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Etymology Guide; A companion piece to the His Dark Materials fic: A Brief History of the Witches and Their Culture

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Please note: these are in the order they appear in the story and are NOT sorted by people, place, or concept. Many of these come directly from Philip Pullman and the book himself; I’ve denoted a * next to any original place, name, or concept etymology. I included words/people from the original HDM to underlay the importance that etymology has in Pullman’s story. Some of these have extended notes after them, where I felt some detail was necessary to the understanding of why I selected a particular name for a person, place, or event. Hopefully this isn’t too heavy handed and is useful to the reading/understanding of the fic.


*Liisi: Finnish form of Elizabeth; God is my oath.
*Sakarja: Hebrew, used mostly in Scandanavia. Form of Zacharias; Yahweh has remembered. As Lyra/Will parallel Adam and Eve and the first fall, Liisi, Sakarja, and Serafina parallel John the Baptist. Both John and Serafina become huge advocates for their saviours.
Magisterium: the [loose] equivalent of the Catholic Church, only far more powerful and totalitarian.
Anbaric: electric, as in power.
Theologian: A physicist - most likely works in a chapel.
Chapels: A scientific lab/institution. Pullman’s own definition has them as just labs, but I’ve modified that slightly to include any institution of science.
Chaplains: One who heads a scientific lab/institution.
*Kier: Celtic/Irish; little dark one. This name has no real etymological significance on the story. It is, quite simply, a rather catching name that went well with Liisi.
Serafina: Italian; from the seraph or, from the burning one.
Kaisa: Finnish; pure. [Note: Most often a girl’s name.]
*Joachim: God will establish
Brytain: Archaic form of Britain
Enara: Swedish name for the Lake Inari region of Finland
Federation of Muscovy: Russia, though one gets the impression from Pullman’s books that it is far larger and powerful, so I would argue that it does include a lot of the Soviet satellites.
*Potentilla: Latin form of the English Cinquefoil; the name meaning of this flower is beloved daughter
New France: Canada and the US that make up the Louisiana Purchase.
Mejico: Mexico
New Denmark: The area that encompasses the United states east of the Louisiana Purchase.
Texas: An independent republic.
*Sud-Hiekkaerämaa: Alternative name for Sub-Sahara. Finnish in origin. Literally ‘South Sand Desert’. In the books Pullman doesn’t elaborate much on Africa, and I wanted something to demonstrate that this was a far more Euro-dominated world than our world is.
Nippon: Japan, a name which is still in use today.
Cathay: Archaic name for China
Corea: Korea
Beringland: land that encompasses Alaska, Greenland, and much of the Northern Territories.
*the Affirmation: think of the Inquisition. Much as it was in three parts, so was the Affirmation, with only the worst of it [the torture and death] coming in the third stage. They parallel each other.
*Bharata: India. From the legendary emperor Bharata who was the first to unify greater India into one country. India today is known as Bharat in Hindi.
*Indoi: name for an ethnic group of those living in Bharata. Derived from the Indus river, from which our-world India gets its name. I added a name for the Bharatan people because India today is quite the amalgation of ethnic groups and I wanted that represented.
Lascar: name for an ethnic group of those living in Bharata. Archiac English word for an East Indian.
Atomcraft: Atomic science. Not so very different from our-world, there aren’t many ways to say splitting an atom.
*Kali: modern-day Calcutta - the city was named after a Hindu goddess named Kali and the name has been continuously changing since.
Oratories: Churches
*Læso: named after Laeso, a small island off the coast of Italy. I wanted to show that there are some witches that clan in an area [Lapland], some that encompass whole countries [Latvian] and some, like the Læso witches, who appear to be a mixture of both.
Ruta Skadi: Ruta: bitter herb Skadi: night/shade
*Svergie: Swedish form of Sweden
*Kanimir: Polish; one who invites peace. Pullman doesn’t hide from his etymology - Serafina and Kaisa is pretty much spelling out their importance to the story. I wanted to pay homage to that throughout the entire story, but that manifested itself most obviously in Potentilla and Kanimir and how they rule their clan in the story.]
*Gulf of Riga: actual gulf off the Latvian coast.
*Edem: Ewe; God has saved me [note: most often a girl’s name] Pullman does this in his story, and I think he does it with Kaisa to underline just how powerful and important Serafina is as a female, witch-Queen, advocate for Lyra. In this same way, Edem underlines how important the Consul position is to the witches, even if Ruta does scoren it and is right about why the witches agree to it.
*Iokua: Hawaiian form of Joshua; God is my trumpet. This name was chosen largely for it’s Io- beginner and also because Iokua acts as the instrument to giving Serafina her first child.
*Matheson: Finnish; bear’s son
*Qitarah: Arabian; fragrant
*Callum: Scottish form of Columba, Latin for ‘Dove’
*Abeni: African Yoruba; we asked for her
*tied-toes: a variant of foot binding
Night-ghasts: mythological nightmare
*Murrundi: Australia. Derived from the Murray-Darling river basin. As with Indoi, and with so many other places in the world, the whole continent/country was named where a large group of people lived.
Yambe-Akka: the witch goddess that seen in the moment before death
*heat-sickness: the Spanish flu. Again, the two parallel each other, in coming quickly, causing scores of deaths, and quickly abating.
Norroway: Norway
Electrum: what we would call amber
Sergi: from the Latin, Sergio; servant
*Benoni: Hebrew; son of my sorrow [yes, this is epic forshadowing, but again, Pullman’s already shown etymology is huge in this world/his stories, so a little of me hitting you over the head is par for the course]
*Desideria: Latin/French; desired
Asriel: Hebrew; helped by God
*fly-paste: mosquito, or an equivalent
*sleep-sickness: A form of malaria. As with so much else in this story, fly-pastes/mosquitoes and sleep-sickness/malaria parallel each other
*child-cutting: circumcision, both male and female.
*Affery: Hebrew/Arabic; dust [is there a more fitting name? I think not.]