A Glimpse of Yesterday

A Typology of Regional Variation and Cultural Continuity in Lebanese Place-Names

A project proposal

Elie Wardini

Department of East European and Oriental Studies University of Oslo

June 1994

1 - Introduction

I remember a poster hanging on the wall of my classroom in my homeland - Lebanon. It featured a picture of one of the many historical sites in Lebanon with the following caption: A Young state - six thousand years old. At first, as a child, I did not understand what it meant. I thought that a young country could be six thousand years old! With time I understood more of the ways of politics and history, and began to appreciate the poster hanging in my classroom.

What does the Lebanon of today have to do with the "Lebanon"(1) that existed then? I quote Wild: "At a time where, in the Syrian desert, the Bedouin are beginning to use place-names like ij-Jfur (The pump-station H4), and the industrial age in Lebanon is dawning, the spectrum of Lebanese place-names shows us an enthralling and extraordinarily vivid picture of yesterday."(2) Besides historical research, archeology, iconography etc., the study of names has been rightly recognized as a treasure grove of information about those who have given and used these names.

Situated on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, the regions of Lebanon were caught up in the tug-of-war at first between Egypt and Mesopotamia and later between Greece and Persia. A death blow was delivered to the latter two empires as a result of the Arab/Islamic conquests. The year 622 - the date of Muhammad's migration to Medina - has become a dividing line between two eras: the "Ancient Near East" and the "Middle East"; eras that are treated as if they were two different worlds connected only by the Arab/ Islamic conquests. It is often forgotten that these "eras" are geographical terms referring more or less to the same geographical regions. This "dividing line" is arbitrary. The present study should therefore be seen as a study on Continuity and Change. One could ask: After major upheavals: How much of the "old" continues into the "new"? How do language shifts affect place-names? What can we conclude in cases of change? It is my hope that the study of place-names in Lebanon will contribute to furthering our knowledge of onomastics in general and Semitic onomastics in particular as well as contribute to the study of Semitic lexicography and dialectology.

Many of the studies on place-names in Lebanon in particular and the Levant in general(3) are mere lists of names attempting to identify the places and presenting an etymology. Wild in his Libanesische Ortsnamen (1973), has presented a typology describing mainly the morphology, the lexical elements and the structure of Lebanese place-names. The present project will take these studies a step further:

It will first update the material in earlier studies incorporating the latest findings in the fields of Semitic lexicography, onomastics and dialectology.
It will then plot variation across the Lebanese territory in space and time.

2 - Working hypothesis

2.1 - The Issue

Central to the ethnic make-up of the communities of Lebanon is their religious affiliation (4). Part of the conceptions of these communities about themselves and about the other communities are traditions concerning their origins. Though the Maronites insist that they are indigenous to Lebanon, some (5) insist that they migrated from the Syrian plains in the Orontes valley. The Shi'ites see themselves as migrants from South Arabia who settled mainly in South Lebanon (6). The Druse are said to have migrated from Egypt. The Sunni are said to be the descendants of the Arabs who settled in Lebanon after the Arab conquests, while the Greek Orthodox are said to be descendants of the Ghassanids, a Christian Arab tribe. Moreover the different Lebanese communities live to a great extent concentrated in certain regions rather than evenly scattered and intermingled across Lebanese territory.

2.2 - The correlation

Supposing that the traditions about the different ethnic origins of the different Lebanese communities are true and given the geographic concentration of these communities, one would then expect to discern traces of these supposedly different origins represented in Lebanese place-names in general and more specifically along the different regional concentrations of the communities reflecting the different backgrounds (7) of the supposed immigrants (8). True that place-names need not represent fully the ethnic make up of a certain region - place-names can be inherited, with or without adaptation, over long periods of time even if the ethnic make up of the region has changed; place-names are often coined in analogy (9) with other existing place-names - one would nevertheless expect that place-names reflect such migrations since the mentioned traditions imply that these migrations had started before the Islamic/ Arab conquests (some 1300 years ago).

2.3 - The hypothesis

Traditions about migration abound. Though they may have some elements of truth, they are usually more or less of etiological nature. Based on my study of the history of the region and my review of the works done on Lebanese place-names, it is my opinion that despite some records of immigration to Lebanon, shifts in religion and language are the results of diffusion rather than shifts in population. Linguistic evidence point in the same direction. Concerning the Aramaic substrate in Lebanese Arabic, Fleish argues: "Le substrat araméen est répandu dans tout le Liban." (10) It is my contention therefore that Lebanese place-names do not support the traditions of migration and the different origins of the Lebanese communities (11). I suggest rather that they will point in the direction of cultural continuity. In the light of the fact that Aramaic was still in use relatively late in the Lebanon mountain - 5th. cnt. BC. > 18th. cnt. AD. - I expect that the bulk of place-names are Aramaic, some adapted and some not. I maintain also that Lebanese place-names, with certain exceptions, are homogeneous. Variation and change are also homogeneously distributed over the different regions reflecting the topography of Lebanon as well as the linguistic and religious shifts that Lebanon has witnessed (12). Variation on the basis of religion seems to be significant. I expect, nevertheless, that it is the exception rather than the rule.

The following questions therefore present themselves:

3 - Methodology: a comparative approach

In order to answer the questions that were presented above I will approach Lebanese place-names from a comparative angle.

  • Geographical comparison
    Comparison between the different regions where the different Lebanese communities are concentrated will determine the degree of the significance of differences based on the regional distribution, frequency and nature of the different constituents of Lebanese place-names. (see section 6 - An example).
  • Diachronic comparison
    The geographic location of Lebanon has contributed to the existence of a relatively rich and ancient documentation giving the scholar a fascinating bird's-eye view of the development of place-names in Lebanon over a period of five thousand years. A diachronic comparison of Lebanese place-names aims at establishing the quantity and quality of change (i.e. continuity vs change) in time. This study will take as a point of departure the list of Lebanese place-names as established by the Lebanese authorities in 1970 (13). These names will then be compared to lists of ancient and medieval Lebanese place-names. A diachronic comparison will also help:

    establish a chronological frame for the purpose of absolute and/ or relative dating of Lebanese place-names as well as for types of names.
    establish as correct etymologies as possible using all the forms attested of a certain place-name (14).

  • Based on a geographical and diachronic comparison, the present study will present answers to the following questions:

    Are there any significant typological differences between the regions?
    - Distribution of names according to the type of localities
    - Distribution of languages attested
    - Distribution of semantic/ lexical elements
    - Distribution of phonological elements
    - Distribution of grammatical elements
    - Distribution of different structures of place-names
    - Distribution of grammatical and phonological changes
    When significant typological differences between regions are attested:
    - Which types of features are shared and which are not?
    - Do these differences coincide with the regional concentrations of the different communities of Lebanon?
    - What are the causes of these differences?
    How are place-names affected by shifts in language?
    Which elements of place-names are prone to: - i) Preservation; - ii) Translation; - iii) Adaptation

    As far as semantics are concerned Wild states: "Place-names show the Lebanon as a resort of the pious, where Canaanite gods, Christian saints and Muslim sheikhs mingle. Valleys and rivers, springs and forests, peaks and mountains stamp the life of the people. Place-names, the linguistically petrified remnants of cultural history, preserve the memory of the cedar, where there are no more cedars, and recall roaming wolves and bears where there are no more than the occasional fox. Generations of hunters and farmers, shepherds and hermits have left their unmistakable imprint on Lebanese toponymy."(15)

    As far as structure is concerned Lebanese place-names are structurally of two kinds: i) simplex (usually a noun), ii) Ncst + NP (the first Noun in the construct state and the NP can be a place-name, a personal name or a noun). As far as languages are concerned I expect to find the following:

    i. Canaanite unchanged place-names (e.g. Be'erot = Beirut, Sur = Tyre).
    ii. Aramaic unadapted names (e.g. Bikfayya, Kifrayya)
    iii. Adapted Canaanite/ Aramaic names through:
    a) translation: (Canaanite Sidon > Aramaic Sayda "fishing, hunting"; unattested pre-Arabic "house of youth" > attested Arabic Bayt Shabeb (16))
    b) phonetic changes: (*Bashkinta > Baskinta "the house of dwelling", following the regular correspondence between Aramaic /sh/ and Arabic /s/)
    c) folk etymologies: (*NaHla "valley" > Nakhle "palm-tree" due to frequent correspondence between Aram/aic /H/ and Arabic /kh/)
    iv. Arabic names (M'amiltayn "the two districts") evenly spread in Lebanon
    v. Non-Semitic names (Turkish Qashlaq "winter quarters"; French Bois de Boulogne; Greek InTilyes < antelios "the sun offering")

    4 - The regional divisions

    Keeping in mind that the modern state of Lebanon in its present borders was established in 1920 and that borders and political entities have often changed, there are enough elements (geographical, historical, linguistic etc.) to warrant a diachronic study of place-names within the borders of present-day Lebanon - from ancient Phoenicia to modern Lebanon. Lebanon (on average 200 km. long and 50 km. wide) is divided administratively into five districts (Arabic muHafaDha):

    A- The North, with Tripoli as district-capital
    B- Mount Lebanon, with Baabda as district-capital
    C- The South, with Saida as district-capital
    D- Beqaa, with Zahle as district-capital
    E- Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.

    These districts are in turn divided into counties (Arabic qaDa'):

    A:  a-  Akkar   B:  g-  Jbayl     C:  m-  Saida     D:  t-  Hirmil
        b-  Tripoli     h-  Keserwen      n-  Jezzine       u-  Baalbak
        c-  Zgharta     i-  Matn          o-  Nabatiyye     v-  Zahle
        d-  Bsharre     j-  Baabda        p-  Sour          w-  Western Beqaa
        e-  Koura       k-  Alay          q-  Bent Jbayl    x-  Rashayya
        f-  Batroun     l-  Shouf         r-  Marjeoun
                                          s-  Hasbayya

    I will follow these administrative divisions in defining the different regions of Lebanon that will be compared. I will group together into regions the adjacent counties that are dominated by a certain community (17).

    For the purposes of comparison, I will divide the territory of Lebanon into the following regions (18):

    region 1:
    a- Akkar and b- Tripoli: dominant Sunni population with Some Christians:
    region 2:
    c- Zgharta, d- Bsharre, e- Koura, f- Batroun: dominant Christian population:
    region 3:
    g- Jbayl and h- Keserwen: dominant Christian population with a small Shi'ite community which, historically, was much larger:
    region 4:
    i- Matn and j- Baabda: dominant Christian population with a small Druse community which, historically, was much larger:
    region 5:
    k- Alay and l- Shouf: dominant Druse population with a substantial Christian population which, historically, was smaller:
    region 6:
    m- Saida, n- Jezzine and o- Nabatiyye: a majority Sunni population with a substantial Christian and Shi'ite population
    region 7:
    p- Sour, q- Bent Jbayl, r- Marjeoun and s- Hasbayya: dominant Shi'ite population with Christian and Druse minorities:
    region 8:
    t- Hirmil, u- Baalbak, v- Zahle, w- Western Beqaa and x- Rashayya: dominant Shi'ite population with a substantial Christian community:
    region 9:
    y- Beirut: all communities are represented.

      We have thus established three types of regions:
    1. dominated by one community: 1 (Sunni), 2 (Christian), 5 (Druse) and 7 (Shi'ite)(19)
    2. with a shift of domination (shift during the last 300-350 years): 3 (Shi'ite/ Christian > Christian) and 4 (Druse/ Christian > Christian)
    3. with mixed population: region 6 (mainly Sunni, also Christian and Shi'ite).

    5 - The data

    5.1- The geographical distribution

    A study of the sort this project is proposing should on the one hand include as much data as possible in order to have a corpus that is representative. On the other hand, if the project is to be concluded within the prescribed time (4 years including field work, teaching and course requirements) the data should be limited to an adequate number of place-names in a well defined region. I will therefore include in this study place-names of localities that are included in regions 1-7. Here again I follow the administrative divisions. The borders between the Beqaa district and the other districts run along the peaks of the western chain of the Lebanon mountains. Geographically, I thus include in this study the western slopes of the western chain of the Lebanon mountains including the coast (see map).

    5.2 - The number of place-names

    Of a total of 2529 recorded (20) place-names of different localities in all of Lebanon, regions 1-7 include names of 2181 different localities represented by a total of 1890 different names. In their turn these names are composed of less than 1329 different lexical items. Moreover, of the 2181 different names of localities, some 665 names are formed by compounding one of 27 appellatives holding the position of Ncst to either personal names (the far majority), place-names or some new names. Of these 27 appellatives 7 are by far the most frequent representing 451 different localities. The 2181 localities are distributed rather evenly among the different regions: 1/ 382 loc.; 2/ 280 loc.; 3/ 350 loc.; 4/ 259 loc., 5/ 315 loc.; 6/ 325 loc.; 7/ 266 loc., i.e. an average of 311 localities per region. Moreover the different regions are also comparable in terms of area (see map).

    On a technical note, the 1945 list (2529 loc.) as well as the names occurring in Frayha's Dictionary (some 1700 names) are already registered in the computer program FileMakerPro. These will be adjusted and completed with the 1970 list and the names occurring in Wild. This will be a precious aid in sorting my data.

    5.3 - The sources

    My main sources will be the works Frayha, Wild and Dussaud. These will be supplemented with general works on ancient, medieval and modern Lebanese place-names or on regions that include Lebanon (Alt, Boree, Furrer, Kampffmeyer, Lammens, Littmann, Nöldeke, Noth). There are also catalogues covering Lebanese place-names in Egyptian sources (Simons, Ahituv, Gardiner, Jirku), in the Ebla archives (Pettinato, Fronzaroli), in the Bible (Aharoni, Na'man, Kallai, Simons), in Assyrian sources (Parpola), Ugaritic (Honeyman), Greek and Latin sources (Eusebius, Thomsen and Honigman), in Jewish extra-biblical sources (Duensing, Freimark, Neunauer) and Arabic sources (Hartman, Thilo). These lists will be completed with the relevant material that have not been included in the above lists (these are minimal, only Syriac sources will require some work).

    5.4 - Some remarks

    1. In cases deemed necessary as well as test cases, I intend to establish through field work the nature of the localities and their relationship to their names. I intend to use two summers for this purpose. As far as ancient sources are concerned only names that can be located with certainty will be used.
    2. For the transcription of Lebanese place-names in the languages of the sources and the evaluation of these sources I will consult the literature dealing with this question as related to the different Semitic languages.
    3. I will compare my results with other studies on place-names in the region so as to determine if certain features are special to Lebanon or whether they are representative of the whole region, thus probably demanding a different interpretation.

    6 - An example

    6.1 - The background

    Three appellatives that occur frequently in the Ncst position (representing 318 localities of a total of 2529) are:
    1) mazr'it (21) (farm, 160 times); 2) mraH (stable, 94 times); 3) mar (saint, 64 times).

    Following is what Wild says about these names:

    1) mazr'a:
    "Ein im Libanon sehr verbreites Ortsappellativ ist mazra'a. Es bedeutet eignetlich "bebautes, urbares Landstück", dann die Felder, die eine kleine Gruppe von Bauernhäusen umgibt, und die von einer größeren Siedlung in der Nähe abhängen, und schließlich diese kleine Häusergruppe selbst, also geradezu "Weiler"... "Zusammensetzung mit Personnamen...; Zusammensetzung mit Gewässerbezeichnungen...; Zusammensetzung mit Gebäuden...; Zusammensetzung mit Pflanzennamen..."
    2) mraH:
    "mraH ... ist ein fast ausschließlich im Libanon verbreites Ortsnamenappellativ. Es bedeutet "Stall, Hürde, Lagerplatz (für Vieh)", daneben auch Gebäude, in dem die Seidenraupe gezogen wird... Die Zusammensetzungen sind meist rein arabisch: Personnamen..."
    "Die Verbindung mit mar "Heiliger" ist eindeutiges Zeichen für eine christliche Kultstätte; das Wort mar ist aus aramäischen mar "mein Herr" entstanden. ... erscheinen die Klosternamen sehr häufig so..." (22)

    6.2 - The data

    The distribution of these three appellatives is as follows:
    Mazr'it (160 times)   mraH (94 times)    mar (64 times)
       region 1 7          region 1 6          region 1 8
       region 2 7          region 2 4          region 2 18
       region 3 8          region 3 -          region 3 12
       region 4 7          region 4 -          region 4 19
       region 5 7          region 5 -          region 5 4
       region 6 69         region 6 7          region 6 2
       region 7 42         region 7 12         region 7 -
       region 8 12         region 8 65         region 8 1
    These names are not uniformly distributed among the different regions. The appellative mazr'a is concentrated in the two adjacent regions 6 and 7 (see map). It is otherwise attested evenly in the other regions (slightly more in the Beqaa). The appellative mraH is highly regional, with an overwhelming attestation in region 8 (65 of 94) with a small pocket in regions 1 and 2 (10 of 94). It is also attested in the adjacent regions 6 and 7 (the remaining 19 times). It is not attested in regions 3-5. The appellative mar is attested in 7 of 8 regions. Yet this attestation is not evenly spread in the regions. It is concentrated in the 3 adjacent regions 2, 3 and 4 (49 of 64). Region 1 is closer to regions 2-4 (8 attestations), while regions 5, 6 and 8 have very few attestations (7 of 64). This appellative is not attested in region 7.

    6.3 - The explanation

    The first two appellatives mazr'a and mraH are explained in terms of topography. Regions 2-5 are mountainous areas. Large-scale farming or cattle breading would be difficult. The North (region 1), the South (regions 6 and 7) and the Beqaa valley (region 8) on the other hand abound in flat land conducive to large-scale farming and cattle breading. So despite the regional concentration of these two appellatives, they are not ethnically marked, but rather are a result of topographical factors. The third appellative (mar) on the other hand is clearly religiously marked. Not only does it refer to Christian saints, but is also attested in regions (2-4) which population is dominantly Christian.

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