Did Many Ancient European River Names Get Their Name From the Dinka Word For “River”? [Part 3]


Dinka is a Western Nilotic language from the Nilo Saharan language family, comprising five similar dialects and spoken by about 2-3 million Dinka people in southern Sudan.

From the Dinka-English dictionary [source: http://www.RogerBlench.info ]:-


  • wär / wɛɛ̈r ̈ SWr n. any body of water: river, lake or pond, water well. loc: wïïr.

  • wɛɛ̈r̈ NEd SWr SEb Sg: wär. n. rivers, lakes.


  • Hausa (West Chadic): ‘wuriya‘ [‘rushing stream’];

  • Miya (West Chadic): ‘wər‘ [‘lake’];


Now look at the European river names included in the map below, which is taken from Hans Krahe’s Unsere ältesten Flussnamen [“Our oldest river names”] (1964), and see the resemblance of these European river names to the Dinka words for ‘river’ :-

In addition to the thirty-six European rivers shown in the map above, there are a few rivers in England and Wales with similar names which were omitted from Krahe’s map.  These include: River Wear; River Were; River Ver; River Wyre; River Vyrnwy; etc.  The Old English word ‘wer’, meaning a fish trap or weir [from which the word ‘weir’ comes]; and also the Welsh word ‘wern’ meaning a swamp or quagmire might also be related. And Latin ‘ver’ meaning ‘spring’ maybe.

This is another example of ancient European river names sounding very similar to an African word for river which is definitely worthy of further research.

Ancient European River Names – Do their Names Derive From African Languages? (Part 2)


Above: River Saar, Germany


In my previous post I looked at the similarities between the names of various European rivers (whose names are believed to be thousands of years old), and their close resemblance to words for ‘river’ in a number of African languages.

In today’s post I continue this theme.

Here are several other similar-sounding river names from across Europe with ancient origins:-

  • Soar (England)

  • Soar, formerly known as Saravus (Belgium)

  • Serre, formerly known as Sera (France)

  • Cère, formerly known as Sera (France)

  • Séran, formerly known as Sera (France)

  • Saurunz, formerly known as Serantia (Alsace, France)

  • Schremm, formerly known as Serma (Germany)

  • Sorgwm [Welsh for “Sor Valley“], (Wales)

  • Zorn, formerly known as Sorna (Alsace, France)

  • Saire, formerly known as Sara (Normandy, France)

  • Saar(e) (Brandenburg, Germany)

  • Sar, formerly known as Saros (Spain)

  • Serio, formerly known as Sarius (Lombardy, Italy)

  • Sarià (Lithuania)

  • Saar, formerly known as Saravus (Germany)

  • Sernf, formerly known as Sarnivos? (Switzerland)

Linguists have postulated a Proto-Indo European root *ser-, “to flow”, as a common origin for these names.

As usual, the linguists didn’t care to have a look further south in Africa for languages with potentially related words.

  • sɛ́rɛ́word for “river” in Northern Maa [north Kenya – eastern Nilotic languages];

  • Suriword for “river” in Dazaga [north Chad – Saharan languages];

  • Suri – word for “river” in Tedaga [north Chad – Saharan languages];

Both of the above resemble the word ‘isuri’ [“to pour, spill, flow”] from the Basque language of south-western Europe.

  • Soura River (NW Africa – links Atlas Mountains to the lakes in the Ahnet-Movydir basin);

  • Asuwaword for “stream” in Twi [Ghana – Kwa languages, Tano subgroup of Niger-Congo languages];

    UPDATED 4/12/16

However, the closest resemblance of all [especially in light of the word ‘isuri’ meaning ‘to flow’ etc. in the Basque language of south-western Europe] can be seen in the Ijoid languages of Nigeria, and words meaning “to flow” in various languages of that group, several of which are IDENTICAL to the Basque word:-

“FLOW” (V.I.)
NK           sérí
Ịbanị       sírí
Kalaba    sérí
KI             sérí
NE           seri
AK           iheri
BU           isérí
OY           iseri
EO           isórí
AP           isórí
ID            sori
OG           sori
FU            sori
AR            sori
OB            seri
OE            sʊɔ, serí 
ME           sʊɔ, serí 
KU            sérí
KB            serií
WT           serí
IK             súɔ, sérí súɔ
EK            serí
KO            sérí sʊɔ́ 
GB            sérí sʊɔ́ 
OR            sʊɔ́ ɓéni


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.