Words Derived From Names of Places

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The words for some objects, activities, etc., derive from the name of a place with which the object, activity, etc., is particularly associated. For example, the word 'shanghai', used in informal speech as a verb meaning 'to kidnap someone and force them into service at sea or, more generally, to force or trick someone into doing something', comes from Shanghai, a city and port in the east of China near the estuary of the Yangtse river. The word came to be used with its current meaning as a result of the violent and deceitful methods used in the eighteenth century to compel men to serve as crew on ships sailing to the Far East.

Places may often give their names to foodstuffs which are made (or were first made, or reared) there, such as Cheddar and Champagne, and such examples as the French appellation d'origine contrôlée wines, which have strict geographical (and other) limits, the Italian Parma ham, and Parmesan cheese, and in Britain, Ayrshire bacon, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Islay whisky. Clothing, such as jerseys, and the materials for clothes, such as denim (from the French toile de Nîmes, 'woven cloth from Nimes', are often known by the districts, towns or countries with which they are associated, such as tweed (after the Scottish river), calico (from the name of a town on the Malabar coast of India) and Russian or Moroccan leather. Such names are too many (and too specialized) to be dealt with individually or comprehensively in AWE.

Sometimes the name of the place, which is usually written with a lower-case initial letter, is slightly changed - see, e.g., 'lesbian' and 'sherry' below. Note, too, that since the name of a place is often used to form an aristocratic title, as with such usages as sandwich and Elgin (as in 'the Elgin marbles', the carvings from the Parthenon temple in Athens which were acquired by the then British ambassador to Turkey, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin (1766-1841), and currently reside in the British Museum), it may be worth looking in Words Derived From Names of Persons.

Here, in alphabetical order, are some more examples:

  • Badminton, a game in which the players use rackets (or Racquets)s - known originally as battledores - to hit a shuttlecock back and forth across a high net, takes its name from Badminton House, the seat of the Dukes of Beaufort, where the game was played in the 19th century. (The game probably did not originate there but was perhaps first played by expatriate army officers in British India.) Badminton House - the Badminton Horse Trials are held annually in its grounds - is situated in the village of Badminton in Gloucestershire. Badminton, or badminton cup, is also the name of a long, refreshing drink (sometimes known as East Side Cocktail) of which the principal ingredients are dry red wine, soda water, and sugar.
  • A balaclava is a close-fitting woollen hood or hat which covers the ears and neck and was originally worn by soldiers in the Crimean War (1853-1856). Balaklava is a small port in southern Crimea in the Ukraine, and in 1854 was the scene of a battle (which involved the charge of the Light Brigade) during the Crimean War.
Curiously, two people involved in that war also gave their names to items of clothing: the Earl of Cardigan (1797-1868), who led the Charge of the Light Brigade, after whom the knitted type of buttoned sweater is named (see also Words Derived From Names of Persons); and the 1st Baron Raglan (1788-1855), whose name is given to a type of coat without shoulder seams (his right arm had been amputated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815). As an adjective, raglan is applied to the type of sleeve that reaches to the collar, leaving diagonal seams from neck to armpit. (Both these names, being aristocratic titles, are derived from the names of places.)
  • A berlin is a small four-wheeled covered carriage which was popular in the eighteenth century. Nowadays the word is also sometimes used to refer to a limousine in which there is a glass partition between the front and back seats. The word, which is sometimes spelt with a final 'e' 'berline', comes from the city of Berlin, the capital of Germany from 1871 to 1945 and its capital again after the re-unification of the country in 1990.
  • The Bren or Bren gun is a type of light machine gun adopted by the British Army in the 1930s and used extensively by British and Commonwealth forces in World War II. The word 'Bren' is an acronym formed from the initial letters of Brno (a city now in the Czech Republic), where the gun was first manufactured, and Enfield (now one of the outer boroughs of Greater London), where production of the gun was continued.
  • Champagne - English pronunciation sham-PAIN, IPA: /ˌʃæm ˈpeɪn/ - is a sparkling white wine which takes its name from the region of France in which it is produced. (The former province of Champagne in northern France now forms part of the Champagne-Ardenne region. The districts of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, which give their name to the prized form of Cognac brandy Fine Champagne, are in the Charente region.) The expression 'a champagne socialist' is used of someone who professes socialist ideals but has the lifestyle of a very wealthy person.
  • Cheddar is the name of several types of smooth, hard, pale yellow cheese, originally made in the village of Cheddar in Somerset.
  • The word Corinthian, which may be used either as an adjective or as a noun, comes from Corinth, the (English form of the name of the) ancient Greek city-state. For the various uses of Corinthian see Corinthian.
  • Curaçao – pronounced with the stress on the final syllable, IPA: /,kjʊə rə 'səʊ or ,kʊ rə 'saʊ/ - is a liqueur flavoured with the dried peel of the laraha, a citrus fruit related to the orange. The liqueur takes its name from the island of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean Sea, where it was first made.
  • The adjective Delphic, besides meaning ‘of or relating to (the temple or oracle at) Delphi’, may also mean ‘ambiguous or obscure’. The oracle of (the ancient Greek god) Apollo at Delphi (in Central Greece) was famed for the ambiguity and obscurity of its prophetic pronouncements.
  • Demerara (pronounced IPA: /,dɛ mə 'rɛə rə or ,dɛ mə 'rɑː rə/) is a type of brown crystallised cane sugar. The word demerara, which is also used to refer to a type of rum, comes from Demerara, a region of Guyana on the north coast of South America around the Demerara river, the region from which demerara sugar was originally exported.
  • A Florentine is a type of biscuit made from nuts and dried fruit, cooked together with a mixture of sugar, honey, and butter, and coated with chocolate. Although its name derives from the Italian city of Florence, it is unlikely that the biscuit was first made there. It is plausibly conjectured that the biscuit originated in France towards the end of the 17th century, made by cooks in the royal kitchens, and named a Florentine (in French florentin) in recognition of the close connection between the French monarchy and the noble Florentine family of the Medici: Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589, Queen of France 1547-1559, Regent 1560-1563) had married Henry II and was the mother of the future kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III, while Marie de’ Medici (1575-1642, Queen of France 1589-1610, Regent 1610-1617) had married Henry IV and was the mother of Louis XIII. For other uses of the word Florentine see Florentine.
  • A frankfurter is a type of smoked sausage, light brown in colour, typically made from minced pork or beef and served in a bread roll. The frankfurter derives its name from the German city of Frankfurt am Main, where it was originally made. (See also Hamburger.)
  • A hamburger is a patty, or flat cake, of minced beef, fried and usually served in a bread roll. Hamburger is a shortened form of Hamburger steak, i.e., steak in the style of the German city of Hamburg. (For more see Burger - burgher, and compare Frankfurter above.)
  • A homburg is a type of hat for men: it is made of soft felt, and has an indented crown and stiff, upturned brim. It takes its name from the spa town of Bad Homburg in Germany, where the hat was originally made. This type of hat became very popular in the 1890s after the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) visited the town and brought back a homburg to England. (Do not confuse Bad Homburg (full name Bad Homburg vor der Höhe, population (2016) c.54,000), which is in the German state of Hesse, north of Frankfurt, with the similarly spelt Homburg, a town of some 42,000 inhabitants in the state of Saarland in southwest Germany, or (less forgivably) with the great port of Hamburg (population (2016) c.1,800,000) in northern Germany.
  • A jersey is a knitted pullover or garment covering the upper part of the body. The word, first attested in this use in the sixteenth century, comes from the island of Jersey in the English Channel, where the fishermen traditionally wore knitted woollen sweaters. The word 'jersey' is also used to refer to the shirt worn by a footballer, and to denote a type of cloth used for clothing. Written with an initial capital letter, a Jersey, or Jersey cow, is a (member of a) breed of light brown dairy cattle which was first recorded in the island of Jersey (around 1700).
  • The adjective 'laconic' means 'using few words or very brief' (as in 'a laconic reply or 'a laconic statement'). There is also an adverb 'laconically' (as in 'No, he replied laconically'.) 'Laconic' comes from the Greek Λακωνικός‚ (lakonikos), meaning 'of or from Laconia, laconic'. Laconia was the name of the region (in the southeast of the Peloponnese) in which the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta was situated, and the Spartans were known for, amongst other things, their brevity and abruptness of speech. (See also 'spartan' below.)
  • A lesbian is a female homosexual. The word, which may be used as an adjective as well as a noun, comes from the Greek island of Lesbos (modern Lesvos), the home of the Greek lyric poetess Sappho (6th century BCE) who is widely believed to have been homosexual.
  • A marathon is a race on foot over a distance of 26 miles and 385 yards. The marathon entered modern athletics with the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896, and nowadays is a popular athletic event: e.g., many cities (such as London, New York, Boston, and Sydney) hold annual marathons, which attract tens of thousands of competitors, many of whom participate in order to raise money for charity. The word is also used metaphorically, both as a noun and as an adjective, of any long and demanding activity or task: a very long meeting (or series of meetings) might be referred to as a 'marathon' or described as a 'marathon' meeting (or series of meetings). The word 'marathon' comes from the plain of Marathon in Attica in Greece north east of Athens, and the site in 490 BCE of a battle between the Greek army of Athenians and Plataeans and the invading Persian army sent by King Darius I to conquer Greece. It is said that after the battle a messenger called Pheidippides was despatched to bring the news of the Greek victory to Athens, and that having run the distance from Marathon to Athens - probably, a little less than the 26 miles and 385 yards of a modern marathon - he was able only to announce the Greek victory ( νενικήκαμεν , nenikekamen, 'we have won') before dying of exhaustion.
  • Marsala - pronounced with the stress on the second syllable - is a dark, sweet desert wine produced on the island of Sicily. The word comes from the town of Marsala on the west coast of the island. (It was the port at which Garibaldi and his soldiers disembarked at the beginning of their Sicilian campaign in 1860.)
  • A palace is the official residence of a monarch or member of a royal family (e.g., Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court Palace) or of certain members of the nobility (e.g., Blenheim Palace) or of an archbishop or other senior churchman (e.g., Lambeth Palace, Bishopthorpe Palace). The word palace, also sometimes used of a large, imposing building which resembles a royal palace in appearance, comes, through Old French palais, from Palatium, the Latin name of the Palatine Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, the site of the official residence, and eventually the exclusive domain, of the Roman emperors.
  • A panama (or Panama hat) is a light-weight hat made from the bleached and plaited leaves of the jipijapa plant (Carludovica palmata). (In Spanish ‘a Panama (hat)’ is (un sombrero de) jipijapa.) This type of hat was originally made not in Panama but in Ecuador, and was first called a panama by gold prospectors who, during the California Gold Rush (1848-1855), bought the hat in Panama as they travelled through the country on their way from South America to California.
  • Port is a dark red fortified dessert wine. It takes its name from Porto (in English, Oporto) in northwest Portugal, the coastal city from which the wine was originally shipped to England. (For other meanings of port see Port and -port- (etymology).)
  • Sherry is a fortified wine produced in the region around the town of Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain. The name of the town, originally Xerez rather than Jerez, was transliterated into English as 'sherris', which was assumed to be a plural and hence changed to 'sherry'.
  • The adjective 'spartan' - in this use it may have either an upper- or lower-case initial letter - may describe either a lifestyle (or features of a lifestyle) or a person (or features of his or her character). In the former use it means 'frugal, strict, austere' (as in 'a spartan diet' or 'a spartan upbringing'), while in the latter use it means 'self-disciplined, determined, or unyielding in the face of pain, danger, or misfortune'. The word comes from Sparta, one of the ancient Greek city-states, whose citizens were required to follow an austere lifestyle and were renowned both for their military prowess and for the uncompromising harshness of their attitudes to life. (See also 'laconic' above.)
  • The Sten or Sten gun is a type of submachine gun designed in 1940 and widely used by British and Commonwealth forces in World War II. The word 'Sten' is an acronym formed from the initial letters of the names of the gun's designers, (Reginald V.) Shepherd and (Harold) Turpin, and the place name Enfield (now one of the outer boroughs of Greater London), where the gun was assembled.
  • A sybarite - pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, which has a short 'i' sound, IPA: /ˈsɪb ə raɪt/ - is a person who is fond of pleasure and luxury or whose life is devoted to sensual pleasures. The word comes from the ancient town of Sybaris on the Gulf of Taranto in southern Italy (founded c720 BCE and sacked in 510 BCE), whose inhabitants (Sybarites) were notorious for their luxurious and decadent lifestyle. The adjective from 'sybarite' is 'sybaritic' - pronounced with the stress on the third syllable, IPA: /sɪb ə ˈrɪt ɪk/.
  • An ulster - sometimes called an Ulster coat - is a long, heavy, double-breasted overcoat for men. It is usually made of a hard-wearing fabric such as tweed, and has a half-belt at the back. An earlier version of the coat, sometimes seen in period productions of Victorian novels and often worn by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective Sherlock Holmes, had a hood or cape, but ulsters with a hood or cape became uncommon after the 1890s. The ulster is so called because it was first made in Ulster, i.e., the nine counties in the north of Ireland, one of the four ancient kingdoms of Ireland, and partitioned in 1921, six counties becoming Northern Ireland and remaining part of the United Kingdom, and three becoming part of the Republic of Ireland.

The names of many of the chemical elements derive from the names of places, either a place where the element was found or a place associated with the scientist who discovered (or synthesised) it, e.g., scandium (symbol: Sc; atomic number: 21) from Scandia, the Latin name for Scandinavia, where the element was found; strontium (symbol: Sr; atomic number: 38) from Strontian, a parish in Argyll in Scotland, and the site of lead mines in which the element was found; and polonium (symbol: Po; atomic number: 84) from Polonia, the Latin name for Poland, the native country of Marie Curie (1867-1934), who first isolated the element. (For more examples see Chemical elements - Etymologies.)