Place Names in Jamaica - The National Library of Jamaica

Place Names in Jamaica

Peculiar Place Names

Sometimes names are not what they seem.

“Danks” in Clarendon, was the name given to a property Sir Henry Morgan deeded to his German wife, who said, “danke”, meaning “thanks”.

“Save Rent” in Westmoreland, is not a pot for cheap living; the name is a corruption of that of a French colonist, M. Saverent, as “Shotover” in Portland, is a corruption of the French Chateau Vert.

“Putogether Corner”, near Mandeville, is the spot where market women stopped to put their goods – and their dress – in order before proceeding to town.

Plan in its message is “I-No-Call-You-No-Come” in the Cockpit country of St. Elizabeth.  During their early years, Maroons did not have a very positive attitude towards unexpected visitors. If they did not sanction someone’s entrance, he was led through the most torturous routes in the hope that this would lessen his curiosity.

Shoe Myself Gate When persons who were unaccustomed to wearing shoes acquired a new pair, they would sling them over their shoulders until they arrived at their destination.  At this particular “gate”, they would “shoe themselves”.

Gutters This town is aptly named. After heavy rains, water flows through the town from three directions, making it almost impassable. Gutters is located at the foot of Spur Tree Hill.

Y.S. Estate  The property lies near a bridge over the river of the same name.  Some say that the curious name of the river derives from a Welsh word meaning “winding” (on early maps it is written “Wyess”) and possibly the form Y.S. was first adopted as the estate mark stamped on hogsheads of the Wyess Sugar.

ACCOMPONG (Maroon settlement) is in St. Elizabeth. This name is said to be derived from the Ashanti word, Nyamekopon, which means “the lone one, the warrior”. This name was also given to one of the brothers of Captain Cudjoe, the second Maroon leader. ACCOMPONG was established in 1739, and the compound is in the charge of a colonel, the army rank being honourable. The colonel appoints a major, several captains, and a council. This council functions like an open meeting. (see MAROOON TOWN).

AUGUST TOWN, in the hills of St. Andrew, is thought to have been named from the fact that freedom came to the enslaved people of this country on the 1st August, 1838. From that date, this day was designated and celebrated as ‘Emancipation Day’ for many years. AUGUST TOWN became notable because at this place a prophet, whose name was Bedward, arose – the proponent of religion which became known as ‘Bedwardism’. He had thousands of followers but outdid himself when he proclaimed THAT HE WAS God and could fly. He set a date for his flight, and when it did not occur his people lost faith in him. Bedward had folk songs written about him. The verse of one is as follows: “Dip him Bedward, dip him. Dip him in the healing stream. Dip him deep, but don’t dip him too deep. Dip him Bedward, dip him”. Another song goes in part: “Run mongoose, you name gone abroad, Mongoose go into Bedward kitchen, eat out all him righteous chicken, run mongoose”.

BLENHEIM, in Hanover, is a place-name found also in south-central Manchester, and originates from Bavaria, Germany. Blenheim (in Germany) was a site of a great battle, which no doubt led to the use of the name in Jamaica. BLENHEIM in Hanover is the birthplace of the Right Honourable Sir Alexander Bustamante, P.C., K.T., D.D., L.L.D., C.B.E., and National Hero. The house at BLENHEIM in which he was born has been designated a National Monument.

BOG WALK, in St. Catherine, was originally the Boca d’ agua (water’s mouth) of the Spaniards, corrupted to Bog Walk by the English after their occupation of the island in 1655. Bog Walk is now a centre for processing agricultural products. It has a sugar factory, milk condensery, and citrus packaging plant.

CHAPELTON, in Clarendon, was first known as “Chapel Town”, as the village took the name from the church. The Chapelton Church (Cundall tells us) was dedicated to St. Paul, and was built at the time when the present parish of Clarendon was divided into the parishes of Clarendon and Vere. The “Cross” Church, near May Pen, now in ruins, was then the Parish Church of Clarendon. The Chapelton Church was built as a “chapel of ease” to the Cross Church, and was the first place of worship of any size erected in upper Clarendon. The oldest records go back to 1666. (Cundall, Historic Jamaica, p.395)

HALF-WAY-TREE, in St. Andrew, was originally Half-Way-Tree Pen and is said to have been owned by the Hotchkyn family for 130 years. Robert Hotchkyn, Attorney General of Jamaica (1707), was a lineal descendant of this family. It is claimed that HALF-WAY-TREE was named after a cotton tree which was at the junction of four roads. The cotton tree is said to have existed there from before the conquest of the island (1655) and until 1866 it was halfway between two places: Greenwhich in the St. Andrew Hills, where the English soldiers had their camp, and the fort near Spanish Town. The soldiers always rested at this spot before proceeding to the fort.

The earliest mention of HALF-WAY-TREE was in 1696 when the governor was informed that certain prominent citizens were assembled together “at halfeway tree in the Parish of St. Andrews and had obleiged several of His Majesty’s subjects passing that way to drink a health to the late K. James” (Cundall, Historic Jamaica, p. 197).

The late sir Noel Livingston claimed that in his research he found the name HALF-WAY-TREE mentioned in a Chancery Suit filed in the year 1782 wherein a  James Parker was described as “late of Half-way Tree in the Parish of St. Andrew”.

MILK RIVER, in Clarendon, was the Rio do Manatines of the Spaniards. The mineral baths are situated at the foot of a hill, which is of limestone formation. The water, which is extremely saline, issues from crevices in the rocks directly into the baths, through which it flows at a rate of 240 gallons per minute, or 345,600 gallons per day. The temperature of the water maintains a uniform 91-92 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. Besides being rich in mineral salts, it possesses a highly radioactivity, which renders it of a therapeutic value unsurpassed by any mineral bath in the world. Gout, rheumatism, sciatica, lumbago, neuralgia, eczema, kidney and liver complaints are the ills for which this water is specially recommended. Milk River Baths are 54½ miles from Kingston.

PORUS is a town in Manchester. There are two reasons given for this name: one, that PORUS is possibly a confusion between Las Pocas (the pits) and should be called Pocos, or two, that since Porus was referred to by the Spaniards as “the district of Porras”, they must have named it after the brothers who were marooned with Christopher Columbus at St. Ann’s Bay for over a year. The Porras brothers finally mutinied against Columbus.

SAVANNA-LA-MAR, chief town and shipping port in Westmoreland, was the Sabana-de-la-mar (“the plain by the sea”) of the Spaniards. During English occupation of the island, the “de” was dropped, and the name became Savanna-la-mar, sometimes abbreviated Sav-la-mar.

SEVILLE, in St. Ann, was the Sevilla Nueva (New Seville) or Sevilla de ora (Golden Seville) of the Spaniards.

SPANISH TOWN, St. Catherine, was founded by about 1534. It was once known as Santiago, the name given by Christopher Columbus to the whole island. The English, however, called the city St, Jago de la Vega, that is, ‘St. James of the Plain’, and that name remained in popular use for some years. Finally it became known as SPANISH TOWN.

Place Names of Welsh Origin

Bangor Ridge, Monmouth and Chepstowe in Portland, Llandilo in Westmoreland, Pencarne in St. Mary, Newport in Manchester, Swansea in St. Catherine, Milford in St. Ann, and Llandewey, are all Welsh place names.

Cardiff Hall in St. Ann is derived from the capital of Wales-Cardiff. Cardiff Hall was also one of the estates of John Blagrove who arrived in Jamaica in 1655.

Denbigh in Clarendon comes originally from North Wales. Denbigh was a property owned by the late Hon. W.G. Muirhead, C.M.G., Custos of Clarendon, who gave part of it for the Denbigh show ground.

Llandovery in St. Ann originates in north-east Carmarthen, Wales. It included, for some years, a sugar estate which was incorporated with the Richmond. It was once owned by Henry Morgan.

Morgan’s Bridge in Westmoreland, Morgan’s Pass and Morgan’s Valley in Clarendon were all named after Captain Henry Morgan – a Welsh privateer who eventually became Lieutenant Governor in 1673.

Pembroke in St. Mary is originally a Welsh place name and was owned in 1811 by Hungerford Spencer.

Wales in Manchester was known from 1811 when estates were first listed, and was owned by Edward Morgan, a Welshman, who evidently named it for the country from which he came.

Ythanside is in the parish of Portland and was named after a place in Wales. It was first owned by William Espeut (1843-1892), member of a Jamaican family of Huguenot origin who settled in Portland in 1868.

Sources

  • Beek, Rosanna. Place Names of Jamaica. Kingston: The University of the West Indies, 1975. Print.
  • Besson, Jean. Martha Brae’s Two Histories: European Expansion and Caribbean Culture Building in Jamaica. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2003. Print.
  • Cundall, Frank. Place-names of Jamaica. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1939. Print.
  • Higman, Barry W. Jamaican Place Names. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2009. Print.
  • Karras, Allan L. Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish migrants in Jamaica and the Chesapeake, 1740-1800. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992. Print.
  • Sibley, Inez Knibb. Dictionary of Place-names. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1978. Print.
  • Tortello, Rebecca. Pieces of the Past: a Stroll down Jamaica’s Memory Lane. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2007. Print.

Scottish Place Names

Aberdeen, in the parish of St. Elizabeth, was so named by Alexander Forbes, a Scotsman, after the area of Scotland from which he came. He erected a great house there. The estate in time was sold, and the town which was established in that area took the name. Aberdeen is situated between Appleton sugar estate and the Cockpit Country.
Arthur’s Seat is in Clarendon and there are two sources given for this place-name: one is that it came originally from Scotland, the other that it took the Christian name of its first owner, Arthur McKenzie, who owned it from 1811.
Auchenbreck, in Westmoreland, was so named by Hon. John Campbell, a member of the branch of the ancient and highly regarded Scottish clan of Auchenbreck in Scotland.
Berrydale in Portland was originally a Scottish place name.
Caledonia in Mandeville, Manchester, was a large tract of land owned in the 19th century by Robert Crawford of Scotland. Sixty acres of this land became the town of Mandeville. There is a Caledonia Avenue in Kingston.
Clydesdale in Portland was owned in the 19th century by Colonel MacClaverty. It is on the River Clyde, as is Clysedale in Scotland. This Jamaican river supplied the power for working the huge waterwheel at the coffee works of this estate.
Culloden in Westmoreland, Dumfries in Kingston and Dee Side in Trelawny are all originally Scottish place names.
Dalvey, in St. Thomas, was a property first owned by Sir Alexander Grant in 1811. It is now a village. This is an original Scottish place name.
Dunkeld in St Mary, Dundee in St. Elizabeth, Dunisane in St. Andrew and Dumbarton in the hills of Portland are originally from Perth, Scotland, and once constituted a large coffee property first known as Gale Mountain. It once was owned by Thomas Turpin in the 18th century.
Elderslie, in St. Elizabeth, was originally a Scottish place name. This village in the hills of St. Elizabeth is near the entrance of Cockpit County.
Mount Vernon, in St. Thomas, may have been so called as a tribute to Admiral Edward Vernon, in celebration of his naval service to the British in the Caribbean- notably his defeat of the Spanish at Port Bello in 1739. Mount Vernon, originally called Wyndy/Windy Edge, is a residential area in Glasgow, (the largest city in Scotland).
Moy Hall, found in St. Thomas and Hanover in St. Thomas, was at one time owned by Captain George Goodwin Taylor, the son of Dr. George Taylor of Derby, England. There is also a Moy Hall in Scotland.
Papine, in St. Andrew was owned from 1756 by Colonel Alexander Grant of Banffshire, Scotland and named after a village there. It was while he was in the Mill of Papine in Scotland that he became heir to this estate and transferred the name to Jamaica.
Roxbro/Roxburgh – this is a Scottish place name and is found in St. Elizabeth.
Stewarton can be found in Trelawny and in Portland and this name comes from Ayr in Scotland.
Stirling Castle in St. Elizabeth, first known as Mount Zion, was owned by the Anglican Church in Jamaica. Archdeacon Ramson was in charge of the church and school. In 1895 when George Vassal Calder purchased this property, he named it Sterling. Stirling Castle in St. Andrew was named after its first owner, John Stirling. There is also a Sterling Castle in Sterling, Scotland.
Tulloch, in St. James, was first known as Tulloch Castle and was named after John Tulloch of Ross, Scotland, who owned it from 1769 to 1837.
Sources
  • Beek, Rosanna. Place Names of Jamaica. Kingston: The University of the West Indies, 1975. Print.
  • Besson, Jean. Martha Brae’s Two Histories: European Expansion and Caribbean Culture Building in Jamaica. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2003. Print.
  • Cundall, Frank. Place-names of Jamaica. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1939. Print.
  • Higman, Barry W. Jamaican Place Names. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2009. Print.
  • Karras, Allan L. Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish Migrants in Jamaica and the Chesapeake, 1740-1800. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992. Print.
  • Sibley, Inez Knibb. Dictionary of Place-names. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1978. Print.
  • Tortello, Rebecca. Pieces of the Past: a Stroll down Jamaica’s Memory Lane. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2007. Print.

Names with a Spanish Origin

Ocho Rios is located in the parish of St. Ann, and in English it means eight rivers. Once called Chareiras (bay of waterfalls) by the English, it is believed that this place name is a corruption of the Spanish word Chorreras, which describes the place’s many waterfalls.

Port Esquivel, also called Old Harbour Bay, is located in the parish of St. Catherine and was named after the first Spanish governor of the island, Juan d’ Esquivel.

Port Maria is the main town of St. Mary and is the English equivalent of what the Spanish once called Puerto Santa Maria.

Seville was the first major town to be established around 1509 by the Spaniards who then called it Sevilla Nueva. It was the capital of Jamaica for 23 years.

Oracabessa is found in the parish of St. Mary and has its origins in the Spanish word Auracabeza, Aura meaning air or breeze, and Cabeza, head or highland. On the other hand, some believe that the word is derived from Oro Cabeza, the golden head.

Porus, a town in Manchester, is said to have been referred to as Porras, named after the Porras brothers who were trapped on the island with Christopher Columbus. It is also believed that Porus is a corrupt form of Las Pocas.

Port Antonio, the capital of Portland parish, is derived from the Spanish variety: Puerto de San Antonio and Pto de Anton, both of which were found on different Spanish maps.

Spanish Town, now the capital of St. Catherine and the former capital of the island, is the second and final major town to be built by the Spaniards who named it St. Jago de la Vega.

Mount Diablo in St. Ann has its origin in the Spanish words, Diablo Monte (Devils Mountain), which suggests its harmful pathway.

Savannah la Mar is the capital of the parish of Westmoreland and is the English’s reference to what was Sabana-de-la-mar for the Spaniards, which means the plain by the sea.

Montego Bay is the main town of St. James. Even though it was originally called El Golfo De Bueno (Fairweather Gulf) by Christopher Columbus, the Spanish word Manteca which means lard or butter is actually what it originates from, as an abundance of hogs were slaughtered here and sent to Cartagena in Spain. It was even once referred to as Lard Bay. But, there is also the notion that it was named after Montego Salamanca who was a colonist.

Galina Point is found in St. Mary and has its origins in what the Spanish called Gallina Punta.

Liguanea is located in St. Andrew. It comes from the Spanish predecessor, Hato de Liguane and was also once called Lia- with-guana.

Lluidas Vale is in the parish of St. Catherine and is derived from what the Spanish words luzida (happy or fine) or lluvias (rains).

Bog walk is located in the parish of St. Catherine. It is a corruption of what the Spanish called Boca d’agua (water’s mouth).

Lacovia, the former and also first capital of St. Elizabeth, is derived from the Spanish place name La Caoban.

Magotty is found in St. Elizabeth; however, there have been other places with this name. It is believed that it comes from the Spanish word Magote, which means bundle or heap in English.

Cabaritta Punta is located in the parish of Westmoreland. It is a Spanish place name which is equivalent to kid or goat point in English. There are also other places with similar names such as Cabariita Pint near Old Harbour and Cabaritta Island in St. Mary.

References

  • Beek, Rosanna. Place Names of Jamaica. Kingston: The University of the West Indies, 1975.
  • Cundall, Frank. Place – Names of Jamaica. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1939.
  • Higman, B.W., & Hudson, B.J. Jamaican Place Names. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2009.
  • Sibley, Knibb Inez. Dictionary of Place – Names in Jamaica. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1978.

Irish Place Names

Carrickfoyle near Granville in Trelawny is the name of a place in Ireland.

Charlemont
is found in St. Catherine. There is a Charlemont in Armagh in Northern Ireland.

Cherry Gardens
in St. Andrew, at the foot of the hills north of Kingston, was owned in the 19th century by Mr. Joseph Gordon of Scotland, who had come to Jamaica as attorney for a number of absentee-owned sugar estates, and later purchased several of them. There is a Cherry Garden in Ireland.

Clonmel
in St. Mary originated in Tipperary, Ireland.

Donegal
and Kildare in St. Elizabeth are derived from the name of Irish counties.

Dublin Castle
, found in St. Andrew, is the name of an important and historic building in Dublin, Ireland.

Hibernia
found in Manchester is said to be the Latin name for the island of Ireland.

Irish Town
in the hills of St. Andrew, below Newcastle Camp, was originally the site of Irish settlers; hence the name.

Knockpatrick
in Manchester and Altamont in Kingston are some other place names that can also be found in Ireland.

Mount Eagle
, Westmoreland, could have gotten its name from a marilyn found in the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland.

Newry
is in St. Mary and the name originated in Northern Ireland. Newry Sugar Estate was first owned by John Ellis, a member of the Ellis family who also owned Fort George in this parish.

Spring Garden
is in Westmoreland and it is said that the Irish origin of this name came from the long-gone London pleasure ground of Spring Garden that had flourished in the seventeenth century.

Vinegar Hill
, found in Westmoreland, was Irish settlement that was named in memory of the defeat of the United Irishmen in the Battle of Vinegar Hill, Ireland, in 1798.
Sources
  • Beek, Rosanna. Place Names of Jamaica. Kingston: The University of the West Indies, 1975. Print.
  • Besson, Jean. Martha Brae’s Two Histories: European Expansion and Caribbean Culture Building in Jamaica. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2003. Print.
  • Cundall, Frank. Place-names of Jamaica. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1939. Print.
  • Higman, Barry W. Jamaican place names. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2009. Print.
  • Karras, Allan L. Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish Migrants in Jamaica and the Chesapeake, 1740-1800. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992. Print.
  • Sibley, Inez Knibb. Dictionary of Place-names. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1978. Print.
  • Tortello, Rebecca. Pieces of the Past: a Stroll down Jamaica’s Memory Lane. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2007. Print.