Gender of place names

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Konanen, Jun 24, 2012.

  1. Konanen

    Konanen Member

    Germany, Stuttgart
    Turkish; German
    <Moderator note: Split from here>

    Another curiosity is, that in Latin, names of cities and countries are always feminine and equally are city and country names treated in Arabic.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 26, 2012
  2. Copperknickers Senior Member

    Scotland - Scots and English
    It's pretty clear why cities and places are feminine. That's because they are associated with Mother figures. Since the dawn of time, mother goddesses have been synonymous with the homelands of various peoples. Look at Gaia, the Earth, in ancient Greece, for example.
  3. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    There may be something to what you're saying, but notice that in Antiquity it was common for each city to have a patron deity, with a temple dedicated to it — indeed, several cities seem to have been built, or at least rebuilt around such a temple — and yet the deity in question was just as often male as it was female.

    As far as the Romance languages (and Latin) are concerned, there's a simple reason why cities are usually understood as feminine: because the words for city (urbs or civitas in Latin; and various descendants of the latter in the Romance languages) are feminine, and are usually implied. Still, there are exceptions like Porto in Portugal, which is masculine like the common noun porto (port/harbour) that it derives from.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2012
  4. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    For what it's worth, Porto is a shorting of Latin Portus Cale which became Portucale then Portugale and finally Portugal. In time that become the name of the kingdom, so people most likely dropped the cale/gal from the city's name to avoid confusion.
  5. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I forgot about French, where nevertheless the word for "city" (or "town") is ville (from Latin villa, manor), also feminine.
  6. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    As you mentioned Gaia, Greek place names are not generally feminine. There genders vary widely. There are other languages with place names being predominantly of one gender which is not feminine. German place names e.g. are neuter (some country names are feminine and very few masculine but city names are invariably neuter).
  7. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    In Latin, you can't say that city name are generally feminine. It had many neuter city names: Londinium, Lugdunum, Herculaneum, ...
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2012
  8. Ironicus Senior Member

    English & Swahili - East Africa
    I read this thread because I was speculating recently on the way many ancient peoples gave themselves names of animals - totem animals, if you like. The Italians were named for young bulls, the Gauls for the cock, and so on. I was wondering how many other European tribes had such names, now lost to us or replaced by names of other derivations. In Africa every tribe has its totem animal.
    Now it would seem a simple step to take the animal to be the father of the tribe, and the land where it roams to be the mother.
    This may seem far-fetched but when you consider that, from being grunts and whistles from beetle-browed apes, language has evolved to support the modern world, anything about it has to be far-fetched.
  9. francisgranada Senior Member

    In the Slavic languages the gender of place names can be whichever and they can be also in plural (Pardubice, Katowice ...). The place names in Slavic, generally, behave as other nouns and do not follow the Romance logic (i.e. feminine because of the gender of words civitas, villa, etc ...).

    As stated by Berndf, the German place names are typically not feminine and the Latin ones are not necessarily feminine, so I think that the idea of Ironicus is not very probable (at least not in the IE languages ... )
    P.S. It would be interesting to know the "situation" in other IE languages, too (Celtic, Indian, Albanian, Lithuanian, ...)
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2012
  10. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Thanks for the correction. Evidently, I overgeneralized. It would be nice to hear from Romanian speakers as well...
  11. Wynn Mathieson

    Wynn Mathieson Senior Member

    Castell-nedd Port Talbot
    English - United Kingdom
    Regarding Welsh, here is what the foreword to Geiriadur yr Academi (The Welsh Academy English-Welsh Dictionary) has to say:
    [my additions] my italicization

    Last edited: Jul 8, 2012
  12. Miguel Antonio Senior Member

    Galego (Rías Baixas)
    I daresay that this is no exception, as for both Galician and Portuguese place names there is no rule, other than that which may have to do with the common noun that the place name derives from, if such is the case. For other place names, compare A Arnoia (feminine), the municipality that lies at the mouth of O Arnoia (masculine), the river that gives it its name. A Barbanza (feminine) is a peninsula where flows O Barbanza, a river, south of which is another peninsula called O Morrazo (masculine). O Ferrol, O Porriño vs A Coruña are cities with diverse genders yet no common noun to easily relate to. As for country names, there is a tendency in spoken Portuguese to assign a gender plus its article to most countries (a Espanha, a França, o Brasil), with the exception of Portugal (masculine) itself. Yet in local signposting, the article is omited: Porto instead of O Porto, whereas in the spoken language you don't say vou a Porto but vou ao Porto... This is not the case for standard Galician, where the article, if it exists, is an integral part of the place name and as such must be expressed in signposting or any other written reference.
  13. Mr. Walnuts New Member

    English - American
    My understanding is very similar to the above quoted.

    In antiquity, because most cities were in fact built around a temple dedicated to a PATRON deity... it was implied that the homeland was betrothed to the deity.. as Father and Mother of the people; The God was the father... and the homeland was the mother... a natural association of church and state as inherent leaders of the people.

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