Whilst I was learning Arabic, I sometimes came across a new word and noticed that there is a place with that word integrated into the name. Such instances are sometimes useful ways to remember and recall new words and learn a bit more about the Arabic language. Associations are excellent memory aids and is the rationale behind this article!
There are countless examples but let’s look at some of the most famous names.
Morocco in the Arabic language is al-maghreb (المغرب). It comes from the root gh-r-b which relates to the concept of sun and star setting (in the West). Maghrib literally means the place of sunsets. Indeed Morocco is the most western flank of the Arab World which is how it inherited the name.
On the other side of the Arab world you will find the Arab Emirate, Sharjah (الشارقة, ash-shariqah). It has the same root at sh-r-q for sun rises (in the East).
Sudan (in Arabic السودان) comes from the root s-w-d which conveys the concept of black / blacken. The country’s name is a derivative of this root literally meaning, ’black people’ – i.e the land of black people (بلاد السودان). The Arabs were renowned explorers and the Sudanese tribes were probably the darkest skinned people they encountered on their travels thus naming the area after them.
The Sahara (الصحراء) is probably one of the most famous Arabic names. The root S-H-r refers to deserted areas. In Arabic there are two types of s.
A soft s – س
A strong S – ص
There are two types of h
A soft h – ه
A strong H – ح
In Arabic, the word SaHra (desert) has both of the strong consonants.
This is one of my favourites because you can learn two things about the Arabic language in one go.
Bahr is sea (بحر).
The Arabic language uses two types of plural: the dual (two) and the plural (three or more).
The word for two in Arabic is ethnaan (اثنان) and the suffix of the word is integrated into noun to make it dual.
Al-bahrain (البحرين) is thus the dual form of sea.
Bahrain is a country in the Gulf flanked by two seas!
Dar As-salaam (دار السلام) in Tanzania was a key trading outpost for Arab maritime trade. It means the ‘home of peace’ – or alternatively ‘region of Islam’ since ‘Islam’ and the word for ‘peace’ both share the same root. The word is also a good example of the ‘Arabic sun letters’. Al-salaam is pronounced as-salaam because the ’s’ sound from ‘salaam’ dominates the ‘l’ sound in ‘al’.
Here are some more famous ones
Gibraltar is an easy way to remember the word for mountain (جبل). It means literally Jebl Tareeq (جبل طارق) – Tareeq’s mountain.
The Alhambra (الحمراء) in Spain is a incredible palace (قصر – qasr) built during the Muslim occupation of Spain. Its full name is قصر الحمراء – the red palace and al-hambra is the adjective and simply means red.
This Emirate of Abu Dhabi (أبو ظبي) gives us two Arabic words: father (أب – ab) and gazelle (ظبي – dhabi), thus this Emirate is the ‘father of the gazelle’.
A few more
Algeria pronounced in the Arabic language is al-jazeer (الجزائر) and it means ‘the islands’.
Jeddah (جدة) is a city in Saudi Arabia and the name is possibly related to the word of the same spelling, jaddah (grandmother).
Muscat (مسقط) comes from the root s-q-t which describes the concept of something falling or landing. With the ‘m’ prefix, this word denotes the places where something lands.
Sana’a (صنعاء), a city Yemen comes from the same root (S-n-3) as in production or craftsmanship.
Aden (عدن) also in Yemen, shares its root with 3-d-n – i.e., the concept of paradise – or better known as Eden where the word originates from.