Ancient European River Names – Their Origin Might Be From An African Language

Above:  The Isère river running through Grenoble in southeastern France.

There are several rivers across Europe with names which clearly have a similar origin.  The origin of these rivers’ names has been postulated to be either pre-Indo European (and later absorbed by Indo European language speakers); or alternatively from a reconstructed Indo European root.  

These are derived from the old river name ‘Isar’ and include the following:-

  • Isar river [Germany];

  • Isère river [France];

  • Yser river [France/Belgium];

  • Isara river (original name for the Oise) [France];

  • Yzeron river [France];

  • Ézaro river [Spain];

  • Ézara river [Spain];

  • Iseran river [France];

  • Esaro river [Italy];

  • Eisack river [Italy];

  • Isières river [Belgium];

  • Izarillo river [Spain];

  • Éisra and Istrà [Lithuania];

  • Jizera [Czech Republic];

[there are some others also]

These river names resemble the Basque word ‘isuri‘ [“to pour, spill, flow”] which seems to not have been noticed.

However, I also don’t think anyone bothered to look at African languages to see if there might be a relationship with the above European river names.  If they had done so, then they might have noticed the following:-

  • Just like in Basque, the word for ‘to flow’ in several of the Ijoid languages of Nigeria is “iseri“;

  • The word for ‘stream’ in Idũ [Koro cluster, Plateau languages of Nigeria] is: “ìzɛ̃rĩ̀“;

  • The Songhai word for ‘river’ is: “Isa;

  • The Tarifiyt Berber word for ‘river’ is: “Iɣzā;

  • The Toro Tegu (Dogon languages) word for ‘stream’ is: “ísà;

  • The Edo word for ‘river’ is: “Eze;

[There are undoubtedly others which I haven’t found yet].

I will be looking at the possible African origins of other examples of ancient European hydonymy and toponymy in future posts.