, in 1492. Many towns have been named after him, notably the capital city of the state of Ohio, birthplace of James Thurber.
    • The name Colombia was given to a territory in South America which became independent of Spain in 1819. This broke up in 1830. The Republic of Colombia was eventually established in 1886. It lies between Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil on land, and has both Caribbean and Pacific coasts. (A variant Columbia of the name of this country has been recorded in English, but is to be avoided. Keep it to use with the meanings of Columbia below.)
    • British Columbia is a province on the western seaboard of Canada. (It does not belong to Britain. Its name is to distinguish it from the half of the former Columbia District (named for the Columbia River) which was ceded to the United States, and is now the state of Oregon.) It is conventionally abbreviated BC.
    • The District of Columbia (abbreviated D.C.) is a territory in the USA belonging to no one state: the United States Constitution provides for a federal district, distinct from the states, to serve as the permanent national capital. This is the land where the capital, Washington, is sited.
    • Columbia is the usual, but informal, name given to Columbia University in the City of New York, one of the Ivy League universities in the United States.
  • Charles-Augustin de Coulomb (1736-1806), was a French physicist who formulated Coulomb's Law about the forces in electrostatic attraction and repulsion. It may be phrased "The magnitude of the electrostatic force between two point electric charges is directly proportional to the product of the magnitudes of each of the charges and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two charges."
  • Colombo is the name of the capital city of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). According to Everett-Heath, "Kao-lan-pu, Kalan-totta, Kolambu/Kolamba. The first name, whose meaning is unknown, is Chinese. The port then became known as Kalan-totta 'Kelani's Ferry', a reference to the nearby ferry. The Arabs then changed this to Kolambu which locally became Kolamba. The first Europeans to settle in the 16th century were the Portuguese who believed that the Sinhalese name Kolamba was derived from kola 'leaves' and amba 'mango'. More credible is that kolamba was an old Sinhalese word meaning 'port', although this is by no means certain. Nevertheless, the Portuguese are said to have taken the opportunity to 'tweak' the name to Colombo in honour of Christopher Columbus, although he never came anywhere near here."

Some common nouns are:

    • A columbarium is an (over-formal) name for a dove-house (dove-cote, or pigeon loft). A secondary meaning is archaeological: "A subterranean sepulchre, having in its walls niches or holes for cinerary urns; also one of these niches or recesses. "The niches for these, disposed round the walls and central supports, give the whole chamber the appearance of a dove-cote, whence its name of columbarium" (Maitland, Charles (1846) The Church in the Catacombs: a description of the Primitive Church of Rome, illustrated by its sepulchral remains, 39 , cited in OED). The plural of the Latin word columbarium is properly columbaria - see -um in Latin.
    • The coulomb is the unit of electrical quantity (the quantity of electricity conveyed in one second by a current of one ampère) in the International System of Units. It is named after C-A de Coulomb. See also Words Derived From Names of Persons.
    • columbium is a former name of the chemical element niobium.
    • Columbine is the common English name for garden flowers of the genus aquilegia.
    • Columbine is the leading female character in the Italian Commedia dell'arte, and its English successor, the Harlequinade. She is the female lead, beloved of Harlequin.
      • It can also be an adjective meaning 'dove-like'.