Culture

How We Name Places

11th September 2017 0 comments

Names are a funny thing. All humans no matter their culture are attributed at least one name. There are the one-word-wonders, the designer names you can’t pronounce, names with triple alliteration that keep their owners from going to Starbucks because the whole cup-name thing is simply too vexing. There are babies named after Game of Thrones characters (Arya is a popular one), Instagram names (everyone seems to care the most about those) and cities whose names have changed over the course of history. Street names and names of cities are repeatedly named after political figures, activists, visionaries, the wildly famous, trees, birds, landmarks or the topography of the place. Names of towns, designate, more often than not, a sense of place.

Mauritius, by virtue of being a trilingual country with a complex culture and dense history, is blessed with some pretty great names of towns and streets. Here are our favorites (honestly, these never get old).

Fond du Sac

Fond du sac village

Quite literally, “bottom of the bag.” The traditional, largely residential village has a stunning temple, Sri Sri Panca Tattva Temple, that overlooks rows of sugarcane.

Quatres Soeurs (four sisters)/ Deux Frères (two brothers)/ Trois Boutiques (three shops)/ Quatre Cocos (four coconuts)

Numbers preceding a noun are a common sighting here. The result is usually funny, not to mention intriguing! There’s an expression used by Mauritians to denote what is far (“c’est à quatre cocos là-bas !”) which may or may not be related to the small village of Quatre Cocos that is quite remote.

Flic-en-Flac

Your tongue whips against your palate twice. Flic-en-Flac (the c is pronounced “k”). The seaside town is a happening town where teens flock on weekend to bask in the sun. The town is a deformity of its original Dutch name, Fried Landt Flaak (“free flat ground”) which was given by the Dutch during their occupation at the 17th century.

Gris-Gris

Gris gris beach, South of Mauritius

In “Mauritian” (not quite a language but a manner of speaking) and Creole, there is a bizarre tendency to repeat a word twice when describing something. For example, to say a little bit of something, locals commonly say “tigit tigit” or to describe a yellow object, they say “zaun zaun” instead of simply “zaun” (yellow from the french “jaune”). Gris-Gris is set on the far tip of the south-east coast on a cliff that looms above a dark blue sea. The big waves and breeze give the place a ghostly gloomy feel, to which the town owes its name “Gris Gris” (grey grey).

Grand-Bassin

Grand Bassin Hindu sacred lake in Mauritius

Often names are chosen based on the topography of a place. Grand Bassin (big pond), referred to as Gango Talao is one of these. The immense sacred lake is where Hindu pilgrims gather on Maha Shivaratri. The lake is said to be connected to the Ganges in India. Other names that tick the topography box are: Grand Baie (big bay), Riche Terre (rich soil), Belle Mare (pretty pond), Trou d’Eau Douce (sweet water hole), Riche-en-Eau (abundance of water)…

Curepipe

Mauritius’ second city, Curepipe is famed for its year-round rainy season, volcanic crater and shops and cafés. Its name dates back to 1867, when a malaria epidemic broke out, causing people to flee the lowlands of Port Louis, who upon entering Curepipe would “cure” their pipes of malarial bacteria by smoking them there.

One of the best ways to read some great signage and pass through quirky towns is by taking a bus in Mahébourg that travels up the coastal road to Flacq, on the east coast. The views are out of this world and the signs, well, we will let you decide for yourself.

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