Names are everything.

elm_americanWords tell us something about where our ancestors have been. There appears to be no word for large body of water that has always been in the Indo-European language family, just like there is no basic word for silicon-based logic gate array–some day there will be (FYI, Oceanus, the god, was borrowed from the people our linguistic ancestors overran, just like we did more recently with the names Kokomo, IN; and Massachusetts.)

In the same vein, are people who study shit in depth, name stuff to exhaustion–each minute detail deserves a new name. In essence, scientific conferences are semantic arguments about what to call shit, and how them shits is related (id est, who had sex with whom, figuratively or literally).

Don’t believe me? Explain this:
Naming is so important to humans (nouns are so important) that we give names to everything and anything new we recognize. Darwin’s journeys were about naming, and De rerum naturae by Lucretious was this in the fist century Anno Domini (another name) and Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae was a similar contribution with 1700 years’ worth of scientific advancement.

Our place names are this too. We often don’t mind taking names whose original meanings we do not understand, be it because they come from a different code system, from our own forgotten code system, or plain made up, examples below.

“Gorse” is the name of a bush. It is a spiny bush. You likely do not know the word. Gerste is the same word but in German garb, and it means barley–a particularly spiny grain.

ceres goddess
Ceres the goddess of cereals, note the grains. One of three moon goddesses in the Roman Pantheon.
Ceres, tiny planet/fucking massive asteroid.

“Cereal” to you Americans is a dry breakfast thingy, maybe a moist warm one too. But it comes from the name of a goddess, Ceres–the Roman goddess of the moon and grain growth. We also imported the verb from Latin, so that we also have “to create” which preserves the original meaning, more or less. Crescent is a sickle shape, but it means growing, as in Spanish “creciente.” Ceres is the name to the planet which lies between Mars and Jupiter. Look it up.

Other Old Skool imported words (no tariffs):

“Scotch” means many things. It can mean a sticky plastic strip, a noxious (albeit delicious) drink, or a pugilistic skirt-wearing man (JK :] ). By coincidence only, Scotch ultimately is derived from some Latin word “Scotii” a term applied to the Celts of Ireland. Maybe the belligerent megalomaniacs the Latins heard the locals use a similar sounding word in reference to themselves (the locals), or whatever, and applied it. What would have JC (Julius Caesar) have thought of Irvine Welsh?

“Laquanda” -invented in the 20th century.

We use some words so much that they lose their original meaning, and pick up meaning tied to an ever smaller number of things. Some day, Morris will be associated with something awesome, kinda like Kiegels and Heimlich.

For those of you following along at home, ask yourselves how many place names in the US are 100% Anglo-Saxon as opposed to from some Amerindian language, or some Arabic language, or Spanish, French (basically Latin) or Ancient Greek. Few.

Nick Cage is gonna "take his face... off"
Nick Cage is gonna “take his face… off”

We even name things that already have names we know. In my life, Melzie knowz who she is and so do  Bingy, Bertie, and That-fucking-retard.  Some names get used so much that we  shorten them. Once upon a time we bought compact discs, but soon most of us bought CDs.  When I suffered from bulimia nervosa, I would watch Nicholas Cage movies, but now when I’ve eaten something rotten I just watch Nick Cage movies.   As our cultures ebb and flow, we develop new names for social categories that are meaningful now from old words giving them new meaning. Chicken heads abound in Detroit, this S-bux is infested with Bros and MGBs. Police officer has too many syllables and so I just use “pig” or when I feel like being precise “Gestapo.”   Few of us talk about fops (once dudes), or “yellow-papers” or “talkies.”  Many of my friends would be confused if I asserted that roaches have six legs, and Tommy Chong did no care.

How many words do we have? According to some book I read back in my college days by Bill Bryson, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) has 800K words. Do you know that many words? How did they count these? Polysemy is everywhere. Either these words are for those who know the topography of something better than they know their spouse’s genitals or they are old words you do not use anymore like “quean”, or the large number is due to the multiple meanings a word can have.

Aurochs, the really big kine whence our smaller cattle, and the natural resource by which wealth was measured since time immemorial.
Aurochs, the really big kine whence came our smaller cattle, and the natural resource by which wealth was measured since time immemorial.


  • headmaster
  • head gasket
  • head (formal syntax)
  • head (part of my body)
  • head of a company
  • head of my family
  • head, as in the bulbous red thing at the end of my fireman.
  • head, a pot head “one who partakes of the cheeba, as much as Cheech Marin or more”
  • to head, the verb

You can think of many more. And yet, unless trained you can’t. These words come from Latin “caput” meaning “head”:

Capitulate, decapitate, capture, cabo, cape, capital, capitol, cap, cattle–do you get it?

As humans, we describe the world in terms of us, and so God was made in our image, and things have heads and feet, in many, many languages. As time wears on, oft used words lose their connection from the greater ideas whence they came, and they get their own meanings. What does this mean? It means that we as a species, are travelling to new places, describing new territories, because we have extended our senses further. But we will be dammed, forever, or for a long while to see the world as people. In our world, things have hearts, things are warm and cold, things have intentions, things have color and sound and taste. Our science as much as our poetry are extensions of the systems that keep us alive, that gather stuff to stay more or less the same, i.e. alive.  .



Ever wonder how to say Ashley in Spanish?

Ashley means “ash tree clearing” in Old English. So an rough equivalent would be “Fresna” as the feminine variant of the Spanish “fresno” meaning ash tree. Guess what kind of tree was common in Fresno Ca.? The Spanish word comes from the Latin Fraxinus, which was one of two words referring to the ash tree. Specifically Fraxinus comes from the the Indo-European root *bhereg- which means to gleam. This English derivative of this word is Birch! (Birch = Fresno = ‘to gleam’ same words!) “Ash”s real meaning (etymologically speaking) is to burn from Indo European root ‘as-‘ (ashes is the same word). Like most first names, Ashley was a surname. The ending bit “-ley” also spelled “Leigh” means meadow.

The other Latin word meaning ash was “ornus” whose derivative is a name in use today in Italy and South America: Ornello, Ornella. The name has become more popular for women because of Italian actress Ornella Muti.

I met an Argentine girl with the name Orné, named after the actress. Now, today on January 9, 2011, further research has dug up a possible second meaning. As a result of conveegence, Orne could also mean “frost, cold” from the Indo-European root *ghimo, which interestingly is quite the opposite of the other root. Orne is a river in France also spelled Arne.

Now, in the high Andes of Peru and Boliva, a popular practice is to give children English names, particularity American ones. This is probably as a reaction to Spanish colonialism. They often adapt the spelling to match Spanish phonetics, and they improvise and make weird spellings in an attempt at originality or to reflect their understanding of the idiosyncrasies of English spelling (often with comical results) e.g. John, Fredi, Elisabet (but they don’t call their kids Juan, Frederico, Isabel).

I have met Ashleys there. To pronounce it as the Peruvians do keep all the vowels short and make a diphthong of the -ey ending. the A will be similar to that in ‘father’ but clipped and the -EY will sound the the ‘ey of ‘hey.’

Note: most Spanish speakers have trouble with the sh ( ʃ ) and often render it as ‘ch’ (tʃ ). Due to the influence of Quechua this is not the case for many Peruvians.


Margaret, Megan, Margarita, Margot, See wiki for sickly-long list.

Here is some research on the name. I had told you that I thought that it was connected with the PIE root *os-, bone, shell or fragment, but  I was wrong -it seems.

Of course, Megan is the Welsh form of the name Margaret.

Megan/Margaret has a large number of diminutive forms in many different languages, including Maggie, Madge, Marge, Meg, Megan, Rita, Daisy, Greta, Gretchen, Magee, Marg, Molly, Meggie, Peggy and Peg. –Wiki


fem. proper name (c.1300), (Wikipedia says 1100) from O.Fr. Margaret (Fr. Marguerite), from L.L. Margarita, fem. name, lit. “pearl,” from Gk. margarites (lithos) “pearl,” of unknown origin, probably from an oriental language, cf. Skt. manjari “cluster of flowers,” also said by Indian linguists to mean “pearl,” cognate with manju “beautiful.” Arabic marjan probably is from Gk., via Syraic marganitha. The word was widely perverted in Germanic languages by folk-etymology, cf. O.E. meregrot, which has been altered to mean lit. “sea-pebble.” Reference: Etymological Dictionary Online: Margaret

Germanic Usage:

Usage in Anglo Saxon for gems: Mere-grot: 

But the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic version are naturalized by writing them as if there were from “Mere” sea + “grot” grit. See this

Can mean fine grain, “semolina” in German, Gothic etc. ReferenceMerekreitus.

As etymonline points out, it may come from Sanskrit, yet there was (is?) a strong influence of the Semitic people on everyone around them. L. “septum,” Eng. “seven” is probably related to Hebrew “sabatum,” whose modern English derivative is “sabbath,” for example. So while the word may be original to Sanskrit, many people think it comes from some “oriental” language, meaning a language of Asia Minor. Definition in Sanskrit: Manju

Possibly connected to “emerald” through Semitc root “Baraq” Cf. Barak Obama. (see reference: Markereitus)

This leads me to have the un-expert thought that the Semitic root “baraq” is related to the reconstructed P.I.E. root *bhereg- “to gleam, white” and its compliment, *as- “to burn”  Of course this only means anything if emerald and Margaret are related. Interestingly, if this were the case, the names Bertha, albert, robert, Herbert, et cetera would be closely related

I think that if one did the research one would find that names commonly have their root in some word for fire, light, sun. An alternate explanation as to the origin of the name Margaret still puts the idea of light as it’s origin

“Alternately, it might be of Persian origin, derived from the Persian language marvârid (مروارید), a pearl or daughter of light. Marg from Marq or Marka meaning “chicken” (مرغ), probably because pearls looked like small bird eggs.” reference

While the claim has no reference, the idea is still in use.
The New Testament Bible: Gospel O’ Matthew chapter XIII

Anglo Saxon & Northumbrian
Latin and Old English

OE Dictionary

In Engrish:

45   Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls

46   When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.


I was born in Houghton Michigan, and always believed what I was told of the town’s name’s origins. For 20 I thought it came from some sort of American Indian word. I was mistaken.

It has three possible meanings, all of which have to do with topography. Like most names, it is binomial -that it is, it is composed of two roots.

Common of North English surnames due to the preponderance of villages with similar names: Haughton, Houghton, Halgton. Obviously the suffix ‘-ton’ denotes a town, village.  The root(s) is/are Halgh Haugh (Bardsley, 1901, p.401)

One sources has haugh-  coming from Scandinavian (Old Norse) to mean hill, sepulchral mound, or promontory ( Morris 1857, p. 49)

Another source has it come from the Old English healoc which mean ‘cavity’ or ‘ditch’ (Harrison, 1902  p. 93) So Halgton is likely derived from this.

Still a third source has the root of Haugh- as meaning: “low-lying flat ground, properly on the border of a river, and such as is sometimes overflowed. (Douglass, 1887, p. 199)

Interestingly, they are probably all connected and correct. That is, they all led to place names and surnames with identical spelling due to identical linguistic origins or phonetic similarity or both.


Sir Herbert EustaceMaxwell (1887). Studies in the topography of Galloway. London: Hamilton Adams & Co.. 199.

Henry Harrison (1902). Surnames of the United Kingdon. London: Clearfield. 93.

Charles Wareing Beardsly (1901). A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames. London: Oxford University Press. 401.


Several sources suggest that Gambrall comes from the Nordic root meaning “Gamal”, meaning “the old one”, but this is wrong. Likely, if you search Google you will get this erroneous result.

As it turns out Gambrall has a far more interesting history. Ultimately it comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *kamp- meaning “to bend.” (Köbler, 2000)” Modern derivatives of this root are: Campus, camp, gambrel, gambol,  even hamster!

Anyway, this name made is way from Greek, through Latin through French into English. In the Greek kampé  meant joint or bend. The Romans took up the word putting in the form of gamba to mean “the crooked part of a horse’s leg, a horse’s hock.” In French it existed as gamberel making reference to  meat hooks. In modern English a gambrel is a hip shaped roof, reminiscent of that part of an animal’s leg. To gambol means to frolic, leap playfully.

The name was likely given to butchers as a nickname, thus semantically equivalent last names in the American tradition are: Butcher, Boucher, and Fleischman.


Gerhard Köbler’s Indo-European Dictionary

Köbler, G. (2000) Indogermanisches Wörterbuch, (3. Auflage) Self Published: a wonderful english etymological dictionary

Dictfro an online Old French dictionary

Suffolk Surnames by N. I Bowditch

N.I., Bowditch. (1861). Suffolk Surnames. London, England: Trübner and Co.


Like most names in the Indo-European tradition, especially the Celtic-Germanic traditions (in contrast to the Judeo-Christian tradition) the name Chelsea is made up from two bases, Chel + sea and thought to mean “landing place for chalk.” In fact, there is no chalk in or around Chelsea, London, which gives credence to this hypothesis. The earliest documentation in which the name is mentioned is from the time of Edward the Confessor (A.D. 1003-1066) and it appears as “Chealchylle” where the alteration of the last element is likely due to folk etymology or poor spelling.

The first part is related to the English word “chalk” which is likely related to the words “chalice” and “hail.” They are thought to be derivatives of the theorized Proto-Indo-European root *kal-, which may have meant small stone, or pebble, a meaning which is evident in it’s derivative “hail.”

The “sea” part of Chelsea has more obscure origins. While it is the linguistic fossil of Anglo-Saxon “Hȳð” meaning “landing place, harbor” It is hard to find a  singular proposed Indo-European root for it, nor any other obvious cognates.

Option 1: It might be that “hithe” (the more modern spelling of the word) is related to the Proto-Indo-European root *ku- whence “who, hither, here,” which has at times made reference to hillsides; or possibly the root *kuopos- “covered, protected” whence the English “haven.”

Option 2: There existed in Anglo-Saxon and Old English a homophone “hȳð” whose modern descendant is “to hide” which might be related. Still, there is one further similar looking word, the verb “hȳðan” meant “to plunder and despoil.” It is easy to imagine that the name for “landing place” might easily com from this verb in the context of 1000 years of Roman, Viking and Celtic landings immediately followed by pillaging.

As an aside, the common word for harbor, then and now, in the Germanic tongues is “haven” and its cognates: Du. “Haven,” Ger. “Hafen,” Old Icelandic: “Hafn,” Norw. “Hafn,” etc. Think that the phrase “safe haven” is in fact a nautical term.

The modern spelling of “-sea” reflects the ease of movement among aspirates from the velar (guttural) “h” to the dental “s.” After the Great Vowel Shift and other previous major phonetic changes in English it makes sense that the “i” sound follow the similar “ü.”

At any rate, many places in England and it’s colonies have places whose names include this ending: Rotherhithe, Erith, Hythe. Dr. Jekyl’s alter ego has this word as his name.

An alternative etymology was proposed by Walter Besant, a noted scholar of poetry who wrote extensively about the topography of London. He suggested the Chelsea was originally know as “Ceosel-ig” “Pebble Island.”

Other historical spellings include “Cercehede,” “Chelched,” -both where one scribe was unsure of how to spell it and noted it; Cealcyde in the year 1110, Chelchethe, and in A.D. 1350, Chelchehuth.

According to Chelsea has been in use as a personal name since the 1970s.


Bosworth, Joseph, and T. Northcote Toller. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1908.

“chalice.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Harper, Douglas. July 28, 2010 <>.

“Chelsea.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Harper, Douglas. July 28, 2010 <>.

Chelsea”  A Dictionary of First Names. Patrick Hanks, Kate Hardcastle, and Flavia Hodges. Oxford University Press, 2006. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  Ball State University Library.  30 July 2010  <;

“chalk.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Harper, Douglas. July 28, 2010 <>.

“haven.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Harper, Douglas. July 28, 2010 <>.

“hide (v.).” Online Etymology Dictionary. Harper, Douglas. July 28, 2010 <>.

“hide (n.1).” Online Etymology Dictionary. Harper, Douglas. July 28, 2010 <>.

“hide (n.2),” Online Etymology Dictionary. Harper, Douglas. July 28, 2010 <>.

“hither.”Online Etymology Dictionary. Harper, Douglas. July 28, 2010 <>.

“hither.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 2003. Houghton Mifflin Company 29 July, 2010 <;

“hyd.” July 29, 2010 <;.

Köbler, Gerhard, “Indogermanisches Wörterbuch 3rd Ed. “. University of Innsbruck . July 28, 2010 <;.

Mallory, J.P., and D.O. Adams. The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World . New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Prideaux, W. F.. “Chlesea”. Notes and Queries, A Medium of Communication for Library Men, General Readers, Et June 1898: 264-265.

” Walter Besant.” The Wikipedia. 29 July, 2010.<;

Watkins, Calvert. The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Hancourt Publishing Company, 2000.
Interesting Reading:

Hythe, Sandgate, And Folkstone Guide.W. Tippen, London 1816.

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