Origins of European rivers' names

Maciamo

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Rivers are some of the oldest geographic names, simply because they predate any human settlement, and were more important to our prehistoric ancestors (for drinking water, transport, washing...) than mountains. The origin of many rivers' name is lost in the depth of time. We nevertheless know the name (or one of the names) most of them had during the Iron Age, Bronze Age and sometimes even before.

Celtic names

- Danube (2,860 km) : from Celtic Dānu, meaning "to flow" (same origin for the Rivers Don, Dnieper and Dniester in Russia).

- Dordogne (490 km) : from the pre-Celtic Durānius, derived from the Proto-Indo-European root dur- or dor-, and the suffix -onna, which means "source, river".

- Douro (897 km) : probably from the Celtic root is *dubro- ("water"), Latinised as Durius.

- Loire (1,091 km) : from Celtic Liga, which means "silt, sediment, deposit, alluvium". Adapated into Latin as Liger.

- Main (524 km) : from Celtic Moin or Mogin (after the god Mogon). Latinised as Moenus.

- Meuse (925 km) : from Mosa (also in Latin), the name of a Celtic deity.

- Neckar (367 km) : from Celtic root Nik-, meaning "wild water" or "wild fellow", evolving into Nikros, Nicarus and Neccarus.

- Rhône (813 km) : from the Celtic Rodo or Roto, literally "that which rolls", or "that which runs". Adapted by the Greeks into Rhodanos, then by the Romans into Rhodanus.

- Seine (776 km) : from Sicauna, made up of Celtic sakw, which means "sacred" and from the Pre-Indo-European suffix -onna which means "source, river".

- Thames (346 km) : from the Celtic Tamēssa, probably meaning "dark". Rendered in Latin as Tamesis and in Middle English as Temese.

- Trent (298 km) : from the Celtic words tros ("over") and hynt ("way"), possibly meaning "strongly flooding".

Germanic names

- Elbe (1,091 km) : from the Old Germanic Albia, meaning "river".

- IJssel (125 km) : from the Germanic i sala, meaning "dark water".

- Rhine (1,320 km) : from Middle High German Rin, from the Proto-Indo-European root *reie- ("to flow, run").

- Scheldt (350 km) : from the Old Germanic word for "thin" or "shallow" (corresponding to Old English sceald, Low German schol, Frisian skol, and Swedish skäll).

- Weser (452 km) : from Wisara (or Wisura, Wisera, Wisora), probably meaning "meadow water", probably from the Indo-European root *ueis/*uis ("to flow").

Latin names

- Ebro (910 km) : from Latin Iber, probably referring to Iberia.

- Moselle (545 km) : from the Latin Mosella ("Little Meuse").

- Po (652 km) : from Latin Padus, related to the wild pine trees in valley. The former Greek name was Eridanus, and the Ligurian name was Bodincus, meaning "river without bottom" or "deep river".

- Tagus (1,038 km) : from Latin taliāre, meaning "to cut (though)".


Other roots

- Garonne (575 km) : from the Aquitanian/Old Basque root *kʰarr-, meaning "rock", and a Pre-Indo-European suffix -unn-, -onna which means "source, river".

- Guadalquivir (657 km) : from the Arabic al-wadi al-Kabir, meaning the "great river".

- Oder (866 km) : from proto-Indo-European Adra, probably meaning "water vein".

- Severn (354 km) : from Hafren (Latinised as Sabrina), name of a pre-Celtic princess or nymph drown in the river.

- Tiber (406 km) : from the Estruscan or Italic word Tibur, possibly related to the Celtic root-word dubr, "water".
 
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did you make an error ?

Celtic names

- Danube (2,860 km) : from Celtic Dānu, meaning "to flow" (same origin for the Rivers Don, Dnieper and Dniester in Russia).

From wiki:
During the times of the old Scythians it was known in Greek as the Tanaïs, and has been a major trading route ever since.
Tanais appears in ancient Greek sources as the name of the river and of a city on it, situated in the Maeotian marshes. The name derives however from Scythian (East Iranian) Dānu "river", akin to Ossetic don "river", and Pashto dand (ډنډ) or dun (depending on dialect) "pond, lake".
the name is (East Iranian) .
 
EBRO is NOT LATIN. It is pre-roman. It is discussed between the Basque "Ibar" which means "River", or the Greek "Ebros" which means "wide". But not Latin.
The basque word ibai (ibáy; "river") converts to the word ibar (ibár; "vega") and this roots are found in different rivers of Europe.
In Serbia we found the river Ibar.
In Hessen the river Ibra. In southern Germany two rivers Ebrach , and many rivers Eberbäche. Ebesberg in the Alps. In Austria the river Ybbs. In Francia we find Ivergny, Iverny, Yvré-l'évêque, Ébréon, Évrune, Ebersheim, Yvry-en-montagne in the Basque Country Ibarra, Ibarrola, Ibarrekolanda, Ibardin, Aranibar. And obviously the river Ebro which comes from the prerroman Iber , that eventually became the name of the Iberians and the Peninsula
 
EBRO is NOT LATIN. It is pre-roman. It is discussed between the Basque "Ibar" which means "River", or the Greek "Ebros" which means "wide". But not Latin.
The basque word ibai (ibáy; "river") converts to the word ibar (ibár; "vega") and this roots are found in different rivers of Europe.
In Serbia we found the river Ibar.
In Hessen the river Ibra. In southern Germany two rivers Ebrach , and many rivers Eberbäche. Ebesberg in the Alps. In Austria the river Ybbs. In Francia we find Ivergny, Iverny, Yvré-l'évêque, Ébréon, Évrune, Ebersheim, Yvry-en-montagne in the Basque Country Ibarra, Ibarrola, Ibarrekolanda, Ibardin, Aranibar. And obviously the river Ebro which comes from the prerroman Iber , that eventually became the name of the Iberians and the Peninsula

Thanks for the feedback. I think you are right, "Ebro" probably comes from Basque "Ibar", and could ultimately be related to many pre-Indo-European languages in Europe. The question is : Is Basque mostly a Cro-Magnon-descended language (hg I) or a Neolithic language from the Near East or North Africa (related to the La Almagra Pottery) ? If "Ibar" also shows up in Greece, Serbia, Austria and South Germany, it seems more likely to be of Near Eastern origin.

The Basque may belong to Y-haplogroup R1b, but Prehistoric Basques had a lot of mt-haplogroups J, T and K, which are thought to have been the main maternal lineages of Near-Eastern farmers.
 
did you make an error ?



From wiki:
During the times of the old Scythians it was known in Greek as the Tanaïs, and has been a major trading route ever since.
Tanais appears in ancient Greek sources as the name of the river and of a city on it, situated in the Maeotian marshes. The name derives however from Scythian (East Iranian) Dānu "river", akin to Ossetic don "river", and Pashto dand (ډنډ) or dun (depending on dialect) "pond, lake".
the name is (East Iranian) .

Scythian and Celtic might both have had the same word for river. Both are Indo-European languages. Why would the Scythians have named the Danube when they never lived there ?
 
Many thanks for these interesting messages!
Who did hear about Krahe's theory "Alt Europa (ancient Europe)?
According to him a lot of river names in Europe (Italy, Francy, Germany,
Scandinavia) have arisen about 2000 BC. Sre google "Krahe".

For example:it is not certain if the name of river IJssel is germanic.
See the name Weichsel, Wisla, Isla, perhaps an old-european name.
And some onomotologists thought that the name of the German river
Weser (Visurgis in Latin) was celtic or old-european.

But I believe that the name of the river Schelde is purely germanic.
Is it a prove the Germanic tribes have lived in Belgium and north of
France from 500 BC?
 
Shannon, the longest river in the British Isles.

The origin of the name is presumably that of the name of the Goddess associated with the river, "Sionna". Celtic in origin.
 
I remember reading about the origins of the Celts in an Irish book. It was referring to 3 "D" rivers that the auther was suggesting linked them to Danube, Don, and Dan, or somthing. Do you know which these are and what their Celtic names were, and if they represented Gods or what?
 
Other roots

Severn (354 km) : from Hafren (Latinised as Sabrina), name of a pre-Celtic princess or nymph drown in the river.

Hafren is the Welsh for the Severn from the Brittonic Sabrina, it’s not Latin.
 
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I see no British Isles pre-Celtic name survivals mentioned. Have none been identified?
 

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