The naming of things

Yesterday John Knifton posted a story about the naming of streets in English towns and he referred specifically to Nottingham. It intrigued me, as it may intrigue you, and so I set out to look at some street names in Ballarat and a little farther out of town to the naming of towns and villages. This is the link to John’s post.

In Australia in general and in Victoria in particular the naming of streets and towns depends on a number of disparate facts. Many towns are named for the aboriginal word for a place.

Jindivick sits high on a ridge of the Great Dividing Range  and is an Aboriginal word meaning burst asunder. Konongwootong is a rural locality in western Victoria. The expression koonong wootong was derived from Aboriginal words describing a creek in grassy land. (More about this place later)

But for a lot of the rest the names of Government officials and the original pastoralists and the people who subdivided a property are predominant.

For example there are two little towns that a person in the Lands Department names after his daughters.

There are towns named by mistake and if you have ever bought a bottle of Australian champagne style bubbly you might be interested in how that place got its name. In the western district of Victoria in the 1840s a number of German settlers arrived in Australia and set out to look for a place to grow grapes and to make wine. One day they all sat around and decided to have their settlement officially recognised as a town. They discussed names and in the end they decided to honour the name of the first steam powered ship that came to Australia and they forwarded their application to the Department of Lands in Melbourne. When the official opened the letter he laughed and scoffed and showed his colleagues and they all laughed and scoffed. “How ignorant are some of these newcomers.” The wanted their town named Great Eastern which was the name of their ship. The official said, Don’t they realise that their settlement is in the Western District. East is in the opposite direction. He ruled two red lines through the word and in its place he wrote Western. To this day the wine making area is known as Great Western.

Around Ballarat many places which were once towns are now just a farming district but they took their name from the gold mine that was originally there.

In Ballarat it wasn’t always the nationality of the miner; it was often a reflection of international events such as the Crimean war which raged in the 1850s at the same time as the Ballarat Gold Rushes.

Sebastopol is a large suburb in modern Ballarat but there are many references in street names and districts. I will leave you to search for the battles that raged at that time and for the story of the Lady with the Lamp.


28 thoughts on “The naming of things

      1. It’s true in parts of large cities — I lived in Seattle for a while, near the corner of NE 45th Ave and 45th St North. The avenue and street designations indicated the direction of the street (i.e. north/south, or east/west).


  1. That was really interesting. I particularly enjoyed the bits about the Aborigines, who seem to me to be a fascinating lot.
    We have some Crimean street names too, and quite a few others from our glorious colonial past, such as our triumph over the military might of Ethiopia, a street where I myself used to live, namely Zulla Road.


  2. Interesting and set me thinking. In the UK there are many streets and roads named after places and battles in the Crimean War and even the Boer War 35 years later but not as far as I can see anything named after battles of World War One or World War Two. Maybe (hopefully) we have stopped glorifying war.


  3. An interesting pair of posts. In Southern California, many street and city names are Spanish translations of historical or natural events. For example, a street named Canon Perdido (lost canon,), or Aliso Viejo (old sycamore). These are often interspersed with names of old-time family land holders (Irvine, Moulton, etc.).


    1. Killara is an Aboriginal word meaning permanent or always there.[2] The name of the suburb was chosen when the railway line opened in 1899. James George Edwards was a representative of the people who requested a station be built here. The suburb was established as a ‘Gentlemen’s suburb’, designed so that there would be no commercial ventures in the area. For this reason, the suburb has very few shops in the original development.
      I wonder who Mr Spencer was

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yo, bro! You nailed it: “Many towns are named for the aboriginal word for a place.” Which is indeed what happens. I’m glad that so many locations in Australia retain their original names. Often, with older names in spoken languages, incomers will encounter an original name, misunderstand it, and write it down as something they understand better, but which is essentially meaningless.

    With a name like, “Burnt Island” and an incomer will assume it means, “The Island that was burnt…” (or black, or the source of the flame…) But there is no island at Burnt Island. This is what I found on Wikipedia…

    “The land was granted royal burgh status by James V in 1541. When the status was confirmed in 1586, the settlement gained independence from the barony of Kinghorn and was renamed Burntisland, possibly a nickname from the burning of fishermens’ huts on an islet now incorporated into the docks….”

    Actually, it is more likely that Burnt Island is something like “Brunti’s Land”… Could well have been a fire beacon site, situated near water for safety.

    Or (and this example I make up entirely) “Kensvale”, which someone looking in from the outside will assume means, the valley of a man named Kane or Kenneth… but is a mistranscription of a word from the native language, maybe something like “Keungsvorlendal…” which in the original meaning is, “The site of the river” or “the site of the fire beacon” or some such.

    In any dictionary of etymology and there are hundreds of examples like this. Original languages are not often written down, (and if they are later codified they are made almost unpronounceable, like poor old Gaelic.)

    Gaelic placenames in Scotland have been murdered many many times like this, and the history of them is consequently misunderstood and distorted.

    Of course, if officials call a place “Allison” or “Keir’s Street” there’s not much doubt, is there!

    Sorry for the lecture. (I have had to learn something, surely, from the reading and editing of my mother’s books.)

    Liked by 2 people

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