Stories and Traveltips

ID #2671

What’s in a Name, Southern Africa.

Much confusion exists about the spelling of names in Southern Africa. Different language groups often spell names differently – e.g. Stillbaai and Still Bay, Stormsrivier and Storms River, Dingane and Dingaan. Different names are sometimes used for the same place (Egoli/Johannesburg and Tekweni/Durban). Moreover, when you think you have it all sorted out, some self-righteous person changes the spelling of the name (Tugela and Thukela, Mkhuze and Mkuze, Shaka and Chaka). Worse still – they occasionally change the name completely (e.g. Polokwane instead of Pietersburg). Then all is lost!

One of the most widespread sources of confusion arises when a town is named after a mountain in the vicinity. Two names are then used – Magaliesburg and Magaliesberg. The –berg refers to the mountain while the –burg refers to the town. The –burg is similar to –burgh as in Edinburgh. As far as is known there is only one exception to this rule – i.e. Colesberg, which refers to the town. Bear in mind however that the two do not always go hand in hand – i.e., because there is a –burg does not necessarily imply the existence of a –berg and vice versa. I do not know, for example, of a town called Drakensburg in the Drakensberg Mountains. Or a mountain called Pietersberg near Pietersburg. However, the Drakensberg Gardens (a lodge) is in the Drakensberg.

The naming of the provinces also leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, the widespread use of the word Cape (Cape Town, Cape Peninsula, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape) causes difficulties when searching using keywords. Even worse are names such as North-West Province, which is apparently so insignificant (not true of course) that it does not merit its own identity. The names of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng were recently changed for the better. Hopefully this trend towards more meaningful names will continue.

The above adds to the mystique and makes it more interesting. Given our rainbow nation with eleven official languages, it is unlikely this confusion will be resolved in the near future. When in doubt, please contact us. Furthermore, when posting mail, please stick religiously to the postal codes – they at least are not in question. Cultural diversity has its disadvantages!

PS: Try to avoid using abbreviations when searching databases. Computers tend to get confused when they are employed. For example, B&B is not recognised as the equivalent of bed and breakfast. We have made an effort to ensure that abbreviations are not employed here. BHWhat

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Last update: 2014-03-28 07:58
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.4

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Comment of seegogga:
South Africa even has a town that has 2 official names, a little coastal town, called Waenhuiskrans as well as Arniston.
Added at: 2014-01-24 02:01