Sometimes place names in Jamaica tell their own stories. And Jamaica’s towns, districts, rivers and streets have some really interesting ones – some are misleading, some are derived from family names, and some don’t mean what you think they mean!
Often the names denoted a geographic feature or landmark (Above Rocks, Red Ground, Blue Mountains, Corner Shop), or were named after the original landowners (Tommy Bush, Sanguinetti), or were named for the homelands of immigrants who settled there (Dublin Castle, Irish Town, Egypt, Bengal, Skibo, Aberdeen). Some have Arawak names (Jamaica, Liguanea), or Spanish (Oracabessa, Ocho Rios, Rio Grande), or British (Somerset, High Gate).
Many of the place names in Jamaica are humorous (Jackass Alley, Beverly Hills); others describe the distance from somewhere else (Three Mile, Four Mile, Six Mile, Seven Mile, Nine Mile and Eleven Mile)! Some are Biblical (Bethlehem, Siloah, Mount Horeb) and some reflect the abundance of a plant or animal in the area (Annotto Bay, Cashew, Hog Hole, Breadnut Bottom, and Soursop Turn).
But many of the names are just purely Jamaican! Jamaicans enjoy naming things and they call it as they see it, so these place-names might describe an incident that happened there or a particular feeling or sentiment they wanted to convey (Rest-and-Be-Thankful, Me-No-Sen-You-No-Come, Bad Times, Broke Neck Gully, Half Way Tree, Putogether Corner, Dump, Shambles, Rat Trap, Poor Mans Corner, Sally’s Delight, Betty’s Hope, Thankful Hill, Boldness, Good Design, Excellent Town, Happy Retreat, Heart Ease, Friendship and Welcome). Yes, those are all the names of real places in Jamaica! I don't dream up the origins; you can see my sources at the bottom of the page.
More interesting place names in Jamaica
There are stories behind most of these Jamaican place names and it’s quite interesting to learn how they originated! While many of the reasons for the names have been forgotten generations ago, here are some of them:
ABERDEEN, in Saint Elizabeth, is named for the area in Scotland where owner, Alexander Forbes, came from. He built a great house there. Aberdeen is between Appleton sugar estate and the Cockpit Country.
ABOUKIR, in Saint Ann, was probably named in honor of the British victory over the French in the Battle of the Nile (1798) which was fought in Egypt’s Aboukir Bay.
ABOVE ROCKS, in Saint Catherine, was evidently named for its geographical location - the most westerly extension of the Blue Mountain Range.
ACCOMPONG (a Maroon settlement) is in Saint Elizabeth. This name is said to be derived from the Ashanti word, Nyamekopon, which means “the lone one, the warrior”. This name was also given to one of the brothers of Captain Cudjoe, the second Maroon leader. Accompong was established in 1739.
ADMIRAL MOUNTAIN, near Cooper's Hill, St. Andrew, belonged to Admiral Peter and Lady Parker in the late 1700s. Parker was the Admiral of the British fleet in the West Indies at the time. The property became the residence of all British Admirals stationed in Jamaica during the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson used it as his country residence in 1780 while stationed in Jamaica at what is now known as Fort Charles (Port Royal). Admiral Mountain Great House is a historic landmark.
ALBERT TOWN - in Trelawny, was originally known as "Santa Hill" for the large number of Santa Maria trees (Calophyllum calaba) growing in the area, but was renamed in the 1800s for Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria.
ALEXANDRIA - in Saint Ann, may have been named for the original landowner of the Alexandria Sugar Estate. Or, it may have been named in honor of the British victory over the French in 1801 in Alexandria, Egypt, after which the British took possession of the Rosetta Stone, the key to our modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs (which remains in the British Museum to this day).
ALLEY - in Clarendon, was the capital of the former Parish known as "Vere". The community's name derived from Vere's parish church, which was built in 1671 and was called "The Alley". The church, St. Peter's Anglican, is the oldest in the island. The current church was built on the same spot in 1715.
ALLIGATOR POND, in Saint Elizabeth: The name is said by locals to derive from the shape of the mountain range, which when seen from the beach, has bumps which look like an alligator's back.
ALLSIDES is so-named because its boundary extends from Trelawny into Manchester; it was on "all sides" of the boundaries.
ALPS, in Trelawny, is situated on a major geological fault which crosses the limestone plateau and which marks the western end of the Cockpit Country. The abrupt landscape and the winding roads presumably reminded the British colonists of the European Alps.
ANGELS, in Saint Catherine, was Los Angeles ("The Angels") of the Spaniards. The last stop of the first railway line in Jamaica was at Angels when it opened in 1845.
ANIMAL HILL, in Lucea, Hanover, is not far from Fat Hog Quarter. The name poked fun at the early 1900s families who settled the community who had surnames like Hogg, Mare, Steer, Lyons, Fox and Wolfe.
ANNOTTO BAY, in Saint Mary, got its name from the presence of annotto trees, important for dye and food coloring, and once an important export.
APPLETON, in St. Elizabeth, was named for the estate's original owner, James Appleton.
ARAWAK, in Saint Ann, was named because of Arawak (Taino) remains found there.
ARTHURS SEAT is in Clarendon and also in Saint Ann. There is an Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano, in the center of Edinburgh, Scotland, so Jamaica’s Arthurs Seat was probably named by former Scottish settlers and landowners. Another theory is that it was named for its original owner, Arthur McKenzie, who owned it from 1811.
AUCHENBRECK, in Westmoreland, was so named by Hon. John Campbell, a member of the branch of the ancient and highly regarded Scottish clan of Auchenbreck in Scotland.
AUCHINDOWN, in Westmoreland, is thought to be named for Auchindoun Castle in Scotland by the Scottish emigrants who landed in Jamaica in 1700 as refugees from the failed Scottish colony of Darien on the Isthmus of Panama.
AUCHTEMBEDDIE, a north Manchester village, is of German origin. Whether it is named for a person or a place in Germany is unknown.
AUGUST TOWN, in the hills of Saint Andrew, is thought to have been named because freedom came to the slaves of Jamaica on the 1st of August, 1838. Since then, this day has been celebrated as ‘Emancipation Day’.
BALACLAVA, in Saint Elizabeth, was established around the plantations of the Arscott & Sherman families in the late 1700s. The Arscott family was from Devon, England, but the surname is said to have originated in Wales. It's likely the town was named after the homeland in Balaclava, Glamorgan, Wales (near Cardiff). There was also a large Arscott family (possibly a brother) who owned Hyde Park Estate in Saint Ann.
BALLYHOLLY, in Mandeville, is named after a place in Ireland.
BAMBOO TOWN, in Saint Elizabeth, was named for its abundance of bamboo trees.
BANGOR RIDGE, in Portland, was named after Bangor, Wales.
BANNISTER BAY, in Saint Thomas, is named for Colonel Bannister, Governor of Surinam, who brought English and Jewish colonists from Surinam in 1667.
BARBECUE BOTTOM ROAD - in Trelawny. The name is descriptive of the area; a "barbecue" in Jamaica is a large flat, gently sloping area for drying coffee, pimento and other crops. The road follows a deep ravine along a major geological fault which features a flat area with a gentle slope at the bottom.
BATH, in Saint Thomas, was named after its mineral springs (bath).
BENGAL,on the border of Saint Ann and Trelawny, is named after a region in India.
BERLIN, in St. Elizabeth, was named after Berlin in Germany, which was home to the estate's first owner, Henry Bleinheim.
BLACK HILL, in Portland, is the site of an extinct volcano.
BLACKNESS, in Trelawny, refers to the rich color of the soil found in this area. The color is said to indicate the richness of the soil as is the case of the red earth in other parts of the island.
BLENHEIM, in Hanover, is a place-name found also in Manchester, and originates from Bavaria, Germany. Blenheim (in Germany) was a site of a great battle, which no doubt led to use of the name in Jamaica.
BLOODY BAY, in Hanover, is said to derive from the killing of whales there.
BLUEFIELDS, in Westmoreland, sometimes "Blewfields", was named for the Dutch pirate Abraham Blauvelt, or Bleeveldt, who plied the waters of Central America in the mid-1600s. He is most noted for his time in Honduras and the area around what is now called Bluefields, Nicaragua but, in 1644, when working as a privateer, he commanded his own ship and successfully raided Spanish ships from his base at Bluefields in southwest Jamaica and sold the cargo and prizes to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (New York).
BOG WALK, in Saint Catherine, was originally the Boca d’ agua (water’s mouth) of the Spanish, and was corrupted to Bog Walk by the English after their occupation of the island in 1655.
BOUNTY HALL, in Trelawny, was named because of its strategic location halfway between the Cockpit Country and Falmouth. Being on open land where you could see an ambush, it was an ideal place for the Maroons to hand over escaped slaves to the British in return for a bounty-payment as per their 1738 Treaty.
BOWDEN, in St. Thomas, got its name from William Bowden who, in 1656, was one of Oliver Cromwell's first 500 settlers.
BREADNUT BOTTOM, in Clarendon, is named for the abundance of breadnut trees in the area.
BROWN'S TOWN, in St. Ann, is named for its founder, Hamilton Brown, an Irishman. The eccentric character lived at the Minard Estate, a pimento plantation just north of town and also owned the Huntley Estate. Because of his wealth and clout in the area, Brown represented St. Ann in the House of Assembly for 22 years. He also led a group called the Colonial Church Union, a coalition of Anglican congregants who would routinely burn churches and free villages so people would have nowhere to worship. He died in 1843 and was buried in the graveyard at nearby St. Mark's Anglican Church (which he built).
BRYAN CASTLE, in Trelawny, takes it name from the former Bryan Castle Estate, which was settled in 1793 by Bryan Edwards, Esq., who also owned the nearby Brampton Estate.
BULL BAY, in Saint Andrew, got its name during the time of the buccaneers or “cow killers”. Once known as Cow Bay, the name is a testament to the island's connection to the time when buccaneers roamed the island hunting for wild cattle.
BULL HEAD MOUNTAIN, near Chapelton in Clarendon, was named for the bull head shape of the 3,600-foot mountain that stands as the parish's highest point. It's the geographic center of the island and a clear landmark to vessels that approach from the south coast. The view from the peak takes in 5 parishes - Manchester, St Catherine, St Mary, St Ann and Trelawny.
BUNKERS HILL, in Trelawny, originally had the name Studely Park. It was renamed at some point, possibly after the British-American battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Someone may have been making a grand political statement!
CABARITA POINT, in Westmoreland near Savanna-la-Mar, is said to be a Spanish place name which meant "kid" or "goat point" in English. There is another Cabarita Point near Old Harbour and a Cabarita Island in St. Mary.
CALABAR, a mile from Rio Bueno in the parish of Trelawny (at the border of Saint Ann), was established by the Jamaica Baptist Union in 1839. It was named after the former slave port of Calabar in Nigeria, one of the two major ports of embarkation for the thousands of enslaved Africans who were brought to Jamaica in the 18th century from southeast Africa. Some of these enslaved Africans settled on lands in the hills overlooking the port of Rio Bueno and named it Calabar, apparently because the physical features of the bay at Rio Bueno reminded them of the old Calabar they had left behind in Africa. Calabar was the original home of the well-known all-male Calabar High School, which was moved to Red Hills Road in Saint Andrew in 1868.
CANNON BALL GATE, in Saint Andrew, was apparently named after the Cannon Ball monument at the intersection of Arnold Road and South Camp Road. Arnold Road was constructed by 3rd West India Regiment in 1856.
CANOE VALLEY, in Saint Elizabeth, got its name because, for many years, canoes were made from the trees there.
CARDIFF HALL, in St. Ann, is derived from the capital of Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Cardiff Hall was one of the most desirable residences on the island. It was owned by John Balgrove who arrived in Jamaica in 1655.
CARLISLE BAY, in Clarendon, was named for the Earl of Carlisle, a governor of Jamaica from 1678-1680. In 1694, it was the site of the first major battle following British occupation of Jamaica when Captain Du Casse of Santo Domingo attacked the island and was defeated.
CARRICK FOYLE, in the Cockpit Country of Trelawny, (a.k.a. Carrickfoyle and Carrickfoyle Pen) was originally owned by Phillip O'Connor who came from Ireland (Carrick, Foyle and O'Connor are all Irish names).
CATADUPA - in Saint James. The village is named for its nearby waterfalls. Catadupa is the Greek name for the "cataract" or waterfalls along the Nile in Egypt.
CATHERINE'S PEAK, in Portland, is named for Catherine Long, the wife of famed pirate-turned-governor, Sir Henry Morgan. She is believed to have been the first woman to scale the 5,050-foot high peak.
CEDAR VALLEY, in Trelawny, is supposedly named for cedar trees that used to grow there.
CHAPELTON, in Clarendon, was the site of a large plantation whose owners built a chapel. Local folks spoke of going to "the chapel in town". It became known as “Chapel Town”, and at some point was shortened to Chapelton.
CHARLEMONT, in St. Catherine, was most likely named for the landowner's home in Armagh in Northern Ireland.
CHEPSTOWE, in Portland, near Skibo and Ythanside, is named for Chepstow in Wales, which was probably the origin of the original landowner.
CHEW MAGNA, in Saint Elizabeth, near Balaclava, was named by the Roberts Family after a place in Keynsham, England from which they came.
CINCHONA GARDENS, in the Blue Mountains of St. Andrew, was established in 1868 to facilitate commercial production of the Cinchona tree which gave the property its name. Cinchona bark was used to make quinine, a drug with antimalarial, painkilling and fever reducing properties.
CINNAMON HILL, near Rose Hall in St. James, is thought to have gotten its name for cinnamon trees that once grew there. In the 1800s, Cinnamon Hill was owned by the Barretts, relatives of famed English poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
CLARKS TOWN, in Trelawny, was probably named for George M. Clarke who owned the Swanswick Estate which included the land the town sits on. Mr. Clarke gave the land for the establishment of the town in the post-emancipation period. It was initially called Swanswick Town, then Clarke's, then Clarks Town.
CLONMEL, in St. Mary, was undoubtedly named for the landowner's home in County Tipperary, Ireland.
The name Clonmel is derived from the anglicization of the Irish name "Cluain Meala" meaning honey meadow or honey vale.
CLYDESDALE, in Portland, was owned in the 19th century by Scotsman, Colonel MacClaverty. It is on the River Clyde, as is Clydsedale in Scotland. This Jamaican river supplied power for the huge waterwheel at the coffee works of this estate.
COCKPIT COUNTRY got its name from the large limestone craters or pits found in the area, formed from what is called "cockpit karst" limestone.
COLBECK; COLBECK CASTLE, in Saint Catherine, originally Colebeck, were reportedly named after Colonel John Colebeck, one of the soldiers of fortune on the British Penn & Venables expedition when they captured Jamaica from Spain in 1655, who is said to have owned the land. He served as a Speaker of the House of Assembly from 1671 to 1672.
COLCHIS PEN, in Trelawny, was name for Colchis (now in the country of Georgia) which was the mythological destination of Jason and the Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece (1300 BC).
COLONEL'S RIDGE, in Clarendon, was most likely named for Colonel Richard Dawkins. His father, an early English settler, owned Dawkin’s Pen and Dawkin’s Kraal between 1669 and 1682. The son, Richard, became a leading member of Jamaican society, serving as a colonel in the local militia.
CONSTANT SPRING, in Saint Andrew, is most likely named for the "spring" which ran from the adjoining Wag Water River, providing a constant source of water to the large Constant Spring sugar plantation (1,610 acres in 1840). In the late 1700s, the owners built a dam and tunnels to divert water where needed on the estate. In 1885, the Water Commission obtained the water rights and 800 acres of land to construct 20 miles of water mains for supplying water to the pens of rural St. Andrew.
CORN PUSS GAP, in Saint Thomas, is named for a legend about a hiker who got lost in the hills, caught a cat, “corned” it and ate it there.
CROSS KEYS, in Manchester, has a number of reputed origins, one of which may be that from the site you "look across cays."
CULLODEN, in Saint Elizabeth, is most probably named for the village of Culloden in Inverness, Scotland by the Scottish emigrants who landed in Jamaica in 1700 as refugees from the failed Scottish colony of Darien on the Isthmus of Panama.
CURATOE HILL, in Clarendon, got its name from a plant used in connection with rum fermentation. According to "History of Jamaica", published in 1774 by Edward Long, curatoe was a fruit or berry related to the Sapindus, or soapberry, and its juice could be used in soap-making. It may be an Arawak word.
DALLAS CASTLE - a district in Saint Andrew, is named for the estate there which was owned by Dr. Robert Charles Dallas, father of Alexander James Dallas who was born in Kingston in 1759 and ultimately became U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President James Madison from 1814 to 1816. The Dallas family lived in and are very well-known in the U.S. State of Alabama.
DALVEY, in St. Thomas, was first owned by Sir Alexander Grant in 1811 and is named for a place in Scotland.
DANKS, in Clarendon, was known as “Danke.” Sir Henry Morgan, former Governor of the island (and yes, the pirate), was the owner until he gave it to his wife of German nationality. She said "danke" meaning ‘thanks’ in German.
DARLINGFORD, in Portland, is named for Captain Charles Darling, a governor and captain-chief of Jamaica from 1857 to 1862.
DENBIGH, in Clarendon, is named after a place in North Wales.
DISCOVERY BAY, in Saint Ann, is the name of the city and the bay. It is so named because many think that Christopher Columbus landed here and "discovered" the Island on May 4, 1494, although the exact location is often debated. Columbus originally named the bay Puerto Seco (Dry Harbour) because he could not find any fresh water flowing into it.
DOLPHIN'S HEAD, in Hanover, is said to be named because, when looked at from east to west, the 1,789-foot mountain resembles a dolphin's nose, face and fins.
DONEGAL, in St. Elizabeth, comes from County Donegal in Ireland. The Gaelic "Dun na nGall" means "Fort of the Foreigner".
DRAX HALL, in Saint Ann, was an estate (plantation) founded in 1669 by William Drax who came to Jamaica from Barbados. His descendant, Charles Drax, was also a planter who willed part of the property to be used for a free school. It later became Jamaica College and was moved to Hope Road in Kingston. At some point, 1,000 acres of the Drax Hall estate was sold to Peter Beckford (1674-1735), who was said to be the wealthiest planter in Jamaica. (in the 1750s, he owned more than 22,000 acres!)
DRY HARBOUR, in Saint Ann, was dubbed "Puerto Seco" (which means "dry harbour") by Christopher Columbus when, in 1494, he and his crew put into Jamaica (at Discovery Bay) looking for fresh water and found none.
DUANVALE, in Trelawny, is said to originate from the Gaelic word "Duin" ("dark") vale, although the valley today is not dark.
DUCKENFIELD HALL, in Saint Thomas, is sometimes simply called Duckenfield. It is named for the large sugar plantation's owner, John Duckenfield (often spelled Dukinfield), a British slave trader who owned estates in Jamaica and North Carolina. His son, Robert, lived on the estate during the 1700s.
DUNCANS, in Trelawny, was originally a property owned by Peter Duncans in 1784.
DUPPY GATE is in Saint Andrew. (Duppy is a Jamaican ghost.) Legend has it that the gate is haunted by the ghost of an officer from the days when the West India Regiments occupied the base. Soldiers have reported visits from a mysterious officer dressed in period uniform with a sword slapping against his leg, who would suddenly vanish as they were ready to report.
ELDERSLIE, in St. Elizabeth, comes from the name of a village in west-central Scotland, presumably the home of the first landowners.
FAR ENOUGH, in Clarendon, comes from the phrase "far enough from courts and kings," which is credited to Scottish landowner, George McKenzie, a member of the 1698 Scotch Darien expedition, possibly the worst disaster in Scotland's history.
FAT HOG QUARTER, in Hanover, was named because a large number of hogs used to populate the area.
FLAGAMAN, in St. Elizabeth, reportedly was named by a British Admiral Ebanks who settled above Great Bay, in an area then called Pedro Plains, and renamed it after his ship, the "Flagaman Escania".
FLOG MAN, in Manchester, was named because a man was severely flogged here. Usually punishment could be applied outside the law to wrongdoers.
GALINA; GALINA POINT, in St. Mary, comes from the Spanish term "Punta Gallina" or "Cape Hen".
GIMME ME BIT, in Clarendon, is actually a bird, the Antillean Nighthawk, named for the call it makes.
GOLD MINE, in Clarendon: The Spanish are said to have washed gold there.
GOSHEN, Saint Elizabeth, was named after a place in Egypt, listed in the Bible as meaning the "best of the land".
GRANT'S PEN, in St. Andrew, was named for Sir John Peter Grant, who is said to have been one of Jamaica's most competent governors (1866-74).
GRATEFUL HILL, in Saint Catherine, was named by Baptist missionaries in gratitude for having been granted land by George King, an English squire, to establish a church.
GUANABOA - in Saint Catherine, is most likely derived from Arawak. It may come from the native Arawak word for soursop - "guanabana", or from the Cuban Indian
word meaning any kind of palm, or it may derive from the Haitian Arawak words "cauni" and "boa", meaning "house of gold".
GUTHRIE’S DEFILE, in Saint Elizabeth, was named after an officer of the Jamaica Militia, Colonel Guthrie. He was instrumental in formulating the Peace Treaty with the Maroons in the 18th century.
GUTTERS, in Saint Elizabeth, got its appropriate name from the heavy rains that flow through the town from three directions, making it almost impassable.
GUYS HILL, in Saint Catherine, was named for the first landowner, Richard Guy, who is said to have taken part in the 1655 Penn and Venables expedition that captured Jamaica for the British.
HAGLEY GAP, in Saint Thomas, was named after Hagley Hall, the home estate in Worcestershire, England, of William Henry Lyttelton, who served as Governor of Jamaica from 1762 to 1766.
HALF-WAY-TREE, in Saint Andrew, was originally Half-Way-Tree Pen, owned by the Hotchkyn family for 130 years. It is claimed that Half-Way-Tree was named for a cotton tree which was at the junction of four roads. The tree is said to have existed there from before the conquest of the island (1655). Until 1866, the tree was halfway between two places: Greenwich, a British soldier base at the harbor, and Stony Hill, where the barracks were located. The soldiers always rested at this spot before proceeding to the barracks. There are written references to Half-Way-Tree going back to 1696.
HARDWAR GAP, in the Blue Mountains of Saint Andrew, is sometimes erroneously spelled "Hardware." It is named for John Hardwar, Auditor General of Jamaica in 1782, who owned the land.
HARRY WATCH, in Manchester, is (according to legend) named after a property watchman.
HELL BELOW is the name given to a dangerous corner near Dunn’s River where there is a deep plunge into the sea.
HERON'S MOUNT, in Manchester, was named for Captain Alexander Woodburn Heron, owner of the estates of Williamsfield, Chudleigh, Shooters Hill, Spitzbergen and Wigton. He wanted to be buried at the top of this hill so that he could continue to oversee his estates after death.
HIBERNIA, in Manchester, is the Classical Latin name for the island of Ireland. The original meaning of "Hibernia" is thought to be "abundant land".
HORSE GUARDS. This place name is found in many parishes and originates from the time that Cromwell ruled Jamaica and used his regiment, the Horse Guards, to protect it. The name stuck to the places where they were barracked.
IRISH TOWN, in Saint Andrew, was originally settled by the Irish. (See "The Cooperage" below for more info.)
JOES HUT or JOE HUT, in Trelawny, was named after its first settler, a man named Joe Buckle, who built a hut here (apparently in the 18th century) and it became a local landmark, as in "...two miles from Joe's Hut". In time the hut disappeared and so did the apostrophe! Some generations ago it was proposed that the name be changed to "Joe's Town" but this was refused by the inhabitants.
JUDGMENT CLIFF, in Saint Thomas, is the site of the great 1692 earthquake (which destroyed Port Royal) where part of the cliff fell on the estate of a notoriously wicked Dutchman and buried him alive. (He got his “judgment”.)
KEITH HALL, in Saint Catherine, is named for Sir Basil Keith, Governor of Jamaica from 1774 to 1777.
KELLITS, in Clarendon, was originally Kellets, probably named for Moses Kellet, a landowner and assembly man for the parish of Clarendon in the 1750s.
KILDARE, in St. Elizabeth is named for County Kildare in Ireland, which dates from the 5th Century when it was the site of a monastery founded by St. Brigid, one of the three most important Christian structures in Celtic Ireland.
KINGSTON. is a common shortened form of "King's Town". The town was founded and named after the 1692 earthquake.
LABOUR-IN-VAIN, in Saint Elizabeth, is an area where the rain seldom falls. This results in crops of poor quality, if any at all.
LACOVIA, in St. Elizabeth, is derived from the Spanish name for mahogany - "la caoba" - because the main industry was the logging of mahogany trees, which were floated down the Black River to the wharf for export. This fine wood was highly prized by the Spanish and British, primarily for construction of ships and fine furniture. Until the 1760s, when the British had cut and exported most of the supply, more than 90% of Britain's imported mahogany came from Jamaica. They were left primarily with Honduran and Cuban mahogany, which are considered inferior to Jamaican mahogany. Today, the cashew nut has replaced mahogany lumber as the prime export of the area.
LAWRENCE TAVERN, in Saint Andrew, was originally called Oberlin Station in honor of a French minister, John Fredric Oberlin (1740-1826), who worked with the poor. In 1841, Julius Beardslee (sometimes Beardsley), a graduate of Ohio's Oberlin College (named for Oberlin), came to Jamaica with 5 others in response to a call from a group of former slaves who had established a small congregation in the village of Metcalfe, St. Andrew. He served as their minister for many years, founding several congregations. One of them relocated to 70 Duke Street and became known as the Duke Street Christian Church. For more than 150 years, Duke Street has been the “mother” church of Jamaica and was honored in 1982, appearing on the Jamaica Christmas stamp. The community was eventually renamed for a tavern that was once located here, but nearby Oberlin High School retains the name.
LIBERTY HALL, in St. Ann, was named when a liberty tree was planted there in August 1, 1838 to commemorate the abolition of slavery.
LITITZ, in St. Elizabeth:, may have been named by Moravian missionaries who established a church there in 1754. The name is also found in Moravia.
LLANDOVERY, in Saint Ann, and LLANRUMNEY, in Saint Mary (once owned by Sir Henry Morgan, the famous Welsh privateer and pirate who eventually became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1675). “Llan” means a yard in Welsh. Morgan was born in Llanrhymny (today known as Llanrumney), Wales about 1635. Both place names are found in northeast Carmarthen, Wales.
LLANTRISSANT is another Welsh place name and is, in fact, the town where the British Royal Mint is located. It was so named by a former owner whose origins may have been Welsh. According to the history of the town, the name also means the Church of Three Saints.
LONGVILLE, in Clarendon, is named for the estate's original owner, Samuel Long, who accompanied the expedition of Penn and Venables in the capture of Jamaica in 1655. He was very active in politics and was appointed Speaker of the House of Assembly and later, Chief Justice.
LOWER TOOTING, in Saint Ann, is named after a working-class town in Surrey, near London, England.
LLUIDAS VALE, in St. Catherine, is thought to be derived from the Spanish words "luzida" (happy or fine) or "lluvias" (rains).
LYSSONS - in Saint Thomas, was orginally named "Lycence" or "Lycense" after Nicholas Lycence, who had been granted 264 acres in the Parish and was a member of the first Council for St. Thomas in 1671-1672. He was one of the soldiers of fortune on the British Penn & Venables expedition when they captured Jamaica from Spain in 1655.
Jamaica w/Hummingbird And Flowers Pendant In Polished 14k Yellow Gold
from: The Black Bow
MADRAS, in Saint Ann, is named for a region in India, a reminder of the number of indentured East Indians who came to Jamaica in the mid-19th century to work on the sugar estates.
MAGGOTTY, in Saint Elizabeth, is a small town near the head of the Black River, named for the sugar estate that was located there. It is believed that the name originated from the Spanish word "magote", which means bundle or heap in English, but it has also been attributed to Rev. John Hutch, a missionary, who may have named it after his English birthplace (but I can't find a "Maggotty" in England). Maggotty Estate is now known as Kenilworth and the 17th century ruins of the sugar factory on this estate are considered the best example of old industrial architecture in the island.
MAHOGANY HALL, in Trelawny, apparently gets its name from the house named and built by a British Captain near a Mahogany tree where he found (and fell in love with) a Spanish senorita who was hiding there during the time the British were chasing the Spanish from the island.
MAIDSTONE, in Manchester, was named, according to oral tradition, by the English settlers who, while living in Adams Valley, thought the shape of the hills resembled “the breasts of maidens”. Since the hills also had many stones, the settlers named the area Maidstone.
MAMMEE BAY, in Saint Ann, may have gotten its name from a nearby ancient Arawak village name Maima.
MANCHIONEAL, in Portland, comes from the Spanish Manzanella (little apple) of the Manchineel tree. The large, beautiful but poisonous trees once lined the coast there. The foliage, fruit, trunk and branches ooze a milky sap which causes burning blisters on the skin and kills animals instantly. The Arawak/Tainos used to dip the points of their arrows in the liquid, creating deadly missiles. Legend has it that the British would poison the invading Spaniards who would stop to rest under the shade of the trees. The British cut the tree, letting sap drip on the invaders, which would ultimately lead to their death. There are only one or two trees left in the town and residents identify the trees to visitors to prevent unfortunate mishaps.
MARTHA BRAE, in Trelawny, originated as Martha Brea, with "brea" being the Spanish word for pine tar. An old legend says that Martha Brea was a witch who knew the secret of a Spanish gold mine, and the river that bears her name changed course and drowned her, forever hiding the mine's entrance.
MAY PEN, in Clarendon, was once part of an area of land owned by the Reverend William May, who came to Jamaica as rector of the Kingston Parish Church in the 18th century and was then transferred to Clarendon.
ME-NO-SEN-YOU-NO-COME, in the Cockpit country of Saint Elizabeth, has a pretty clear meaning - don’t call us, we’ll call you! The Maroons in exclusive communities like Accompong were apparently not very welcoming towards unexpected visitors.
MIDDLE QUARTERS - in Saint Elizabeth was probably named for the Court of Quarter Sessions held in the Parish between 1821 and 1838. Middle Quarters is now known as the pepper shrimp capital of Jamaica.
MILK RIVER, in Clarendon, was the Rio do Manatines of the Spanish. The mineral baths are situated at the foot of a limestone hill. The water, which is extremely saline, comes from crevices in the rock directly into the baths.
MIRANDA HILL, in Saint James, was named for former Spanish governor, Alonzo de Miranda.
MOCHO, in Trelawny (there is also a Mocho in Clarendon, Saint Andrew and Saint James), traditionally means "A place symbolic of remoteness - a rough, uncivilized place". To describe someone as coming from Mocho is to describe that person as backward or, in Jamaican terminology, "dark". The usage probably came from tribal rivalry during the days of slavery. Mocho is derived from Mgboko, a place name of Calabar in Eastern Nigeria, and suggests that the Jamaican Mochos may have been persons of the Ibo tribe.
MONEAGUE - in Saint Ann, has a couple of plausible explanations. According to old Spanish documents, Moneague was originally called "Manegua", or "lonely water" which means it could be a corruption of the Spanish "Managua" due to an underground lake in the area. It could also be a combination of the Spanish words for "mountain water" - "monte" and "agua". Also, there was an old Arawak settlement called "Moneque", while "Manique" is a Cuban Spanish word for "thicket" or "bush".
MONTEGO BAY, in Saint James, has two possible origins. The most likely one is that it derives from the Spanish "Manteca Bahia" or "Mantica Bahia", which translates to "butter (lard) bay". The Spanish slaughtered many hogs & wild boars there and manufactured large quantities of lard which they loaded in jars to ship to Cartagena in Spain. The Spanish word for lard is "mantega." In fact, early maps show it as "Lard Bay". Others speculate that it was named after Montego de Salamanca, an early Spanish colonizer.
MONYMUSK - in Clarendon, is a sugar estate originally owned by the Grant family, descendants of wealthy landowners from Monymusk, Scotland. Sir Archibald Grant owned a slaving station in West Africa, which provided labor for the Monymusk Estate in Jamaica.
MORANT BAY, MORANT POINT, PORT MORANT, in Saint Thomas, take their names from the family of Spanish Jews, Morante, who accompanied Diego Columbus (Christopher's brother) when he was appointed Governor of Jamaica. The great 'Hato de Morante', a huge estate that covered about 15 miles and is listed on Spanish maps dating back to the 1500s.
MORGAN'S BRIDGE, in Westmoreland, was named after Captain Henry Morgan, a Welsh privateer who eventually became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1675.
MORGAN'S PASS & MORGAN'S VALLEY, in Clarendon, are named for the pirate governor, Sir Henry Morgan (1675-1682).
MOSQUITO COVE, in Hanover, is said to have originated because of the prevalence of mosquitos. Historians insist, however, that the correct name is 'Miskito' Cove, for a tribe of Indians that once inhabited the island.
MOUNT DIABLO, in St. Catherine, was originally named Diablo Monte, or "Devil's Mount", by Spanish settlers.
MOUNT HOREB, in Saint James, is named for the Biblical Mount Horeb where the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God.
MOUNT VERNON, in St. Thomas, may have been named as a tribute to Admiral Edward Vernon, in celebration of his naval service to the British in the Caribbean, notably his defeat of the Spanish at Port Bello in 1739. Mount Vernon, originally called Wyndy/Windy Edge, is a residential area in Glasgow (the largest city in Scotland).
NAGGO HEAD, in Saint Catherine, preserves the name "Nago" which was given to the Egba clan of Yoruba people from western Nigeria by the Kingdom of Dahomey (in present-day Benin), a regional power that supplied up to 20% of the slaves to Europe and the Americas in the 1700s and 1800s.
NAIRNE CASTLE, in Clarendon, probably derived its name from a landowner named Nairne who came from the seaside town of Nairne in Scotland. Nairne Castle, Jamaica was a "Free Village", a community of freed people who lived away from the estates immediately following the abolition of slavery in 1834.
NANCY GULLY, in Saint Mary, probably started out as Anancy Gully.
NASHVILLE, in Manchester, was named for the land's original owner, George Nash.
NEWRY, in St. Mary, is a name that originated in Northern Ireland. Newry Sugar Estate was owned by the Ellis family, who also owned Fort George near Annotto Bay, as well as Shettlewood Montpelier in St. James, Ellis Caymanas and Crawle Pen in St. Catherine, and Nutfield and Greencastle in St. Mary.
NUN’S PEN, in Saint Andrew, was also known as “Islington” and “Moringa Park”. It was once owned by a Haitian refugee named Henri D’Aquin. Two of his daughters were determined to become nuns even though he wanted them to marry. He decided to give the land to the Roman Catholic Church and since then it has been known as “Nuns Pen”.
OLD WOMAN SAVANNA - in Clarendon, appeared with that name on early maps. Apparently the old woman was Spanish but refused to leave Jamaica when the English captured the island in 1655, even after her house and property in Spanish Town had been seized. She received permission to retire to her "hato", or farm, in the country; hence the name.
ORACABESSA, in Saint Mary, probably comes from the Spanish for 'aura' meaning 'air or breeze' and 'cabeza' meaning head, resulting in a phrase that could be read as 'fanciful' (or ‘air headed’). Or, it could be a combination of the Spanish words "oro" and "cabeza", meaning "golden head". Or, it could be a corruption of an Arawak word, "juracabes" of unknown meaning.
PANTREPANT, in Trelawny, is a Welsh name meaning "house in the hollow".
PAPINE, in St. Andrew, was owned from 1756 by Colonel Alexander Grant of Banffshire, Scotland, who was in the Mill of Papine in Scotland when he became heir to this estate and transferred the name to Jamaica.
PEMBROKE, in St. Mary, is originally a Welsh place name and was owned in 1811 by Hungerford Spencer.
PORT ANTONIO, in Portland, is an anglicized version of the Spanish "Puerto de San Antonio" (Port of Saint Anthony) and "Puerto de Anton" (Port of Anthony), both of which were found on different Spanish maps.
PORT ESQUIVEL, in St. Catherine, was named after the first Spanish governor of the island, Juan d’ Esquivel. It's also called Old Harbour Bay.
PORT HENDERSON, in St. Catherine, was named after a former owner, Colonel John Henderson, of the 18th Century British militia. It was once one of the busiest ports in Jamaica. The town became very fashionable during the 19th century, mainly due to its natural spa. It gradually fell out of favor and was badly damaged by Hurricane Charlie in 1951, which destroyed the famous spa.
PORT MARIA, in Saint Mary, was said to have originally been named "Melilla" by the Spanish after a town on the Barbary Coast in northern Africa which belonged to Spain at the time. They later called it Puerto Santa Maria (Port of Saint Mary), and the British changed it to Port Maria.
PORUS is a town in Manchester. There are three reasons given for this name: first, that Porus is possibly a confusion between Las Pocas (the pits) and should be called Pocos, or second, that since Porus was referred to by the Spaniards as “the district of Porras”, they must have named it after the brothers who were marooned with Christopher Columbus at St. Ann’s Bay for over a year. The Porras brothers finally mutinied against Columbus. The third, and most well-known, explanation is that market vendors, traveling before the days of cars, rested under a guinep tree in the village, remarking 'poor us' as they removed the loads from their heads.
POTOSI, in Trelawny, was named after the fabled silver mine in Bolivia, the location of the Spanish colonial mint. It is from Potosí that most of the silver shipped through the Spanish Main came between 1556 and 1783. In Spanish there is still a saying, "valer un potosí", "to be worth a potosí" (that is, "a fortune").
PRICKLY POLE, in Saint Ann, is named for a rare endemic palm tree, Bactris jamaicana, (the Prickle Pole) which was once plentiful in the John Crow Mountains and Cockpit Country. It is now endangered.
PUTOGETHERCORNER, near Mandeville, is the spot where market women stopped to put their goods and themselves in order before proceeding to town.
QUICK STEP, in Trelawny, comes from the 18th century when British soldiers were fighting with Maroons.
RACKHAM'S CAY - one of the Port Royal cays in the Parish of Kingston, was named after John "Calico Jack" Rackham, an English pirate captain who, with George Featherstone and Richard Corner, was hanged from the gallows on the Cay in 1720.
RED HILLS, in Saint Andrew, is undoubtedly named for the natural abundance of red soil in the area (typically a mixture of iron and alumina).
REST STORE, in Manchester, is now known as Restore. It is said to have gotten its name from a building at the top of the hill where travelers on foot from Alligator Pond could set down their bags and rest. The building eventually became a store.
RIO HOE, in Saint Ann, is a corruption of the original Spanish name, Hoja Rio, meaning "river of leaves".
ROSE HALL, in Saint James, was named for Rose Kelly, the first mistress of the infamous estate.
ROSETTA, in Saint Ann, was most likely named for the Rosetta Stone which the British captured in their victory over the French in 1801 in Alexandria, Egypt. The Rosetta Stone is the key to our modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs and remains in the British Museum to this day.
SANGSTER'S HEIGHTS, in St. Elizabeth, was named for Sir Donald Sangster, Jamaica's second prime minister.
SANGUINETTI, in Clarendon, is named for its first landowner, Jacob Sanguinetti, an Italian Jew.
SAVANNA-LA-MAR, in Westmoreland, was the Sabana-de-la-mar (“the plain by the sea”) of the Spanish. During English occupation of the island, the “de” was dropped, and the name became Savanna-la-mar, sometimes abbreviated Sav-la-mar.
SAVE RENT in Westmoreland, is not a place to live cheaply; the name is actually a corruption of the name of a French colonist, M. Saverent, who once lived there.
SCHAWFIELD, in Trelawny, is said to derive its name from the estate's original owners, Samuel & Charles Shaw. For some unknown reason, Shawfield was later changed to Schawfield.
SEAMAN'S VALLEY, in Portland, is said to derive its name from the destruction of a party of British seamen by the Maroons.
SEE ME NO MORE, in Portland, is an area named for a deep wooded gully there, where water caused a deep valley to form. Before a road was built in the area, anyone crossing the gully could not be seen from the other side, thus the name.
SEVILLE, in Saint Ann, was the Sevilla Nueva (New Seville) or Sevilla de ora (Golden Seville) of the Spanish. It was established around 1509 by the Spaniards and remained the capital of Jamaica for 23 years.
SHAKE-HAND MARKET, in Portland, is a square named for its use as a meeting place.
SHERWOOD CONTENT, in Trelawny, probably has some connection with Sherwood Forest in England. The name "Content" is related to "container" and, similarly to "Pen", which was an area where cattle were kept.
SHOE MYSELF GATE, in Saint Elizabeth, derives from the fact that, when someone in town who was not accustomed to wearing shoes got a new pair, they would carry the shoes over their shoulders until they reached their destination. At the gate, they would “shoe themselves”.
SHOOTER'S HILL, in Manchester, which is also called Heron's Mount, was most likely named for Shooter's Hill in England, where archery was practiced during the Middle Ages. (See Heron's Mount for more info.)
SHOTOVER, in Portland, is a corrupted version of the French “Chateau Vert”.
SLIGOVILLE, in St. Catherine, is the site of the first 'Free Village' established in Jamaica in 1835 before the abolition of slavery and after the passage of the Ejectment and Trespass Acts. Under the Ejectment Act, slaves could be ejected at a week's notice from the homes where they had been born and lived while working on estates (plantations). The Trespass act allowed the police to catch and imprison any individual who was found in his former home after receiving a notice of ejectment. Free Villages were tracts of land purchased by the missionaries (in this case by Rev. James Mursell Phillippo, a Baptist minister and abolitionist) and then subdivided into lots and sold to former slaves so that they could live freely off the estate. The settlement was named Sligoville for Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo (an Irish noble title), then Governor of Jamaica, in honor of his contribution to the process of emancipation.
SPANISH TOWN, in Saint Catherine, was founded about 1534. It had previously been known as Villa de la Vega (the Town on the Plain), but was renamed Santiago de la Vega by the new Spanish Governor, Manuel de Rojas, when the King of Spain declared this the new capital of Jamaica. After conquering the Spaniards in 1655, the English, called the city St. Jago de la Vega, or ‘St. James of the Plain’, and that name remained in popular use for some years. Now it is known as Spanish Town.
SPORTSMANS HALL, in Trelawny, apparently got its name when sportsmen on a bird-hunting party found a cave large enough to be used as a house; they divided it into two parts, one for men and the other for women, then jokingly called it 'Sportsman's Hall'.
STETTIN, in Trelawny, was named by Dr. William Lemonius after the city in Pomerania, Germany, from which his family came and where he participated in an unsuccessful battle against Napoleon. Dr. Lemonius was responsible for about 1,000 North German immigrants who arrived in Jamaica between 1834 and 1838. William Lemonius is listed as the owner of "330 plus 189 acres" in the Jamaica Almanac of 1840.
STEWART TOWN, in Trelawny, was named after James Stewart (1766-1828), Custos of Trelawny, who was helped establish the town in 1815. His father, a Scottish planter, built Stewart Castle.
STIRLING CASTLE, in St. Andrew, was named after its first owner, John Stirling.
STONEHENGE, in Trelawny, is undoubtedly a word-play on the owner's name, Reverend Joseph Stoney. It was located near Campbells on the Barbecue Bottom road.
STURGE TOWN, in Saint Ann, is a "free village" that takes its name from Joseph Sturge, a wealthy English Quaker and abolitionist who gave money and land to provide living quarters for freed slaves.
SURINAM QUARTERS - in Saint Elizabeth, is named for settlers who, in 1655, came to Jamaica from Surinam (or Suriname), also known as Dutch Guiana, when the Dutch conquered it from the English and gave up, in exchange, a small trading post in North America called New Amsterdam (which later became New York City).
TAN-AN-SEE, in Trelawny, means “stand and see” referring to the view of the beautiful open land. There is a cliff here overlooking the landscape.
TEMPLE HALL, in Saint Andrew, is named for its first landowner, Thomas Temple. Temple Hall is where Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica from 1718-22, who married Temple's daughter in 1698, introduced the cultivation of coffee to the island in the 1700s.
THE COOPERAGE, in Saint Andrew, is so named because there was once a workshop here that produced barrels for the export of rum. The rowdy Irish coopers who worked here lived a few miles up the hill at a place that came to be known as IRISH TOWN.
TIME AND PATIENCE, in Saint Catherine, could be named for the type of crops past residents chose to grow.
TOLL GATE, in Clarendon, derives its name from an old toll gate that stood there - a reminder of the toll roads erected in the 1850s in an apparent attempt to stop the movement of newly emancipated slaves until the required fee was paid.
TOMMY BUSH, in Westmoreland, is named after Tommy Sinclair who owned the plantation there.
TOM REDCAM AVENUE is named after Tom McDermot, an Irish campaigner against colonialism and slavery, Tom Redcam is a backwards spelling of McDermot.
TRY SEE, in Saint Ann, is a post-emancipation name inspired by the idea of having former slaves who received land "try and see" what they could do with it.
TULLOCH, in St. James, was first known as Tulloch Castle and was named after John Tulloch of Ross, Scotland, who owned it from 1769 to 1837.
TYRE, in Trelawny, probably comes from the ancient Phoenician word for "rock", which would fit the geology of the area. It should probably be pronounced "Ty-ree".
UNITY, in Saint James, got its name from the story of two brothers. The younger of the two asked the elder to borrow £1000 in order to purchase land, the elder refused and their relationship deteriorated. Sunday came and the two went to church, encountering a sermon on the importance of unity. The elder brother felt it was a sign and raised a loan to help his younger brother purchase the land. They named the place Unity.
VAUXHALL, in Saint Elizabeth, was named for a popular London tavern.
VERA MA HOLLIS SAVANNAH, in Clarendon, is said to come from the Spanish "los virmejales", meaning red ground which accurately describes the savannah. It comes from the Latin "vermiculus", which is a small worm from which red dye was extracted. The Spanish nickname "bermejo", meaning "redhead", is related. The last Spanish governor of Jamaica, Don Cristobal de Ysassi, had a camp here in 1657.
VICTORIA TOWN, in Manchester, was named after Queen Victoria.
VINEGAR HILL, in Westmoreland, was originally settled by Irish landowners and probably named after the Battle of Vinegar Hill, near Enniscorthy, Ireland, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
WAG WATER RIVER - which runs through Saint Mary, is thought to have derived its name from the Arawak word "Guayguata".
WAI RUA, is Saint Andrew, comes from New Zealand and means 'place by the river.'
WAIT-A-BIT, in Trelawny, derives its name from the Wait-a-bit thorn, believed to have been brought to Jamaica by African slaves. The thorn was very hardy and was often used in Africa in hedges against wild animals.
WALDERSTON, in Manchester, was originally called Watson Gate and later Walder Town, after Reverend Heinrich Walder, a Moravian missionary who came to Jamaica in 1870. He devoted his time to the betterment of the community, establishing churches at Mizpah, Ritchies and Watson Gate. In his memory, the town's name was changed to Walderston.
WARSOP, in Trelawny, derives its name from Warsop in Nottinghamshire, England.
WHITE HORSES is in Saint Thomas. Legend has it that the Spanish called is Barreras Blancas, or White Barriers, because of the beautiful white chalky cliffs that line the coast here. The English saw the cliffs from the sea and thought they looked like white horses and renamed the area.
WHITE SHOP, in Clarendon, just across the Manchester border, may have been so named because the shop that dominates the village square had once been painted white.
WHYDAH, near St. Margaret's Bay in Portland, was a plantation owned by Francis Grundy, of Liverpool, and was most likely named for the West African port of Whydah, the origin of many of the estate's slaves. WHYDAD, in St. Catherine, is most likely named for the same West African port.
WINDSOR, in Trelawny; there are at least half a dozen places in Jamaica with Windsor in the name, most likely named for Lord Windsor who was Governor in 1661.
Y.S. ESTATE, in Saint Elizabeth, lies near a bridge over the river of the same name. Some say that the curious name of the river comes from a Welsh word meaning "winding" (on early maps it is written "Wyess") and possibly the form Y.S. was first adopted as the mark stamped on hogs heads of the Wyess Sugar plantation.
YALLAHS, in Saint Thomas, could be a corruption of the Spanish word "yalos", which means "frosts", attributed to the chalky white cliffs in the area. Others say it was named for a Dutch pirate who frequented the area in the 1670s, Captain Yhallas. However, since British maps reflect this name as early as 1664, it was most probably named for the Spaniard, Pedro Lopez de Ayala, who owned the huge Hato de Ayala ranch which stretched from Bull Bay almost to Morant Bay in the 1500s.
YTHANSIDE, a village in Portland, is named after a place in Wales. Its first owner, William Espeut (1843-1892), also owned Spring Garden Estate in Portland where he was believed to have bred mongooses (imported from India) to kill rats on sugar plantations.
SOURCES: I add place names to this list on a regular basis. My sources mainly consist of the books listed below (most of which I own), along with the National Library of Jamaica and oral histories from the communities themselves. If you're interested to know more about unusual place names in Jamaica, click the links to check out these wonderful glimpses into place names in Jamaica and a lot of fascinating history:
Place Names of Jamaica; by Rosanna Beek; Kingston: The University of the West Indies (1975)