Maghreb placename etymology

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The place names of the Maghreb come from a variety of origins, mostly Arabic and Berber, but including a few derived from Phoenician, Latin, and several other languages. This is well illustrated by the three largest cities of Algeria, for instance: Algiers from Arabic al-jazā'ir "the islands", Oran from wahran from Berber wa-iharan "place of lions" and Constantine (Arabic Qasantina قسنطينة) from the Latin name of the emperor Constantine. For a Phoenician name, one has to look a little harder; but take, for instance, Jijel, shortened from Latin Igilgili, from Phoenician i gilgilt "Island of the Skull" (according to Lipinski.)

Given the fact that Arabs founded very few cities in the regions they conquered, a large portion of cities in Arab countries have non-Arab etymologies. Many places, however, have had their names changed and "Arabized." The following toponymic elements are common in place names in the Maghreb:

  • agadir, granary, wall (Berber)
  • aghbal أغبال, spring. (Berber)
  • adrar أدرار, mountain. (Berber)
  • tit eye, source, plural tittawin. (Berber)
  • aït or ath آيت, "sons of". (Berber)
  • ighrem "settlement" (Berber)
  • azrou أزرو, "stone" from (Berber) "azru"
  • berkane بركان, "black" from (Berber) aberkan.
  • bordj برج, fort. from Latin
  • bou بو, place of (literally "father of"). Maghrebi Arabic and (Berber), from (Arabic) abū أبو.
  • casbah قصبة, old quarter of a town. (Arabic)
  • chergui شرقي (pl. cheraga شراقة), eastern. (Arabic)
  • chott شطّ, a swampy salt lake. Maghrebi Arabic, from (Arabic) shātī شاطئ
  • dar دار, pl. diar ديار, home. (Arabic)
  • djebel جبل, mountain. (Arabic)
  • djemaa جامع, mosque. (Arabic)
  • douar دوار, (traditionally) region about the size of a county (Arabic)
  • erg "field of dunes" (in the Sahara.)
  • foggara "irrigation channel" (in the Sahara.)
  • gharbi غربي, "western" (Arabic)
  • hamada, "barren rock plain" (in the Sahara.)
  • hamra f., hmar m. أحمر, "red" (Arabic)
  • hassi حاسي, "well" (in the Sahara.)
  • idhan "sand dunes", Tamahaq, the Tuareg language. (Berber)
  • ifrane "caves". (Berber)
  • ighil "hill". (Berber)
  • in "of", Tamahaq, Tuareg language. (Berber)
  • kalaa قلعة, "fortress". (Arabic)
  • khemis خميس, "Thursday". (Arabic)
  • ksar قصر, "fortified town, castle". (Arabic) from Latin castrum
  • lalla لالاّ, "female saint". Maghrebi Arabic from (Berber)
  • larbâa "Wednesday". (Arabic)
  • melloul ملول, mellal ملال, mellil مليل, "white" from (Berber) amellal.
  • mersa مرسى, "port" (Arabic)
  • n ن, "of" (Berber)
  • oued واد. Maghrebi Arabic from (Arabic) wādī وادي
  • ouled ولاد, "sons of" Maghrebi Arabic from (Arabic) awlâd أولاد.
  • ras راس, "cape, head" (Arabic)
  • sebkha ou sabkha, "salt pan"
  • seghir صغير, "small" (Arabic)
  • si سي or sidi سيدي, "male saint" (Arabic)
  • souk سوق, "market" (Arabic) مرسى, search
  • tadrart "the rock" Tamahaq. (Berber)
  • tala تالا, "spring" (Berber); attested as early as Sallust's time in the form Thala.
  • tan, tin "of, in" Tamahaq. (Berber)
  • taourirt تاوريرت, "hill". (Berber)
  • tedles تدلس, "reeds". (Berber)
  • tehe "pass" Tamahaq, Tuareg language. (Berber)
  • tell تل, "hill" (Arabic)
  • tizi تيزي, "pass" (Berber)
  • tell تل, "hill" (Arabic)
  • Wahran وهران, "city", Literary (Arabic)
  • wan, win "of" Tamahaq. (Berber)
  • zaouia زاوية "Quranic school" Maghrebi Arabic, from (Arabic) "corner".
  • zemmour زمور. (Berber) azemmur, f. tazemmurt "olive tree".
  • Zenati زناتي, from the medieval (Berber) tribe Zenata.
  • zeriba زريبة, "stockade" (Arabic)
  • zmala زمالة, pl. zmoul زمول "encampment"