|Jamaica’s Unusual Place Names Pt 2|
Sometimes place-names tell their own stories. And Jamaica’s towns, districts, rivers and streets have some really interesting ones – some are misleading, some are derived from family names, and some don’t mean what you think they mean!
There are stories behind most of these names and it’s quite interesting to learn how they originated! While many of the reasons for the names have been forgotten generations ago, here are some of them:
IRISH TOWN, in Saint Andrew, was obviously originally settled by the Irish.
JOES HUT, in Trelawny, was named after its first settler, a man named Joe Buckle, who built a hut here (apparently in the 18th century) and it became a local landmark, as in "...two miles from Joe's Hut". In time the hut disappeared and so did the apostrophe! Some generations ago it was proposed that the name be changed to "Joe's Town" but this was refused by the inhabitants.
JUDGMENT CLIFF, in Saint Thomas, is the site of the great 1692 earthquake (which destroyed Port Royal) where part of the cliff fell on the estate of a notoriously wicked Dutchman and buried him alive. (He got his “judgment”.)
LABOUR-IN-VAIN, in Saint Elizabeth, is an area where the rain seldom falls. This results in crops of poor quality, if any at all.
LAWRENCE TAVERN, in Saint Andrew, was named for a tavern that used to be located there.
LLANDOVERY, in Saint Ann, and LLANRUMNEY, in Saint Mary (once owned by Sir Henry Morgan). “Llan” means a yard in Welsh. Morgan was Welsh and both are place-names found in Wales.
LOWER TOOTING, in Saint Ann, is named after a working-class town in Surrey, near London, England.
MADRAS, in Saint Ann, is a region in India, a reminder of the number of indentured East Indians who came to Jamaica in the mid-19th century to work on the sugar estates.
MANCHIONEAL, in Portland, comes from the Spanish Manzanella (little apple) of the Manchineel tree. The large, beautiful but poisonous trees once lined the coast there. The foliage, fruit, trunk and branches ooze a milky sap which causes burning blisters on the skin and kills animals instantly. The Arawak/Tainos used to dip the points of their arrows in the liquid, creating deadly missiles. Legend has it that the British would poison the invading Spaniards who would stop to rest under the shade of the trees. The British cut the tree, letting sap drip on the invaders, which would ultimately lead to their death. There are only one or two trees left in the town and residents identify the trees to visitors to prevent unfortunate mishaps.
MAY PEN, in Clarendon, was once part of an area of land owned by the Reverend William May, who came to Jamaica as rector of the Kingston Parish Church in the 18th century and was then transferred to Clarendon.
MIRANDA HILL, in Saint James, was named for former Spanish governor, Alonzo de Miranda.
MOSQUITO COVE, in Hanover, is said to have originated because of the prevalence of mosquitos. Historians insist, however, that the correct name is 'Miskito' Cove, for a tribe of Indians that once inhabited the island.
MOUNT HOREB, in Saint James, is named for the Biblical Mount Horeb where the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God.
ORACABESSA, in Saint Mary, comes from the Spanish for 'aura' meaning 'air or breeze' and 'cabeza' meaning head, resulting in a phrase that could be read as 'fanciful' (or ‘air headed’!).
QUICK STEP, in Trelawny, comes from the 18th century when British soldiers were fighting with Maroons.
ROSE HALL, in Saint James, was named for Rose Kelly, the first mistress of the infamous estate.
SANGUINETTI, in Clarendon, is named for its first landowner, Jacob Sanguinetti, an Italian Jew.
SAVANNA-LA-MAR, in Westmoreland, was the Sabana-de-la-mar (“the plain by the sea”) of the Spanish. During English occupation of the island, the “de” was dropped, and the name became Savanna-la-mar, sometimes abbreviated Sav-la-mar.
SAVE RENT, in Westmoreland, is not a spot for living cheap; the name is actually a corruption of the name of a French colonist, M. Saverent.
SEE ME NO MORE, in Portland, is an area named for a deep wooded gully there, where water caused a deep valley to form. Before a road was built in the area, anyone crossing the gully could not be seen from the other side, thus the name.
SEVILLE, in Saint Ann, was the Sevilla Nueva (New Seville) or Sevilla de ora (Golden Seville) of the Spanish.
SHAKE-HAND MARKET, in Portland, is a square named for its use as a meeting place.
SHERWOOD CONTENT, in Trelawny, probably has some connection with Sherwood Forest in England. The name "Content" is related to "container" and, similarly to "Pen", which was an area where cattle were kept.
SHOE MYSELF GATE, in Saint Elizabeth, derives from the fact that, when someone in town who was not accustomed to wearing shoes got a new pair, they would carry the shoes over their shoulders until they reached their destination. At the gate, they would “shoe themselves”.
SHOTOVER, in Portland, is a corrupted version of the French “Chateau Vert”.
TOM REDCAM AVENUE is named after Tom McDermot, an Irish campaigner against colonialism and slavery, Redcam is sort of a backwards spelling of McDermot.
TYRE, in Trelawny, probably comes from the ancient Phoenician word for "rock", which would certainly fit the geology of the area. It should probably be pronounced "Ty-ree".
UNITY, in Saint James, got its name from the story of two brothers. The younger of the two asked the elder to borrow £1000 in order to purchase land, the elder refused and their relationship deteriorated. Sunday came and the two went to church, encountering a sermon on the importance of unity. The elder brother felt it was a sign and raised a loan to help his younger brother purchase the land. They named the place Unity.
VAUXHALL, in Saint Elizabeth, was named for a popular London tavern.
VICTORIA TOWN, in Manchester, was named after Queen Victoria.
YTHANSIDE, a village in Portland, is named after a place in Wales. Its first owner, William Espeut, also owned Spring Garden Estate in Portland where he was believed to have bred mongooses (imported from India) to kill rats on sugar plantations.
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