I’ve just run across an interesting series of threads at LINGUIST List on the topic of place names with and without “the.” It seems to have started with 3-892 (12 Nov 1992); I’ll give the threads in sequence, with a striking quote from each. From the first:
The discussion of the English place name meaning ‘hill hill hill’ reminded me of some name trivia from the Los Angeles area. One concerns ‘The La Brea Tar Pits’. I’m told ‘La Brea’ means ‘the tar’ in Spanish; if so, this name is actually ‘the the tar tar pits’. And when the Angels baseball team was ‘The Los Angeles Angels,’ it was literally called ‘the the angels angels.’
Then 3.904 (17 Nov 1992):
In regard to ‘The La Brea Tar Pits’ meaning ‘the the tar tar pits’, this reminds me of some Colorado forms I’ve seen: Table Mesa, i.e. ‘table table’; Casa del El Dorado (about the best one can do with this is “sic”); and The El Rancho Ranch, i.e., ‘the the ranch ranch’, the last with the same embedding observed in The La Brea Tar Pits.
From 3.908 (18 Nov 1992):
There must be many examples of the local word for river being misunderstood as the name of a particular river by visiting geographers. There are numerous River Avons in England. One other case is the Chao Phraya River which runs through Bangkok; on some old maps this appears as the Menam, mae nam being the Thai for river.
From 3.914 (20 Nov 1992):
It is certainly true that Southern Californians use the definite article when referring to freeways (“the 405″). This doesn’t seem to be the case in Northern California, however – at least with my relatives in the San Jose area. They think it is strange to use the definite article, as I think it is strange not to. My husband, a recent “immigrant” from N. to S. California actually seems to use “the” for S. Cal. freeways but not for the ones up north.
From 3.918 (21 Nov 1992):
In response to Michael Erickson’s posting commenting on the fact that Bay Area folk refer to San Francisco as “The City”: before moving to “The City” (San Francisco), I went to school in Rochester, NY, where many of the students were from New York City, “The City”. Needless to say it got me for awhile hearing SF referred to as “The City” when to me that meant NYC. Well, I got over it.
(There’s also an interesting discussion, too long to quote here, about what happened when the twin cities of Fort William and Port Arthur Ontario, known collectively as “The Lakehead,” were almalgamated and a new name had to be chosen: “Lakehead” or “The Lakehead”?)
And the point where I came in, 3.932 (25 Nov 1992):
I’m afraid that the story about Istambul having been derived from ‘is tim boli’ is a hoax, although I have seen the story many places. The most obvious problem with it is explanation of the ‘a’ in Istambul (where the Greek phrase has an ‘i’). It doesn’t help to invoke Greek dialects (like Dorian) that had an a in the article, since they were not spoken in the relvant areas and certainly not at the relevant time. I don’t have the details here (but can try to retrace them if somebody is interested), but I saw another etymology which claims to get the Turkish-internal facts right as well, and which derived Istambul from Konstandinupoli > Stanpuli > Stambuli > I + stambul (prothetic) which seems to make more sense. (Konstandinu[p]oli is the Modern Greek pronunciation of Constantinople.)
Of course, Istambul or Constantinople is still called ‘i Poli’, the city, by Greeks today. I also like the minimal pair politiko/s ‘civil, political’ with stress on the ultimate, vs. poli/tikos ‘of the City, like in Constantinople’ (often found on Greek tavern menus; [ante]penultimate stress).
Anybody have any thoughts on this last issue (or, of course, anything else)?