Bushman (San) Influence on Southern African Place Names

Reference work entry


The place names of Southern Africa derive from a wide range of Bushman, Khoikhoi, Bantu, European, and other languages. The Khoikhoi languages are extinct in South Africa, but Khoikhoi place names have survived, albeit in adapted form. The Bushman languages are also virtually extinct, and few Bushman place names have been recorded, but current research reveals Bushman influence on place names in all the other languages in the form of loan words, sound shifts, adaptations, and translations. Only during the last decade has the Bushman toponymic substructure been recognized, a factor that has implications for the standardization of geographical names by the South African Geographical Names Council. Implementation of the South African Geographical Names Council Act, with its objective of “standardization and transformation of geographical names,” has resulted in replacement of many European, and particularly Afrikaans, place names by perceived Bantu names, many of which on further investigation have proven to be of Bushman origin. Since phonological and orthographic adaptations often render the Bushman origins less readily recognizable, individual place names are analyzed in this chapter, employing a variety of onomastic techniques to establish the underlying Bushman words and elements, tracing the phonological processes involved in their adaptation into other languages, and investigating the metamorphoses undergone by phonemes and graphemes in the process. The sheer volume of place names in the various languages in the region precludes a comprehensive survey, and the present chapter therefore concentrates on Bushman influence on Bantu place names.


Bushman Place names Toponyms Language contact Bantu Geographical names 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Unit for Language Facilitation and EmpowermentUniversity of the Free StateBloemfonteinSouth Africa

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