October 22, 2019

Horse 2610 - But We're Actually Okay At Naming Things... Not Really.

By way of background, please watch this short film:

The main thrust of this video by Name Explain is the rather eloquent observation that "Australia Sucks At Naming Things". While I suppose that as an Australian I should by rights take exception to someone besmirching my country, the only reason that I would feel slighted is because it is so obviously true that I am too dog stupid to have thought of it first.

Immediately in my local area, there is Richmond Road which goes to Richmond, the Great Western Highway which is the big road that goes west¹, Main Street which is the main street of that suburb, and Railway Road which is the road next to the railway.
Further afield we have the Blue Mountains which are named because they look a bit blue, which in turn are part of the Great Dividing Range which are named because they divide the strip of land in the east from the vast interior, the Great Sandy Desert² which is a... you get the point.

If you are prepared to look at the names which are around the place, you very quickly find that we actually have some names with really tragic histories.
Even the rather mundane journey from my home to work, yields a small mine full of nuggets of interest. The first few train stations on that journey are:

Usually when you see a 'gong' in the Eora and Dharuk language groups, this means a river, however the 'yong' at the end of the word here, just means a 'place'.
Marayong means 'place of the emus'; which it must be said is actually pretty boring anyway.

This is awful. Blacktown is kind of early in the history of settlement by the British and it should come as no surprise to anyone that a name like this is tragic.
There were a series of conflicts in the 1790's between the New South Wales Corps who were in charge, the convicts who had escaped in many cases, and the local people who prior to 1788 had been quietly going about their business. Maybe. The colonial invaders arrived at a time when the various groups in the east of what is now Sydney were engaged in a blood feud and when they got out west, they cleared the land by axe and rifle.
Blacktown is simply the name of the place where the 'blacks' were rounded up and put into. It is hard to find out much about which people groups that they were exactly.

Seven Hills.
This is supposedly named after the seven hills of Rome but I have no idea where those hills are. That might be because I haven't been weaned by a she-wolf; nor have I ever attempted augury for major purposes. The augury which I regularly engage in is to track the movements of magpies but that's because they all have me and I do not enjoy my head becoming a crimson fountain of blood after they have swooped me.

The third settlement in the country used to propagandise itself as being named after the Tugugal people. That etymology quickly breaks down but what we find is that it is a Tugugal word which means 'meeting of the waters'.

Pendle Hill.
There are many pieces of missing history here. This is named after Pendle Hill in Lancashire and that place is famous for the witch trials during the reign of James I; where women who were found guilty of being a witch, were burned alive at the stake on pyres on the hill.
What I have never been able to determine is if there were women who were burned alive here, as there is the possibility that women may have been convicted of prostitution in the early colony of New South Wales and this is what would have happened to them. Certainly there was punishment by execution right through the history of the penal colony and beyond self-government and federation.

In 1813 after a number of failed attempts to find a trafficable road across the Blue Mountains, the Surveyor General of New South Wales sent the explorers of Blaxland, Lawson, and Wentworth on a journey to follow the ridges.
My guess is that this was where Wentworth had his land holding.

Westmead and Northmead are either both west and north of the model farm which Governor Phillip had set up after the crops which the British colonists had tried to get going, consistently failed, or they are both west and north of a brewery. The Woolpack Hotel in Parramatta claims to be the oldest licenced premises in Australia and I suppose that their beer had to have come from somewhere.

Parramatta is named for the bend in the river where the water was sufficiently shallow enough to allow first peoples to get reliable catches of eels. That bend is in what is now Parramatta Park and next to Parramatta Stadium.
Parramatta means the 'place where the eels lie down'; which is also why the Parramatta Rugby League team is called the Parramatta Eels. It is apt that their stadium is near that bend in the river as Parramatta Stadium is also a place where the Eels lie down³.

To be fair, most of the names given to places in Australia are named for the obvious because those names are obvious. Even the names given to places by Aboriginal peoples are obvious because those names are obvious. They only sound exotic because we don't know the local language (and being invader colonists, never bothered to learn the local language).
By the time that the nation started to get some sense that there may have been people before the new people arrived, everything was already named. The names for places and things whicn persist, do so because there wasn't anything in the invader language that could describe what was already here.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, then I would make an effort to change the very boring names of the states.
Western Australia was originally called the Swan River Colony because of the black swans that they found in the Swan River (more boring names), but calling the whole state Swan, sounds kind of cool to me. I would rename South Australia the state of Bradman after that state's favourite adopted son. I would rename the Northern Territory Nappanerica which means 'the big red', which adequately describes the vast expanse of that place.

While I am at it, I would rename the Governor General of Australia the Grand Poobah (and Lord High Everything Else). I keep on using this name as a recurring trope because I like that it sounds impotent, delusional, and daft. It comes from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta "The Mikado" and is given to a character who is equally as impotent, delusional, and daft. It is a perfect fit for that position.

Name Explain's allegation that we have "boring" names of places and things is completely apt. I don't know if we're more or less guilty of this than other countries though.

¹life is peaceful there
²which should be named after Olivia Newton-John's character in Grease and her dyslexic sweet dinner course
³Go Sharks. How good is Australia? Hur, hur, hur. 

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