Vol. 65 No. 4 (2017)

Indigenous Common Names and Toponyms in Southern Africa

Published 2017-10-02


The primary process of toponymic formation by the earliest indigenous inhabitants of the African sub-continent, the Bushmen and Khoikhoi, was evolutionary. Due to their primary onomastic function, descriptions or common names that identified and referred to geographical features gradually lost their descriptive or lexical semantic relevance and assumed the status of proper names. Physical and cultural contact, including language contact, took place between these indigenous groups and incoming Bantu and European peoples over the past 2000 years. Some indigenous toponyms were adopted by the incoming peoples, but adapted to the phonological and later orthographic systems of the receiver languages; some names were translated, while some were replaced by other names. The present article investigates the phonological and semantic processes of the adaptation of Bushman toponyms by Bantu and European peoples, including folk etymological and associative reinterpretation, and identifies fossilized and disguised Bushman common names embedded in the toponyms.


  1. Alexander, James Edward. 1838. An Expedition of Discovery into the Interior of Africa. 2 vols. London: H. Colburn.
  2. Barrow, J. 1801. An Account of Travels Into the Interior of Southern Africa in the Years 1797 and 1798. 2 vols. London: Cadell & Davies.
  3. Bleek, Dorothea F. 1929. Comparative Vocabularies of Bushman Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Bleek, Dorothea F. 1956. A Bushman Dictionary. New Haven: American Oriental Society.
  5. Bosman, D. B., and H. B. Thom (eds.). 1952. Daghregister Gehouden by den Oppercoopman Jan Anthonisz van Riebeeck, Deel 1, 1652–1655 [Diary Kept by the Chief Purchaser Anthonisz Van Riebeeck, Part I, 1962–1655]. Kaapstad: Balkema.
  6. Burchell, W. J. 1812. Travels in the Interior of Southern Africa. 2 vols. London: Batchworth Press.
  7. Cloppenburg, J. W. 1768. “Journaal van myn reijs van 23 September tot 16 November 1768.” [Journal of My Journey of 23 September to 16 November 1768.] Manuscript Verbatim Copy VC 96. Cape Archives, Cape Town.
  8. De Flacourt, E. 1655. Language des Sauuages de la Baye de Saldaigne au Cap de Bonne Esperance [Language of the Savages of the Bay of Saldaigne at Cape of Good Hope]. Paris: Petit Recueil.
  9. Doke, C. M., and B. W. Vilakazi. 2005. Zulu-English Dictionary. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.
  10. Gasque, T. J. 2016. “Review of Bushman (San) Influence on Bushman Place Names by Peter E.” Raper. Names 64, no. 1: 55–58.10.1080/00277738.2016.1118832
  11. Gove, Philip Babcock, ed. 1961. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged. London: G. Bell and Sons; Springfield, Mass: G. & C. Merriam.
  12. Hartog, Jan. 1707. “Dagregister Gehouden op de Landtogt en Vee Ruijling door den Baas Tuijnier Jan Hartog Ao 1707.” [Diary Kept on the Expedition and Cattle Barter by the Master Gardener Jan Hartog Anno 1707.] Manuscript. Cape Town: State Archives.
  13. Heine, Berndt, and Henry Honken. 2010. “The Kx’a Family; a New Khoisan Genealogy.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 79: 5–36.
  14. Kadmon, Naftali. 2000. Toponymy: the Lore, Laws and Language of Geographical Name. New York: Vantage Press.
  15. Kolbe, Peter. 1727. Naaukeurige en Uitvoerige Beschrijving van de Kaap de Goede Hoop [Accurate and Detailed Description of the Cape of Good Hope]. 2 dele. Amsterdam: Balthazar Lakeman.
  16. Krige, Eileen. 1975 “The Zulu.” In Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. Vol 12, editedby D. J. Potgieter et al, 595–596. Cape Town: Nasou.
  17. Kroenlein, J. G. 1889. Wortschatz der Khoi-Khoin [Vocabulary of the Khoi-Khoin]. Berlin: Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft.
  18. Le Vaillant, F. 1790. Travels into the Interior Parts of Africa, by Way of the Cape of Good Hope. 2 vols. London
  19. Lichtenstein, H. (1828) 1830. Travels in Southern Africa in the Years 1803, 1804, 1805 and 1806. 2 vols. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.
  20. Maingard, L. F. 1932. “Korana Names of Animals and Plants, Collected by Dr. Lucy Lloyd.” Bantu Studies 6 (4): 309–321.
  21. Maingard, L. F. 1964. “The Korana Dialects.” African Studies 23 (2): 57–66. 10.1080/00020186408707192
  22. Molsbergen, E. C. Godèe. (1916, 1922) 1932. Reizen in Zuid-Afrika in de Hollandse Tijd [Travels in South Africa in the Time of the Dutch]. 4 dele. ‘s Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff.
  23. Mossop, E. E., ed. 1931. Joernale van die Landtogte van die Edele vaandrig Olof Bergh (1682 en 1683) en van die Vaandrig Isaq Schrijver (1689) [Journals of the Expeditions of the Honorable Ensign Olof Bergh (1682 and 1683) and of the Ensign Isaq Schrijver (1689)]. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.
  24. Mossop, E. E., ed. 1935. The Journal of Hendrik Jacob Wikar (1779). Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.
  25. Mountain, Alan. 2003. The First People of the Cape. Cape Town: David Philip.
  26. Nezar, Willem. 1994. “Amptelike Noord-Sotho Plekname.” [Official Northern Sotho Place Names.] M.A. Dissertation, Department of African Languages, Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg.
  27. Nicolaisen, W. F. H. 1976. Scottish Place Names. London: Batsford.
  28. Nienaber, G. S. 1963. Hottentots. Pretoria: Van Schaik.
  29. Nienaber, G. S., and P. E. Raper 1977. Toponymica Hottentotica A [Hottentot Toponyms]. 2 vols. Pretoria: Raad vir Geesteswetenskaplike Navorsing [Human Sciences Research Council].
  30. Parkington, John. 2007. “//Kabbo’s Sentence.” In Claim to the Country: the Archive of Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek, edited by Pippa Skotnes, 74–89. Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jacana; Athens: Ohio University Press.
  31. Raper, Peter E. 2004. New Dictionary of South African Place Names. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball.
  32. Raper, Peter E., Lucie A. Möller, and L. Theodorus du Plessis. 2014. Dictionary of Southern African Place Names. 4th ed. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball.
  33. Rust, Fr. 1960. Deutsch-Nama Wörterbuch [German-Nama Dictionary]. Windhoek: Rheinische Mission. Südwestafrika.
  34. Schultze, L. 1907. Aus Namaland und Kalahari [From Namaland and the Kalahari]. Jena: Gustav Fischer.
  35. Smith, Andrew. 1835. “Hottentots Part 1.” Manuscript, South African Museum, Cape Town.
  36. Sparrman, A. 1785. A Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope. 2 vols. London: Robinson.
  37. Tindall, H. 1857. A Grammar and Vocabulary of the Namaqua-Hottentot Language. G. J. Pike: Cape Town.
  38. Traill, Anthony. 1978. “The Languages of the Bushmen.” In The Bushmen, edited by P. V. Tobias, 137–147. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau.
  39. Traill, Anthony. 2007. “!Khwa-ka Hhouiten Hhouiten: The Rush of the Storm.” In Claim to the Country: the Archive of Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek, edited by Pippa Skotnes, 130–147. Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jacana; Athens: Ohio University Press.
  40. Van Langendonck, Willy. 2010. “Is Name Formation a Form of Grammaticalization?” Paper presented at the 2010 Meeting of the American Name Society, Baltimore, MD.
  41. Von Winkelmann, Fr. 1788. Historische Nachrichten der östlichen Kaffern [Historical News of the Eastern Africans]. Manuscript. ‘s-Gravenhage: Algemeen Rijksargief.