What's in a name?

What's in a name?

Me No Sen You No Come (literal translation: If I don’t send for you, don’t come) is actually the name of a place in Jamaica. And it’s found in the district of Look Behind! It’s unlikely that most visitors to the island will go there, as it is deep in the Cockpit Country in the middle of the island. Folklore tells us that it was a town inhabited in the 1800s by runaway slaves known as Maroons seeking refuge from the British.

Incidentally, Cockpit Country in the parish of Trelawny – named after a governor of Jamaica – is so-called because it consists of hundreds of acres of virtually impenetrable depressions set in steep hills resembling an egg carton. Jamaican place names are often derived from those given by the country’s colonizers; some have sentimental associations, others describe physical surroundings and the use the land was put to or recall people who were early settlers.

For nearly 700 years, Taino Indians, the earliest settlers whose ancestors came from Latin America, had settlements throughout the island. They left us with a few names including Xaymaca (land of wood and water) which eventually became Jamaica as we know it today, through translations and pronunciations by the earliest colonizers. The plain on which Kingston sits is known as Liguanea after the iguana, a reptile that is now virtually extinct on the island. Port Royal, at the entrance to Kingston harbour, was once known as Caguay (where canoes and boats could be beached) but was renamed first Fort Cromwell and later Port Royal after the restoration of the monarchy.

Should you travel around the island, you will recognize Spanish names. There is the Rio Grande in Portland, Rio Minho near May Pen and Rio Nuevo outside Ocho Rios where the Spanish fought their last battle against the British. Ocho Rios is probably the most well-known name with a Spanish legacy.


Originally named Las Chorreras, (the bay of waterfalls), by the Spanish it was clumsily interpreted by their British invaders as meaning “eight rivers” and thus became Ocho Rios. Where else did the Spanish make a contribution? Well, for one Montego Bay is derived from the word “ manteca” taken from the lard from the hogs that were raised on the land. In mid-island there is the bustling town of Santa Cruz and St. Ann’s Bay was first known as Santa Gloria by Christopher Columbus who marveled at the beauty of the countryside. On the coast there is Port Antonio, Port Maria and Oracabessa, a contraction of the suspected name ‘Oro de Cabeza’ or ‘Golden Head’.

Place names given by the British colonizers are in abundance, and follow the tradition of naming places in the New World after well-known locations back home. They range from the cruise ship terminal of Falmouth, once a major slave-trading port, to Irish Town near Kingston so-called because the Irish coopers, who made barrels for coffee, plied their trade there. Boston, where you get your delicious jerked pork in the parish of Portland, is named after the town of the same name in Lincolnshire, while Seaford Town in St. Elizabeth was named after Lord Seaford who brought German settlers to the parish.

People’s names have been kept for some places although some are obscure. Mary Brown’s Corner and Matilda’s Corner in Kingston probably recall local women of the day who had shops or rooming houses. Or you might raft down the Martha Brae River near Falmouth; legend names her as a Taino witch who tricked the gold-hungry Spaniards.

Nature has provided many Jamaican place names. Savanna-la-Mar, a Savannah plain by the sea or ‘la mar’, Fern Gully is enshrouded in ferns and Alligator Pond in St. Elizabeth reputedly has the occasional crocodile - because the nearest alligator is actually a native of Florida. Another naming practice is biblical, yes, there is a Bethlehem, while another is pretty straightforward, and quite a few Eight Miles can be found. As long as you know what it is eight miles from, well it’s pretty easy to not get too lost.

There are a few names that will bring a chuckle to the lips, like Tan An See, inviting you to stand and see the view, and Rest And Be Thankful which is pretty straightforward, but Wait-A-Bit, is actually named for a flower while Duppy Gate is named for the ‘duppy’ or ghost of the soldier reportedly seen by those at their post.

The most common place names have a sentimental flavour like Friendship, Mount Pleasant, Retirement and Harmony Hall. It is a phenomena said to be fairly rare in other Caribbean countries. The most popular of these is Content with 28 towns bearing that name island-wide, with the most famous of these being Sherwood Content, the birthplace of Jamaica’s phenomenal sprinter Usain Bolt. No wonder he had the peace of mind necessary to achieve his athletic prowess and legendary status!

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