How Did South African “Dorpies” Get Their Names?

South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world with the most intriguing and colourful names for towns or “klein dorpies”.

We may snigger with silly names like Brown Willy in Cornwall or Useless Loop in Australia, but South Africa itself has some strangely named towns and that’s not taking colourful farm names like ‘Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein into account.”  Certainly a tongue twister isn’t it?

As a little boy, my brothers, cousins and dozens used to spend our school holidays with family that lived in a town called Groot Marico, which is the home of the legendary Mampoer.

What was ironic though, was that Groot Marico was not actually “groot” that big as the name suggests. It was a one street town in those times. 

However “Vergenoeg” another family retreat as the name suggests was far and actually two hours drive from the hustle and bustle of Joburg. What about Putsonderwater in the Northern Cape?

The legend says…Back in the dim and distant past, this little dorp was called Klippan. Then an old coloured man called David Ockhuiswhose dug a well in the 1880s but was loathe to share the water with passers-by.

So whenever a trekboer asked him if they could have a drink to slake their thirst in this dry and dusty land the man replied  “Ja meneer, ek het ‘n put, maar dis ‘n put sonder water.” (“Yes sir, I have a well, but it’s a well without water.”)

The name stuck and the land was later split into two. The one farm was called Putzonderwater (with the Dutch “z”) and the other Middelka.

A town that’s spurns a lot of memories is “Woodbine”. Boasting a railway track along side the farmhouse we stayed in. Our memories kindle days of stealing rides upon passenger trains and spending endless hours picnicking beside a stream aptly called “stroompie”.  It always intrigued us whether Woodbine was named because of wood that was bined there.   

South African has a rich history of town’s names. Take Coffee Bay. It did not get its name because of the rich coffee crop, but rather from a cargo ship that ran aground in the 19th century spilling coffee beans into the bay prompting locals to grow them, but the climate was not conducive. 

Even the well-travelled Portuguese discovering new lands have a heritage in South Africa. Paternoster, a west cost fishing village got its name after a Portuguese ship was wrecked and the survivors fell to their knees and said “Our Father in thanks.”

Nylstroom got its name in the 1860’s when Jerusalem Trekkers, a group of religious zealots went in search of the holy land. With no GPS during those times their maps were unreliable and when they reached a north flowing river they thought it was the Nile. Conforming this deduction was a pyramid-shaped hill nearby proof that they were in Eqypt. 

However it was two towns’ names that had me intrigued. In the 19th century, two land surveyors lost each other in the mist and spent days searching for each other. The spot where they eventually met was called Soekmekaar. Then there was the surveyor who said of an area in the Northern Cape, “This place is as hot as hell, ” and Hotazel was born. 

So if you live in Pilgrims rest named after a zealot William Trafford who spent months searching the mountains around Pilgrims Rest for gold; when he found it he is alleged to have said,” This pilgrim has come to rest” or Lenasia as thought to be a combination of the words “Lenz” and “Asia”.

The Lenz in question was one Captain Lenz who owned the original plot on which Lenasia is situated, we have to admit that South Africa has a rich heritage and diversity that makes the world sit up and take notice.

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