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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Literal place names in Tenerife

Map of Tenerife prior to the Spanish conquest

Many of Tenerife's place names (such as those shown on this map) date back to the time of the Guanches, before the Spanish conquest. Names like Adeje, Güímar, Tacoronte (a toponym of Guanche origin, believed to be derived from "Tagoror," meaning "place where the Council of Elders meets") and Tegueste are still used for town names today. Others, like Taoro or Daute, are still in use for naming businesses in their respective areas, however, the literal meanings of these are not always apparent.

Guanche language being extinct, there aren't that many Spanish-Guanche dictionaries, much less any meaningful Guanche-English vocabulary.

We know that Tenerife bears the name that was used for the island by the inhabitants of the neighbouring island of La Palma; “Tene” signifying “mountain” and “ife” meaning white (the “r” was added by the Spanish). The natives of Tenerife called the island Chenech, Chinech or Achinech."

There's still much debate over the naming of the islas canarias (Canary Islands) themselves, but, it occurred to me when I spotted an item pointing to an Atlas of True Names that there's much more fun to be had translating the literal meanings of some of the Spanish place names on the island:

Starting with The Christians (Los Cristianos), which is probably most familiar with visitors, so named because, missionaries had visited the area and converted the locals, before the rest of the island.

The Giants (Los Gigantes), as we've said before, get's its name from the giant 300-600 metres cliffs after which the town has been named.

Roque de Garachico
Roque de Garachico
Tradition says Garachico is part Guanche from "igara" meaning island and part Spanish, "chico" meaning small, thus Small Island, referring to the Roque de Garachico, the rocky outcrop just offshore.

Many place names start with Saint "San", usually referring to the one chosen, for some reason or another, to look after the area. Find out when that saint's day is and you'll also have a clue as to when there might be fiestas to watch.

Some names sound positively exotic or hopelessly romantic in Spanish, where their literal meanings in English sound rather banal or positively trite.

Playa De La Arena means "Beach of the sand" or Sandy Beach. A bit obvious but at least it does have sand, albeit black, unlike the Las Arenas (The Sands) beach at Buenavista del Norte, which consists almost exclusively of rocks!

Buenavista de Norte itself sounds so pretty in Spanish, whereas the English equivalent "good view of the north" - 'coz it had a nice, fertile, look about it to the incoming colonizers - just doesn't evoke the same feeling somehow.

The Silos (Los Silos)' uninspired name first appears in 1509, when agricultural activity required the construction of grain silos to store cereals there.

While, The Tank (El Tanque) takes its name from the irrigation tank or reservoir, the remains of which can still be found in Tanque Bajo.

Several places were named in direct reference to the events of the Spanish conquest. The Royalists (Los Realejos), recalls the faction camped in the low area of the town during those events. The Victory (La Victoria) refers to the one won by the Spanish there in 1494, while The Slaughter (La Matanza) refers to the terrible defeat the Spanish suffered in the first battle. (Although like most history, as you can tell, it was written and the names given, by the eventual winners!)

Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) is so named, because that is where conquistador, Alonso Fernández de Lugo planted a cross (the very one is still kept in the church, Iglesia de La Concepción) in the name of the Catholic Monarchs.

Port of the Cross (Puerto de la Cruz) was formerly known as "Crossport" and the main square there is the Plaza del Charco, a very picturesque sounding name that literally, becomes the rather dull, Puddle Place.

Less obvious - though potentially even more entertaining to the puzzled, casual onlooker - are the reasons (which we cannot explain) for naming The Silent Coast (Costa del Silencio), when it has the noisy airport so close.

... nor The Biscuits (Las Galletas) or The Overcoats (Los Abrigos).

Armed with these examples and a little mischievous curiosity, you can now go forth around Tenerife's towns and villages, streets and plazas and wonder how they came to be called what they are and, what they mean literally.

A few more literal place names: The Lagoon (La Laguna), Candlemas (Candelaria), Passion Fruit (Granadilla), Willow Tree (El Sauzal), The Rosary (El Rosario), The Sand Dune (El Médano), Village of Flowers (Vilaflor).

1 comment:

Sheila, Canary Islands said...

We have similar names on La Palma. Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) was officially founded on May 3rd, which is the day of the Holy Cross in the Catholic liturgy. Los Canarios (the Canarians) is where they dumped the locals who'd been displaced by the Spanish grabbing all the fertile land, something like the Scottish Highland Clearances. Los Indios (the Indies) was the port people emigrated from to go to Cuba. Los Sauces (the willows) is one of the few places with enough water for willows to grow. Barlovento means Windward, and it's where the trade winds hit the island. And Los Llanos means the plains, and it's on what passes for flat land around here.

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