On Names Again
I was born at Windermere, a name that conjures up broad windswept vistas, farmlands, holiday villages and a majestic lake. But my Windermere was somewhat different. It was on the other side of the world, and there was no lake, there were no hills or high fells, merely a suburban street, tram lines, a brick fence enclosing a small brick building in a small garden - a private hospital in a Melbourne suburb.
What is it that causes us to choose particular place-names? What possessed the founder of this run-of-the-mill institution in its unremarkable setting, to decide upon a name that awakens such imagery as Windermere does? A yearning for a distant loved locale? A desire to bestow on a nondescript place something singular? A sense of romance? A flight from reality? Whatever the motivation might be, it is of course a pointless exercise. Windermere in Melbourne inevitably remains what it is; a nondescript building in a nondescript suburb. But perhaps not entirely pointless, for at the very least I am able to say, "I was born at Windermere", and if I do not elaborate, that statement might sound rather impressive (except perhaps to those who actually were born in the Lake District).
In the twelfth century hundreds of new names sprung up across the landscape of the Levant, and in choosing names for their towns and villages and castles, the settlers made use of a number of different sources. They chose names that they recalled from their places or origin, though, unlike my birthplace these were often physically appropriate: Beaucayre, Belveer, Belvoir, Belmont, Beaufort, Mirabel. These really are beautiful places. Some, like Montferrand and Montreal were probably entirely nostalgic, recalling names of places of origin. Others were named to recollect events and emotions in crusader history, Montjoie for example, commemorating the elation felt by the crusaders' first view of the Holy City in 1099. Others were largely descriptive of a feature of the place, most often the colour of the local rock or soil; Chastel Blanc, Blanche Garde, Chastel Rouge, Tour Rouge, Cisternum Rouge. On occasion the name suggests something of the size of a building: Chastellet, Coquet, its position in the landscape: Casel des Plains, or a local physical aspect: Districtum for the narrowing passage of the coastal road as it passes through the sandstone ridge at 'Atlit. Some names recalled the person or institution responsible for building, owning or using the site: Castrum Regis (King's Castle), Castellum Arnaldi, Chateau Pelerin (Pilgrims' Castle), Somelaria Templi, Le Tour l'Ospital, Crac des Chevaliers, La Toron des Chevaliers. And there are names referring to when a place was built: Chastel Neuf. Others recorded a natural or constructed feature: Gastina Fontis (Ruin at the Spring). Some preserved in translation earlier Arab of Hebrew names: La Feve or Castrum Fabe for al-Fula (the bean) and many, ancient names transliterated, sometimes with a French twist: Japhe, Ebron, Caifas, Iericho, Arsur, Gezrael. Some erroneously identified with Biblical characters, locations or events; Bethgibelin (Beit Govrin, misidentified with Beersheva), Vadum Iacob, Acre (Akko, misidentified with Ekron), some merely imitated earlier names: Le Saffran (Shafr Amar/Shfaram), Giblet (Jubail, ancient Byblos), Mont Gisard (Gezer/Tel el-Jazar). Some names had clear Biblical references: St Abraham for Hebron, Caymont, or Cain's Mount for Yoqne'am. And there were some that recorded the products of the region Castrum Ficuum, La Tour de Salines, again, perhaps La Feve.
In 1192, Richard I's army on the way to intercept the Muslims at Castrum Ficuum, south of Hebron, bivouacked at a place called Canebrake of Starlings also referred to as Arundinetum. A canebrake is a place with a dense growth of canes where starlings habitually roost . The title Canebrake of Starlings appears elsewhere, in Iberia for example, referring to stands of cane where starlings are caught in nets and thus harvested for their meat. Canebrake of Starlings is perhaps most memorable as the place where Richard was informed by a messenger from England that he was in danger of losing his kingdom through the treacherous behaviour of his brother, John, thus precipitating his departure from the Holy Land and the end of the Third Crusade.