Sunday, 26 February 2017


When someone recently referred to me as a 'dinosaur', they were suggesting I am reluctant to take on new technologies and changes. As 'dinosaur' is first used in this context in 1952, thus isn't it about time they found a new one?

Used in its better-known context it was coined in 1841 and coined by Sir Richard Owen from the Greek deinos sauros 'terrible lizard'. Something of a misnomer as dinosaurs are not lizards but are reptiles which could be said to be another translation. The term saurus is common to many of the names, its origins are unclear but may be related to saulos 'twisting, wavering'.

Scientists have identified more than one thousand non-avian species. Clearly that is far too many to define etymologically but here follows a selection of the better-known types.

Allosaurus were first identified in 1877 by Othniel Charles Marsh who, rather unimaginatively, named it from the Greek allos saurus 'different lizard'.

Ankylosaurus was first named in 1907. This armoured creature is named from the Greek ankylos saurus or 'curved lizard' and a reference to the shape of the ribs, the first part of the creature to be discovered.

Brachiosaurus is another from the Greek, where brakhion saurus literally means 'arm lizard' and a reference to its front limbs being much more evident than the rear.

Brontosaurus were first named in 1879, where the Greek bronte saurus referred to this as the 'thunder lizard'. While Brontes was the name of a Cyclops in Greek mythology, both share a root in Proto-Indo-European bhrem meaning 'growl'.

Hadrosaurs were named as such in 1865, where Greek hadro saurus describes the 'stout lizard'.

Iguanodon dates from 1825, a composite noun taking 'iguana', itself the local Arawakan name for the creature, and the Greek odonys 'tooth'.

Megalosaurus almost speaks for itself, the Greek megas saurus meaning 'great lizard'.

Mosasaurus is the marine dinosaur seen in Jurassic World and named from the Latin Mosa and Greek saurus describe 'the lizard found near the river Meuse' near Maastricht.

Stegosaurus is first identified in 1892 and named from the Greek stegos saurus, literally 'rood lizard'. This refers to the armour plates which instantly identify the creature, the first element having changed little since Proto-Indo-European steg 'having a roof'.

Diplodocus is from the Greek diplos dokus, quite literally 'double beam' and a reference to the doubling of the bones beneath the long tail.

Tricertops, first identified in 1890, is named from the Greek tirkeratos ops meaning 'three-horned face'.

Tyrannosaurus, first named in 1905, comes from the Greek tyrannos saurus 'tyrant lizard'.

Velociraptors were named in 1924, with the Latin velox raptor 'speedy, swift robber'.

Sunday, 19 February 2017


Have not paid any attention to the news for years. Don't watch it, listen to it, or read about it - virtually every single item I found frustrating or it angered me. If something major happens, someone will tell me.

And this is just how I learned someone nobody likes had been invited to speak in Britain and then wasn't and now has .... I lost interest halfway through and already wondering why various terms had been coined for parliaments around the world. Thus rather than being political, which isn't me, I've opted for the etymological, which is not only me but also infinitely more interesting. There are many different terms for the body of government but will start with the English term.

Parliament is not recorded in English until the end of the twelfth century. From Old French parlement and parler 'to speak'.

Althing, the Icelandic version, is derived from the Germanic thingam 'assembly', also seen in Old English thing, Middle Dutch dinc, and Old High German ding among others. All these can be traced to Proto-Indo-European tenk, literally meaning 'stretch' but used in the sense of 'time' or 'session' put aside for a meeting. Note the modern 'hustings', only heard today to refer to politicians on the campaign trail, shares this origin and came to English from Old Norse husthing or 'house assembly'.

Bundestag and Bunderstat are the two houses of the German parliament, these translating to 'Federal Diet' and 'Federal Council' respectively. Here 'Diet' comes from the Latin dieta or 'parliamentary assembly' and, etymologically speaking, shares an origin with the idea of food intake.

Commons as in 'House of' simply means 'general' and came from the Latin communis.

Congress is first used in the late 14th century to refer to 'a body of attendants' or 'meeting of armed forces', not seen in the modern sense until the early 16th century. This is derived from the Latin congressus, which could be used to mean both a friendly or hostile encounter, depending on the context. Taking this back further we find Latin com 'together' and gradus 'a step'.

Cortes is Spain's version, from Latin cortem which shares an origin with 'court'. While used in the sense of 'assembly' and those present, it also refers to 'the enclosed yard' and where such could assemble.

Curia shares an origin with the above 'Cortes', as we should expect as this is the senate of Rome and where curia meant 'court' and could well come from co wiria 'community of men'.

Dail, the Irish parliament, simply means 'assembly'. Interestingly the root of this Irish term is also the root for the English 'deal', as in the sense 'share, quantity, amount' and both have a common root in Proto-Indo-European dail 'to divide'.

Diet was an assembly of the Roman Empire and is discussed under Bundestag above.

Duma is from the Russian verb meaning 'to think, consider'. First used for local councils from about 1870, it is not seen for the national assembly until 1905. Having a common root with both 'doom' and 'deem', these all originate in the Proto-Germanic doms 'judgement'.

Knesset, the Israeli parliament, takes its name from the Mishnaic Hebrew keneseth 'gathering, assembly'.

Majlis, the Persian version, is from the Arabic for 'assembly' although literally 'session' and derived from jalasa 'to be seated'.

Poliburo, another Russian term, dates from 1927 and the Russain politbyuro. It is a contraction of politicheskoe byuro meaning 'political bureau'.

Presidium is also Russian but dates from much earlier than the previous example. While the modern idea is not seen until 1924 as prezidium, this originates from Latin praesidium 'to preside over'.

Riksdag is a Swedish word and the general term for 'parliament' or 'assembly'. Along with Finland's Riksdag, the Estonian Riigikogu, historical German Reichstag and Danish Rigsdagen. All these are derived from rike 'royal power' and dag 'conference'.

Senate is from the Latin senex 'the elder' or even 'the old one'. Here suggesting with great age comes wisdom.

Tynwald is derived from the Old Norse 'the meeting place'. Famously this parliament of the Isle of Man is the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world.

Witan, the Saxon political institution, is a contraction of Witenagemot and from the Proto-Germanic witan 'to know' and ultimately Proto-Indo-European weid 'to see'.

Sunday, 12 February 2017


I first began tracing my ancestry more than thirty years ago. Oral family history spoke of an ancestor being 'the Honourable' and I began a long search.

It turned out to be half right but did make me wonder just where these titles came from.

Earl is possibly the most likely to be known, this being of Saxon or Old English origins where eorl originally coiuld be used to mean 'brave man, warrior, leader, chief' and contracted with the peasant or churl.

Baron came to English from Old French, and ultimately from Latin baro or simply 'man'. Note the Franks used the same word to mean 'freeman', which may well have helped develop the idea of a higher ranking. Clearly both 'baronet' and 'baroness' are derivations.

Count is another coming to English from Old French. Here conte is from the Latin comitem meaning 'companion, attendant', and used as the title for a provincial governor. The feminine 'coountess' is first seen in the middle of the 12th century.

Duke, once again, came from Old French where duc and the earlier Latin dux both meant 'leader'. All these terms can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European deuk meaning 'to lead'. Interestingly the rank od duke, or indeed duchess, is unrecorded before the end of the 12th century.

Lord comes from Old English hlaford 'master of the house' and is itself from the earlier Old English hlafweard, quite literally 'one who guards the loaves'. This dovetails quite nicely with the origins of 'lady' or hlafaeta meaning 'bread kneader'.

Marquis, and therefore marchioness, is from Old French marchis, quite literally 'ruler of a border area' and taken from Old French marche and Latin marca both meaning 'frontier'.

Viscount and viscountess can be traced to Old French visconte and ultimately from the Latin vice 'deputy' and comes 'nobleman'.

Dame is from Old French dame, 'lady, mistress, wife' and genrally referring to 'the woman of the house' as this comes from the Latin domus 'house'. Both Spanish and Portuguese 'don' share the same origin.

Hidalgo is unrecorded before 1590, this thought to be a shortened form of filho de algo or 'son of someone'. Late Iberian usage probably points to an Arabic origin of ibn nas or 'son of the people' which was used as an honorary title.

Knight came from Old English cniht meaning 'boy, youth, servant, attendant'. Not until the Normans arrived did it become any sort of title or standing.

Noble is a collective term first seen at the end of the 12th century. Coming to English from Old French noble and Latin nobilis, it simply means 'of high birth' just as it does in English today. Interestingly this can be traced to Proto-Indo-European gno 'to know' and used in the sense of 'well known'.

Seneschal is an Old French term meaning 'steward, majordomo' in its simplest terms. Despite coming to English from French, the term is Proto-Germanic where sini-skalk 'senior servant' is related to modern words such as 'senile' and 'marshal'.

Squire may not have been the highest of ranks but proved to be the first step on the ladder for many. This comes from Old French esquier or 'shield carrier' and most often seen today in the form of address 'esquire'.

Honourable was the one which started all this and is recorded in English from the end of the 13th century. Clearly a word used as an adjective and derived from 'honour', the latter coming from Old French onor, which is why we do not pronounce the 'h', and from Latin honorem 'dignity, reputation'.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Native American Tribal Names

With the continent of North America very much in the news of late, it is to pre-European days I turn and a look at the origins of the names of the Native American peoples. What I thought would be challenging research, thinking these could have little connection with the Indo-European languages with which I am familair (etymologically speaking), proved less of a problem that I suspected.

Apache is first recorded by the Spanish Conquistadors, who referred to those they encountered as Apachu de Nabajo around 1620. To confuse matters the Spanish later used the same Apachu to refer to other groups they encountered further east and that tends to suggest the word is unlikely to have been how the people referred to themselves. Indeed oral tradition maintains they referred to themselves as Inde meaning either 'person' or 'people' depending on the context. Most consider the Spanish to be from the Zuni word a-pacu which meant 'Navajos' (see below), although some have suggested the Yavapai pace or 'enemy' as an alternative. A third suggestion, the Spanish mapache or 'raccoon', may seem to fit etymologically but has little else going for it.

Arapaho is uncerain, but may be from iriiraraapuhu meaning 'trader' or a Crow word meaning 'tattoo'. They refer to themselves as Hitano'iv 'people of the sky' or Hetanevoeo 'cloud people', while other peoples described them as 'blue cloud men', 'blue sky people', 'pierced nose people', and also 'dog-eaters'.

Cherokee refer to themselves as Ani-Yu-wiya, literally 'the principal people'. Origins of the modern name have many theories, none certain, and include Choctaw cha-la-kee or 'people who live in the mountains', Choctaw chi-luk-ik-bi 'people who live in cave country', or Iroquois Oyata'ge;ronon also 'inhabitants of the cave country'. Sometimes we hear the name of the Cherokee given as Tsalagi but this is the Cherokee name for their own language.

Cheyenne is correctly the collective name given to two Native American tribes: the So'taeo'o and Tsetsehestahese, ostensibly the north and south peoples, tke their names from their name for the Cree language and a name literally meaning 'those who are like this' respectively. The later name of Cheyenne probably comes from a Siouan language meaning 'red-talker' and effectively describing those who talk differently.

Choctaw have been said to take their name from an early leader but more commonly from the phrase hacha hatak which, in their language, means 'river people'.

Comanche is the Ute name for them where kimantsi means simply 'enemy'.

Crow refer to themselves as Apsaalooke or 'children of large-beaked bird' and it was French explorers who translated this as 'people of the crows'.

Illinois is a state which takes its name from the Illinois people. Here their name is an Algonquin word meaning 'tribe of superior men'.

Huron is a name taken from the Algonquin irri-ronon or 'cat nation'> Note some sources give this as ka-ron 'straight coast' and others disagree completely in suggesting this is tu-ron or 'crooked coast'. Also known as the Wyandot people, taken from their language possibly wendat 'forest' or yendata 'village' - the vast difference due to corruption as the trail is followed through the French name of Ouendat.

Ioway, who gave their name to the state of Iowa, take their name from ayuhwa or 'sleepy ones' although they refer to themselves as Baxoje or 'grey snow'.

Kiowa call themselves the Ka'igwu or 'principal people', although earlier this is held to have been Kutjau 'emerging' or Kwu-da 'coming out rapidly'. Possibly the modern form is simply a corruption of their name as no convincing etymology has been suggested.

Mohawk comes from the name given them by neighbouring tribes, where maw-unk-lin or 'bear people'. They refer to themselves as Kanien'keha'ka, which translates as 'flint stone place'.

Mohican take their name from the place where they lived, muh-he-ka-neew referring to 'the people of the great flowing waters'.

Navajo are a Athabaskan people and comes from their language. Here nava 'field' and hu 'valley' is understood as 'large planted field'.

Pawnee refer to themselves as Chaticks si Chaticks meaning 'men of men' - to the French they were Pani which later became a term describing a slave.

Seminole is derived from a Spanish term where cimarron could mean either 'runaway', 'untamed' or 'wild one'.

Shawnee is a Munsee name where sawanow means 'people of the south'.

Sioux is an Algonquian name where natowessiwak meant 'little snakes'.

Swanee could be a corruption of the Spanish San Juan 'Saint John' but this seems unlikely when we have the Suwannee River. This gave the name to the people who could be found alongside the sawani or 'echo' river.

Ute gave their name to the state of Utah and is generally believed to refer to themselves as 'people of the mountain'. However some sources give an alternative, suggesting this is an Apache name where Yudah means 'tall'.

Yaqui call themselves the Hiaki or Yoeme meaning simply 'people'.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

A Better Deal

I accept some find card games fascinating. Unfortunately for them I am not one of them. Playing the few games I know the rules to is bad enough but watching others play just leaves me bemused. Still, each to their own and it would be a tedious world indeed if we all liked the same things.

What does interest me is the mathematics of chance and also the origins of their respective names and is the latter which I shall turn to today. Note some of these games are the same but have different names around the English-speaking world.

Baccarat is first recorded in 1848 and certainly comes from the French but is officially of unknown origin. While it is tempting to suggest this name comes from the French town of Baccarat, noted for glass-making and a place name meaning 'the altar of Bacchus', he the Roman god of wine, as the French spelling is baccara this seems unlikely.

Bezique is another of French origins, here known in France as bezigue and first seen in a document dated 1861. The game, although not the name, had been played in France since the 17th century. The name came to French from the Italian Bazzica and originally meant 'correspondence' or 'association', depending on context.

Blackjack is an alternative name for twenty-one (see below) and dates from the time when American casions were keen to attract further interest and offered increased odds should the players' hand contain the ace of spades and a black jack (either spades of clubs). This increased the game's popularity to the point where the name given to the hand, a blackjack, became the name of the game from around 1900.

Boston is based on the siege of the American city of that name and first seen around 1800. The city took its name from the town in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom and began as 'Botolph's stone'.

Brag, as a card game, is first recorded in 1734. While the origins of the name are uncertain, the name may well come from an earlier use of 'brag' to mean 'swear, curse, oath' rather than the modern usage as 'boast'.

Bridge has been recorded since 1886 but certainly much older. A version of the game is thought to have originated in the Near East. If so, then perhaps Turkish bir - uc or 'one - three' would fit the bill.

Canasta is a Uruguayan card game first recorded as recently as 1948. Played with two decks and four jokers it is the Spanish word for 'basket' and from the Latin canistrum. Thought to be named for being played with a collection of cards rather than simply a single pack.

Chemin de fer is the original version of baccarat and a name literally translating as 'the railway'. Just how this refers to a card game is not clear.

Cribbage dates from around 1620 and is named for the 'crib' or box representing the dealer's hand. Cribbiage is the oldest of the card games played with the modern pack and is derived from an earlier game known as 'noddy', 'noddle' or 'nodde' - nothing 'foolish' about this term, it simply refers to the jack or nave.

Ecarte is from the French for 'discarded', an important phase of the game involves discarding cards.

Euchre is similar to 'ecarte' and thought to come from an 18th century Germanic game Juckerspiel - the Americanisation of 'jucker' giving 'euchre' - and a reference to the top two trumps being jacks or 'jucker'.

Gin, or gin rummy, is a variation of rummy (see below). First recorded in 1941, it seems the variation was called 'gin' to link to the drink seen in 'rum(my)'.

Gleek is an old card game first seen in 1530 and, most unusually, designed for three players. This comes from French glic or ghelicque, itself from Muddle Dutch ghelic 'alike' as the aim is to collect three of the same rank.

Loo, dating from 1670, is another early card game. In full this is lanterloo, from French lanturelu and taken from a popular French comic song - the English equivalent 'turra-lurra'. Both came to mean the 'pot' via the 'bag' used to produce the music - this the loure, a bagpipe-like instrument which also gave a name to the dances associated with same.

Ombre is a 17th century card game originating in Spain and indeed named from the Spanish hombre or 'man'. Originally the player declaring would state Yo soy el hombre or 'I am the man' but this was soon abbreviated.

Patience is aptly named as it takes a good deal (pun intended) of it for the solution is not always possible.

Pinocle is derived from bezique (see above) and comes from the French word binocle meaning 'eyeglasses' and also the source of the English 'binoculars'.

Poker is first mentioned in a document dated 1834. While the etymology is not certain, it could come from a similar German game Pochspiel where the first element pochen means 'to brag as a bluff'.

Quadrille is taken directly from the French where, in the 17th century, the military paraded four mounted horsemen in series of moves and formations. The card game also requires some tactical manoeuvres by four players.

Rummy is first recorded in 1910 as 'rhummy'. The word has been used as both a 'drunkard' from 1851 and to refer to 'one who opposes temperance' from shortly afterwards. However neither of these seems truly related to the name of the card game and thus the origins must be said to be unknown.

Sevens is similar to patience and/or solitaire in style but played by between three and seven players. However the number of players is not the origin but how the game progresses, for the idea is to rid oneself of all cards in one's hand in order of rank but, in order to give equal chance to play above and below, the starting point for each suit is the seven.

Snap, as a name, really does explain itself. It is related to other games with far less obvious names such as Egyptian Ratscrew and Beggar-my-neighbour.

Solitaire is an alternative name for patience (see above) and another apt name for a solitary card game.

Twenty-one is the same game as blackjack (see above) where the object is to score that number.

Vingt-et-un is the French for 'twenty-one' and nothing more needs to be said.

Trump is something I could not resist examining because it's a name I could not get out of my head - for those unaware Mr Trump is among the world's best snooker players. In cards it is a variation of 'triumph' and a noun used to refer to a card of a higher ranking suit. 'Trump' is also used as verb to mean 'surpass, beat' since 1580 and earlier, since 1510 and again as a verb, to mean 'fabricate, devise' in one context and 'deceive, cheat' in another. I have to say I have never had cause to think Judd Trump ever cheated at snooker and thoroughly earned his number one world ranking in 2011.

Sunday, 22 January 2017


Being a confirmed tee-totaller (unless there are more than 167 hours in the week) it never occurred to me that Champagne is not simply a place name but also the correct name for what is often known as 'bubbly'.

As many will know the rules around the right to call anything 'champagne' has to conform to a series of rules and regulations, these are not important here. However it is worthwhile mentioning that the place name refers to land that is 'flat', ironic for a drink often referred to as 'bubbly'. And while on the subject of words we should also note the alternative use of 'varnish', in the late 19th century used to refer to bad champagne.

Always one to enter a quiz, I have never managed to master the oft-repeated questions regarding champagne bottle sizes. Being a man of words perhaps understanding the origin of the names may be of assistance. As the basis for all of these is the standard bottle, it makes sense to start with the basic term.

Bottle, as we know it, evokes an image of something in glass. Yet glass production means this is a comparatively recent development and early bottles were of leather sealed with pitch. This is the reason we occasionally see pubs named the Leathern Bottle. The word 'bottle' came to English from Old French boteille and of Latin origins in buttis 'a cask' which, albeit on a small scale, a bottle could be said to be. Incidentally, purely as a memory aid, a standard bottle contains 0.75 litres.

Magnum, containing the same as two standard bottles or 1.5 litres, is taken directly from the Latin, the neuter of magnus meaning 'great in size'.

Jeroboam, again doubles the volume at 3 litres, is a name taken from the Bible where Jeroboam was said to be 'a mighty man of valour who made Israel to sin'. His name comes from the Hebrew Yarobh'am, literally 'let the people increase'. (Try and stop them!)

Rehoboam, this equal to 4.5 litres, is another Israelite king mentioned in the Bible. His name comes from the Hebrerw and means 'he who enlarges the people'. (I suppose being king has its benefits.)

Methuselah, this 6 litres, is also named after a Biblical character and one of great age, said to be 969 years old at the time of his death. The origin of his name is disputed, some sources give 'man of the spear' while others translate this as 'his death shall bring judgement'. This latter translation is undoubtedly due to the date of his death being the 11th of Chesvan in the year 1656 Anno Mundi - coincidentally seven days before the start of the Great Flood - he being named as Noah's grandfather.

Salmanazar, 9 litres, was the name of five kings of Assyria (correctly Shalmaneser), although the Biblical theme probably points to the last of his name (727-722BC) and conqueror of the northern part of Israel. Their name is said to mean 'Shulmanu is preeminent', in the area of Mesopotamia during the Bronze Age he the god of the underworld, fertility and war. (With so many diverse strings to his proverbial bow no wonder he was considered preeminent.)

Balthazar, 12 litres, is undoubtedly the Biblical king or Magi associated with the nativity. He is held to be the King of Arabia and the one who brought the gift of myrrh. His name is ultimately from the Babylonian Balat-shar-usur or 'save the life of the king' - oddly symbolic of the future death of the infant Christ. (This rather reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty.)

Nebuchadnezzar, 15 litres, keeps us in Babylon where the native tongue spoke of Nabu-kudurri-usur or 'Nabu, protect my first-born son'. The same question occurred to me and I discovered Nabu, son of the god Marduk, was the deity of wisdom. (Perhaps he should be remembered for a quote such as 'don't drink the whole bottle'.)

Solomon, 18 litres, is another associated with wisdom, althogh his name comes from the Hebrew shelomo meaning 'peaceful' and related to shalom.

Sovereign, 26.25 litres, is a later term and of much later etymology. First seen in English in the 14th century, it comes from Old French soverain and Latin superanus 'chief, principal'. Whomsoever came up with this did not look into the origins of the word as it is not the largest. (And no, not going near that Latin word or its meaning.)

Primat, 27 litres, is another Biblical name although we would know the character better as 'Goliath'. 'Primat' comes from Latin primus 'first', and while 'Goliath' is today a synonym for large size, it actually only refers to a person from Gath, one of the five city states of the Philistines. 'Gath', sometimes as 'Geth', was once a common place name in the Middle East. The origins of the name are not overly clear but, for obvious reasons, we shall opt for the most popularly quoted meaning of 'wine press'. Goliath maybe, but still not the largest.

Melchizedek, 30 litres, is another Biblical figure, this king of Salem and a priest of El Elyon mentioned in Genesis. His name comes from the Hebrew Malki-tzedeq and literally describes 'the king of righteousness'. (Perhaps not the best choice for something which is going to be extremely difficult to pour, never mind drink. Here the volume of liquid alone is going to tip the scales at almost 60 pounds - and the glass bottle will add considerably to this.)

It should be noted how, the method of fermentation being in the bottle, means only the standard bottle and the magnum see champagne produced in the correct way. Furthermore the latter is considered of superior quality, as there is less oxygen in the bottle, and the volume to surface area favours the creation of appropriately sized bubbles. However, there is no hard evidence for this view. Other bottle sizes are generally filled with champagne fermented in standard bottles or magnums.

It seems that exercise, while interesting, will never prove a useful memory aid. However I did find a mnemonic listing the seven most popularly-named bottle sizes and using the initial of each in ascending size order with: "My Judy Really Makes Splendid Belching Noises". Hardly the most memorable mnemonic - except perhaps for Judy.

Note sizes larger than the Jeroboam are rare and some of the larger sizes are not universally acknowledged.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Guatemala Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest of Guatemala's settlements.

Guatemala City clearly takes its name from the country. Both, as covered in earlier posts looking at first the country and later its capital city, where I explained this was the Spanish version of a native name. The local Tuendal word uhatzmalha described 'the mountain that gushes forth water' and likely refers to the volcanic mountain now known as Agua.

Villa Nueva is clearly of Spanish origins and means 'new outlying farmstead'. Had the place been of Saxon origin we would today call it Newthorpe.

Quetzalenango had been known by the Mam Maya people as Xelaju, this from xe laju' noj meaning 'under ten mountains'. By the time the Spanish arrived this city had been in existence for at least three centuries.

Chimaltenango had been known as B'oko prior to the arrival of the Spanish. However the Conquistadores opted, as always, to use the name given by the their Nahuatl-speaking allies from central Mexico who used Chimaltenanco or 'shield city'.

Huehuetenango was, in the original Mam Mayan language, known as Zaculeu, but the Cnquistadors used the Nahuatl name meaning 'place of the ancients or ancestors'.

Puerto Barrios has only been known as such since 1895, indeed only founded at the end of the 19th century, and named after president feneral Justo Rufino Barrios.

Chichicastenango is another taking the Nahuatl name as used by the Conquistadores, where Tziticaztenanco meant 'city of nettles'.

Santa Catarina Pinula takes the Spanish name for the patron saint, Catherine of Alexandria, and adds pipil meaning 'flour of water'.

Antigua Guatemala literally means 'ancient Guatemala' and a reminder this was the third capital of the country.

Zacapa is another held to be from the Nahuatl language, here zacatl apan referring to 'the river of grass'.

Fraijanes is a corruption of the earlier name of Frailes Juanes, itself a reminder of the place being under the control of two priests Juan Milan and Juan Alvarez in the late 18th century.

Esquipulas is a Spanish-influenced version of the earlier Nahuatl name of Isquitzuchil or 'place where flowers abound'.

Xekik'el is a river name meaning 'where the blood spread' and a reminder of 20th February 1524 when conquistador Pedro de Alvarado killed the legendary K'iche' king Tecun Uman in single combat.

Nahuala is translated locally as either 'enchanted waters' or 'water of the spirits', objecting quite vociferously to any suugestion of 'water of the shamans' as this comes directly from the Spanish idea of aqua de los hrujos and clearly points to the man and not the spirits with which such are associated.

San Andres Itzapa is an ancient town. The Spanish adding 'St Andrew' to the original name meaning 'flint'. Note the Spanish also referred to the place as Valle del Durazno or 'valley of the peaches'.

Dos Pilas is an ancient Maya site, one named from Guatemalan Spanish meaning 'two wells'.

Iximche is another anceint site, this from the Mayan name of the ramon tree which the Mayan referred to as ixim che or 'maize tree'.

Kaminaljuyu is another anceint site, this name from a K'iche' word meaning 'mounds of the ancestors'.

Naranjo is an ancient Mayan site named from the Spanish for 'orange tree'. This a transliteration of Sa'aal meaning 'the place where maize abounds'.

Piedras Negras is a Mayan site with the Spanish name meaning 'black stones', while the original name is thought to read Yo'k'ib' or 'great gateway'.

Q'umarkaj is another Mayan site, this meaning 'place of old reeds' in the local K'iche' tongue.

Tikal is from the Yucatec Mayan language and means 'at the waterhole'.

Nakbe appears to come from the Mayan sacbe or 'white way', appropriate as the causeway still comes to the surface here.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.