ETIMOLOGY OF ASTURIES. THE MEANING OF OUR NAME.

There were diverse interpretative hypothesis with regards to the name of our nation, Asturias. It is logical for there to be a clear interest in a name whose remote origins are obscured by the exiguity of dependable  and objective data. Many believe in a pre-Indo European origin, Etruscan according to Schulze and others (Shulten 426, p. 87), based on the Mediterranean expansion of toponyms and anthroponyms  that present a  linguistic resemblance with Asturias; as well as the possibility of confirming a certain familiarity with some Pyrenaic or Basque words. This is believed to be so since Humboldt and authors such as Hubschmid (59p. 471;106) admit an explanation of this, as in the compound AITZ-URA, ‘water that flows from the rocks’ ; ‘asta’ (rock, ledge), ‘ura’ (water). From this explanation we can derive that the name Asturias refers to a land with many mountain springs (cf 218; 102 p 25; ; 361 p. 187; 391 p.85; 387 p. 391).

The truth is that many different explanations can be found. Thus, if we believe the familiarity with Basque, we see that there are other words that have a certain phonetic similarity, like ‘asto’ (donkey) or ‘astorki’ (sainfoin)¸or also in certain surnames (103 nº 104, 105, 201). If we analyse it, they are good approximations  because Asturias is a nation of water, a nation of rocks, and of course the nation that is proud of its horse, the Asturcón, ‘the horse of the Astures’.

But it doesn’t seem that the name comes from these or from simplification. There are some who think differently, perhaps with less knowledge, that Asturias could be explained from Indo European elements like AST(H), ‘hard’; or even with the Latin ASTRUM or ÁSTUR ‘eagle’’ (104 p. 342; 185 p. 219).

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In recent times, the Celtic origin of the name was brought to light due to the expansion of hydronyms, which are  perhaps related, from the south of Great Britain and areas that currently speak German. It is interesting to see how many hydronyms of the same type as ‘Stura’  in the Italian region of Piamonte, where we find the name of the city Estil. (cf. 406 y 407).

Ancient Documentation

To make  etymological suggestions, it is convenient to consult the Ancient and Medieval data which we have, as this is the way to make our theory more credible. In our case, we take as a reference ÁSTURES, ÁSTURIA, ÁSTURA, three elements that appear in the documents of the Roman conquest and which refer, respectively, to a people, the country they inhabit and an important river that flows through their lands. We don’t know if Ástures is previous to Astura or viceversa but there is no question as to their linguistic interrelation.

We shall begin our observations with the name of the river. Until now, the most convincing theories tie ÁSTURA with the river Esla (León) as there are no serious objections from either the historical, the geographical or the linguistic point of view. This implies that we have to start from a word stressed on the third-to-last syllable, that is Ástura. They would also probably pronounce Ástures to speak of the primitive inhabitants of their riversides. (cf. 106; 59 p. 47l; 391 p. 85).

The name of Ástures was extensive not only to the dwellers of the flat land or Augustans, but also to the people on the northern side of the mountains, that is the Ástures from the other side of the mountains (cf. 197), similar to the Suriegos  that occupied a land almost as big as the whole of modern Asturias. The Ástures, apart from the specifications that can be made (cf. 427 p. 29), lived between the sea and the Douro or Duero river, in a vast country of about 20.000 square kilometres. Accoeding to Schulten, it would extend across the majority of the  modern Asturian Principality and also the provinces of León (form the Cea towards the west), the northwestern area of Zamora, the northeastern strip of Portugal, eastern third of Ourense and eastern corner of Lugo, near Ferruchar do Caurel.

Asturia2

The name of the Ástures, plural of Ástur, is the reason the Romans called their main southern settlement ASTURICA (Augusta), ‘urbs magnifica’ according to Pliny (Nat. Hist.III, 28), where the name evolved to the modern Astorga. This manifests another linguistic input: the tonic ‘o’ was short because only in this way can we justify the /o/  of the modern toponym.

 It is also documented from ancient times what appears to be a formation based on Ástura, which is ASTURIA, the land of the Ástures. In the Middle Ages, the expression becomes plural, ASTURIAS, as a reference that is not only ethnic but also geographical and political, given the important expansion of the primitive Asturia and the kingdom it brings forth.

The names of ‘Asturias de Oviedo’, ‘Asturias de Santillana’ in the west of the modern Cantabria; also ‘Asturias de Transmiera’, more to the east. In our days the name Asturias designates the land that makes up the Principality of Asturias, that coincides in its eastern and western borders with the Medieval circumscription that are explicitly mentioned in the document ‘Inter Oue et Deua’, that is, ‘Between the Eo and the Deva’. The southern borders of Asturias were roughly drawn by geography, but mainly decided by the interests of civil and religious administrations, which determined the reduction of the Diocesis of Oviedo to its current limits due to the agreement of 1954 between the Spanish state and the Vatican.

Another question posed is knowing if the macro-toponym  Asturias derives through the popular and documented old ASTURIA or through a more cultured route. Our reasoning  leans in the following direction: if the tonic ‘o’ is short as we have just said, ASTURIA(S) should have to have evolved to Astoria(s) and not to Asturia(s), and in that case the expression Asturias would be a cultism and so evolved apart from the old popular way.

In opposition to this, we could also say that Asturia(s) is foreseeable popular evolution due to the suffix ‘-URIUM’  which we find in the  historical evolution of our language. Effectively, this suffix has a considerably insecure historical evolution, as we can see in the triple result of a similar word, the Latin STRATORIUM> estandoriu / estadoiru —> estadueñu ‘abargana’/ estadoiru —> estadui(r)o —> esta(n)duyu.

This same evolutionary insecurity is what we should find in the modern result of the old ASTURIA(S):

a.) Astoria(s) or Estoria(s), not documented by us, but what is certain is its equivalent, the hydronym of Lena, La Fonte les Istodias, ‘the fountain of waters’.

b) Astoira(s) or Estoira(s) —> Astoera —> Astuera, name of a creek and farm in Lastres (Colunga).

c.) Asturias, next to its equivalent Estudiar ‘The Waters’, a fountain in Llanes; and perhaps also together with what could be similar, the abundation Llaguna Asturiega, to the west of Santa María del Pandorial in the lands that belonged to the Augustan Ástures.

This triple behaviour (Les Istodias/ Astuera/ Estudiar) concords with the diachrony of the Asturian language and allows us to admit that Asturias can be considered a popular evolution, although coinciding with those that a more cultured explanation would offer. These diverse alternatives explain the names given to the natives of the land, the Asturianos, and their toponymic expansion to some repopulated territories like Asturianos in Palencia (345 p. 156), Asturianos, in Senabria in a  document dating from 977 (12 p. 442). We also have Estorâos, two parrishes and a hamlet in Portugal (Piel: RPF 4, 195 1, pp. 197), which demands to start from the form esto(i)ranos. Fianally, Astureses in Ourense is formed from and adjective ended in -ENSE.

The Problem of Estora and Estorâos:

Together with the aforementioned proparoxytone ( third-to-last accented)  AST(O)RA> Esla, we could feel inclined to admit a paroxytone or oxytone expression, as it would seem to be what the Asturian toponym Estora which names  some fields on the banks of the River Sella, next to the church of Santianes de Molenes de l’Agua, Ribadesella suggests. This church of Santianes is known as ‘ Sancti Iohannis de Stola’ in a document from 1147 (MSVO) and that appears again as ‘Stora’ in 1153 (MSVM p.8). The tonic vowel manifests once more the shortness of the etymological ‘o’. Therefore, it is better to admit that Estora must be interpreted as another derivation of ASTURIA >Esto(i)ra, with accent on the velar such as is demanded by the ‘i’, later disappeared. That would be the origin of Estora, seen today in the east of Asturias, and the ethnonym  Estorâos seen in Portugal.

Estil and Ura:

The documents prove, on the other hand, the existence of two equivalent phonic variants,ast- and est-, that are not a serious objection to our work.

It seems as we have said that semantically ASTURA refers originally to a hydronomic reality; but what is not clear is if the reference to water is only due to what would be a second element of the composition, -URA, or what could be the first, ESTIL-, or perhaps a combination of both. Our observation allows us to affirm:

a.) There is a series of toponyms, Asturian and non- Asturian, that seem to have a pre-Roman element, UR ‘water’. They are toponyms such as Valledor (Al), Río Órbigo (León), Ponte Orugu (Babia), Uría (Ib), and perhaps some like Ouru, etc. (ch.6).

b.) There are toponyms that have the element ESTIL and that also seem to refer to water: They are names like Rebaste, ‘the river estil’, creek that derives from Valdedios in Villaviciosa; ‘teh fountain of Vardasta’ on the border of the monastery of Fano (Xx); maybe Valdabasta (León), near the Esla (cf. 258).

c.) There are toponyms in which it appears that the ensemble ASTURA is used to refer to water. In this case -URA would be simply an old suffix that, as it occurs with the atonal -ara, -ana, would only serve to complete the phonic significance of the primitive AST-.

In favour of the hydronimic interpretation of the ÁSTUR(I)A ensemble is the translation that we received when the translation of Santianes de Molenes de l’Agua was generalised as the correct form of ‘Sancti Johannis de Stola’. In the same sense, we have the aforementioned La Fonte les Istodias (Ll) and Estudiar (Lln) that are unequivocably hydromyms and that can  also be translated as ‘water’.

5.0

The Nation of Water, The Nation of the Ástures:

As we explained (cf. 258 ), we believe that the hydronimic element ÁSTUR(I)A is found both to the north and to the south of the old nation of the Ástures, where the ancient Estora and the Esla were born. It is interesting to note that on the eastern borders of the Ástures, both north and south of the mountains, two rivers have the name of the same people, perhaps because this people receives its name from them. The Esla to the south and the Estora (that is, the Sella) to the north, were totally Asturian rivers and for that reason explainable in the language of the Ástures. Their waters were, for those that came from the east, the first  notable bodies of water to be found in the land of the Ástures.

What is also testified to the north is that the oldest name known of that river was possibly the pre-Indoeuropean ASTURIA (> Estora), to which the Indo-European SALIA (>Sella), and, although unsuccessfully, the Latin FLUVIUM, ‘river’, (> Llovio). The contemporary Estora, Sella and Llovio are because of this an interesting reference that speak of the great linguistic entity that our nation possesses.

Source:

“Toponimia asturiana”;  Xose Lluís García Arias; Editorial Prensa Asturiana.

Traslation Asturian – English:

Maritsa Solares.

Maps and illustrations:

1st.- Map of the tributaries of the Douro River, including the Esla river. Author: unknow. Source: Google.

2nd.- Map of the site of Asturia in pre-Roman times. Author: unknow. Source: Google.

3rd.- Map of the Asturies of Uviéu and the Asturies of Santillana in 17th century. Author: Jansonio in 1653.

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