Sunday 19 May, 2019

St Lucia's strangest names of places

Apart from its fabulous natural beauty that has been captured both in song and film, the island of St. Lucia has some romantic sounding names for most of its districts and streets that are tongue twisters for many of its visitors.

But visitors are not the only ones who are struck by the prevalence of the strange, yet quixotic names. St. Lucians are also amazed by those names.

The astonishing thing about those names is their ability to survive, some in existence for 200 years or so. Even more astonishing is that the vast majority of the names have a French ring to them even though the country was ceded to Britain in 1814.

There is no escaping the country’s French heritage. Colonized seven times by the French and seven times by the British, finally staying British until it gained its independence in February 1979, St. Lucia has held on to its French-based names as some form of inheritance. 

As noted by historians Rev C. Jesse and Breen (both deceased), the names are not pure French. Their origins are traced all the way back to the French settlers who colonized the island for over 150 years.

Father Jesse in particular noted that “in reality, considerable variations in the spelling and pronunciation of some place names in the island have taken place in the space of 300 years.”

He went on to say that “whilst a number of old French families have left their names, poetic or otherwise, to estates, hills, rivers and the rest, it must be said that some of the colonists showed a sense of beauty when they did the naming themselves. They even showed a sense of humour too.”

Names such as “Bois d’ Orange” in Gros Islet, ‘Fond Doux’ in Dennery, Piton Flore in Forestierre and others all have that poetic touch to them.

A few that Father Jesse considered humorous are ‘Bagatelle’, an area located in Marchand, ‘Malgre Toute’ located in Soufriere, Mon Repos, Jalousie, Sans Soucie, Ravine de toute les Diables.

The west coast village of Anse-La-Raye, named by French settlers back in the 1800s because of the bay in that part of the island is an interesting case. While a 1758 map showed the name to be 'Anse de la Raye’ another map showed the place to be named Ase la Raye (the bay). The ‘Raye’ is the French name for  the fish called skate.

It seems as well that popular commendation has something to do with some names of places, especially in recent times. For instance a part of Morne Du Don in Castries is now called Morne Avitte because a certain Madame Avitte had property there. The same can be said for Barnard Hill and Maynard Hill in Castries. Black Mallet, in Marchand (Castries), is so called because a man so named lived there.

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