Dracula, Wales, Walnuts, the Romans and William Wallace

31 Jul

In the third century BC there were a number of tribes from Germany which were collectively called the Volcae.  These people controlled the trade routes between Germanic tribes and the Mediterranean and their name was soon adopted for new tribes from as far as France and Turkey.

To the Germanic people these people who traded in foreign goods were naturally identified as foreign themselves, and the Old German word for Volcae, Walha, came to mean foreign.  When the Germanic tribes met Celts, and later Romans, they were also called Walha.  Because the Romans were known to geld their horses, these horses also became known as Walha.

Old German influenced a lot of modern languages, and we see this influence in Polish, where Wlochy means Italy, and Walach is a gelding.  In Czech, a Vlach is an Italian, and a Valach is a gelding.  Several languages call Romanians Vlah, Voloh, Valah, Vlahi, Vlachen and other variations.

As early Germanic tribes, such as the Franks, came to dominate Europe, variations to Walha were used to describe foreign people, and stuck till today.  In the lowlands we now know as Belgium and Netherlands, the French speaking people who came to settle were deemed foreign, and therefore called Walloons.

On the other side of Europe, an area of land that acted as a barrier between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire, a new country was created when several Romanian noblemen rebelled against the Hungarian King. Possibly because of a legend that their leader came from a foreign land, this new country was a “foreign land” and became known as Wallachia. While Romanian history will recount many great and infamous leaders, the one most known to the rest of the word is Vlad III, commonly known as Vlad the Impaler, who belonged to the royal house of Draculeati. He is seen as the inspiration to the story of Dracula.

In Britain, the Old English word for the foreign Romans was Wealh, and when these Romans brought over a new nut (Hnutu in Old English), this nut was called Walhnutu, which literally meant “Roman nut”, and this is our modern Walnut.  Later, as the Anglo Saxons came to settle, they saw the Cymru language as foreign, and called it Welsch, later to become Welsh. The suffix “wall” was also added to names of areas which resisted the initial Anglo Saxon invasions, such as Cornwall.

Finally, there’s a strange connection which is often overlooked. Many people assume that Gaul in English, and Gaule or Gaulle in French are from the Latin Gallia, but the problem here is that words from Latin which became French would usually change G to a J, whereas words that migrated from German into French often changed W to G. Gaul was ironically used to call the Romanised Celts, but was then used to mean other foreigners as well, so that while the Anglo Saxon English used Wales to refer to the land of foreign speakers, the Frankish French called it Pays de Galles, which means the same.

Considering the origin of these words, it sheds new light on characters from history, such as William Wallace, the Scottish hero, whose name means “The Foreigner”, and raises the question why the heir to the British throne is Prince of the Foreigners?

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Posted by on Sunday 31st July 2011 in History, People, Places


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