I have looked at how new Dhivehi words can be built by either combining words from its current wordstock or by altering words of other languages to suit Dhivehi phonotactics. In this post, I will look at the words which already exist in Dhivehi without trying to create anything new out of them. So this is a bit of descriptive research, if you will, on the names of Maldivian islands. But as usual, I don’t really have a plan, so we’ll start with an introduction on common naming conventions and see where we go from there…

How to Name a Place

While each language has its own unique words for place names, there seems to be an all-pervading structure which has no national boundaries. That structure is as follows:

place names

Not all elements are present in each name, but at least one will be present in most (if not all) names, no matter where you are in the world. Also, the elements do not necessarily have to be in that order.

Examples from Around the World

In English, -town is a common suffix used in city names, for example, Freetown. Sometimes it is shortened to -ton like in Boston and Edmonton.

Another common one is -burg, which has the alternate forms -bury and -borough. Examples of this include Edinburgh, Newbury and Maryborough. It is also found in the place names of other countries, for example, Nuremberg in Germany and Strasbourg in France. This word originally referred to fortresses and walled towns. The Dhivehi cognate is ބުރުޒު which comes from the Arabic برج which means “tower”.

English has also borrowed a few place name suffixes from other languages, such as -vale from French and glen from Gaelic, both of which mean “valley”.

Some more common English ones are -ham, -chester, -field, -mouth, and -port, which mean “home”, “castle”, “field”, “mouth (of a river)” and “port” respectively. Examples of places whose names have these suffixes are Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Plymouth and Newport.

A bit closer to home, we find the suffixes -abad-pur (as well as the alternatives -pura and -puram), -ur, and -patnam, which mean “abode”, “city”, “town” and “settlement” respectively. Examples include Faisalabad, Jaipur, Bengaluru and Visakhapatnam.

In China, you will find plenty of 区 (“district”/”area”) and 市 (“city”).

Go south from there and you will come across several kota (“city” – also spelt kuto), kuala (“estuary”/”confluence”) and bandar (“port”).

All of these words/suffixes fall into the third category (type of settlement). Simply and another word to describe it, a person to name it after, or a tribe/group to whom it belongs and voilà, you’ve named a place.

Places in the Maldives

When I say “type of settlement”, I mean something like “city”, “town” or “village”. But there is some overlap in the three categories, meaning that other places like a port or a kuala can go into either the “settlement” category or the “thing” category. This is the case for most places in the Maldives. Since the majority of Islands have only one settlement, it would almost be pointless differentiating between an island as a whole and the area on that island where people live. This is why you don’t see ރަށް or އަވަށް attached to many Island names, even though they are really the only true “types of settlement” you will find in the Maldives, besides ސިޓީ (keep in mind that ރަށް means “city” as well as “island”).

So instead of the “settlement” category, we’ll start by looking at the “thing” category. And there are a few “things” in the Maldives.

N.B. unless otherwise indicated, the numbers I use do not include variations of names

ދޫ (-dhoo)

Of the inhabited islands (there are 188*), 100 of them have names ending with this suffix, making it the most common one in the country. When uninhabited islands are included, that number increases to almost 300; around a quarter of all Maldivian islands.

ދޫ simply means “island”, so it makes sense that it is the most common name. It is related to Sanskrit word द्वीप  (dvipa), from which we also get the name Maldives. 

*This figure is from the Nation Bureau of Statistics and is valid for December 2015. The number may have changed since then due to relocation. Also, I do not know whether they count places like Hulhumeedhoo as one island or two.

ފުށި (-fushi)

Almost 150 islands have names ending with this suffix, which is just over an eigth of all the islands. There are also 42 islands in the south whose names have the ending ހުއްޓާ, which I’m guessing is the ހުވަދޫބަސް equivalent of ފުށި. However, if you only look at inhabited islands, there are only 18 which have names ending in -fushi. This disproportion kind of makes more sense when you consider its definition:

(1)ކުދި ރަށްރަށް. (2) މާރަށްރަށް ފިޔަވާ އެހެނިހެން ރަށްރަށް. (3) ފަޅުފަޅުގައި އަކިރިއާއި ގަލުން ހިކިފައި ހުންނަ ތަންތަން. މިތަންތާނގައި ކުރެދި، ހަލަވެލި، ބޯށި، މަގޫ ފަދަ ގަސް ހުރެދާނެއެވެ. (4) ގަސް ހެދުން. މަދު، އާބާދުވުން ކުޑަ، އާމްދަނީ ލިބުން މަދު ރަށްރަށް.

No one wants to live in a place where the fourth meaning applies since it basically means a low quality of life. However, I wouldn’t say that “ކުދި” ,”އާބާދުވުން ކުޑަ” or “އާމްދަނީ ލިބުން މަދު” applies to a place like Kulhudhuffushi.

Thilafushi – another very important ފުށި

ޑޫ (-doo)

This is not a common name – there are only four inhabited islands whose names have this ending (ވޭމަންޑޫ ,ތޮއްޑޫ ,ކޮމަންޑޫ and މުންޑޫ) in addition to a few uninhabited islands and the airport island ކޫއްޑޫ.

The reason I’m mentioning it here is because I have a theory that ޑޫ is another incarnation of ދޫ, with the dental sound changing into a retroflex one due to adjacent consonants.

Consider އައްޑޫ. Wikipedia says that this atoll was named after an island which has long since disappeared. Besides the fact that Wikipedia is not the most trustworthy of sources, I think my theory makes more sense: އައްޑޫ refers to the eight or so main islands (އަށް-ދޫ) which make up the atoll.

If you are wondering why it isn’t އައްދޫ instead, it is because ށ is related to the retroflex consonants ޓ and ޑ. This is why words ending in ށި take the suffix އްޓެއް-, and why words ending with ށް in standard Dhivehi end with ޓަ or ޓު in southern dialects. Also consider the fact that we say އަށްޑިހަ and not އަށްދިހަ.

As for the for islands mentioned earlier, ތޮއްޑޫ probably means ތޮށި-ދޫ where ތޮށި refers to the reef/rock formation at the edge of the lagoon, and ވޭމަންޑޫ، ކޮމަންޑޫ and މުންޑޫ were probably all spelt with ޱ (the ނ equivalent of ޅ) instead of ނ. However, I do not know what those names mean.

Thoddoo with its ތޮށި clearly visible

ފަރު (-faru)

This is a relatively uncommon name which means “reef”. In total there are 34 islands whose names end with ފަރު or ޕަރު, which is another form of the word. Only 6 of these are inhabited.

There are some more islands whose names include ފަރު as one of many “things”, for example, ހަނިފަރުރަށް and އަލިދުއްފަރުފިނޮޅު. Some even have ފަރު at the beginning of their names, for example ފަރުކޮޅުފުށި, an island which is now part of Hulhumalé.

Naifaru – probably the most famous ފަރު in the country

ތީމު (-theemu)

This is an interesting one even though it is not at all common. All four islands with this name are inhabited, and they are all in the northern part of the country. While I can’t find exactly what ތީމު means, I have a feeling it may be related to royalty. އުތީމު, home of the famous އުތީމު ގަނޑުވަރު , is where Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu was born. And then there is ރަސްގެތީމު which means “the ތީމު  of the king”. However, that does not explain ކަނޑިތީމު or އަނގޮޅިތީމު.

އުތިމު ގަނޑުވަރު

ގަން (-gan)

In addition to three islands which are simply called ގަން there is also one island called އުލިގަން. Out of these four, two are inhabited and one is an airport. ބަސްފޮތް defines ގަން as “ރަށް” (“island”), but these islands have the shared characteristics of being wide/round and larger than the average island.

The 3+1 ގަން of the Maldives. From the top left there is S. Gan, GDh. Gan and HA. Uligan. On the bottom is L. Gan which is one of the few islands that has more than one settlement. The pictures are more or less to scale.


މުލައް (-mulah)

There are only two islands with this name. One in simply called މުލައް but is also referred to as ބޮލިމުލައް, and the other one is ފުވައްމުލައް. The only of definition of މުލައް I could find is “the top part of the stem of fishing boats”, but the actual word is މުލައްގަނޑު. It is unlikely that the words are related since the meaning has nothing to with islands.

މ. މުލައް (also known as ބޮލިމުލައް)

އި(ނ)ގިލި (-i(n)gili)

There are 19 islands whose names have this ending. Nine of them take the southern dialect form ގިއްލާ. Three of them are inhabited. Most are ވިލިނގިލި or a variation thereof. Others include މާމިގިލި ,ދިޔަމިގިލި and އިނގިލި .އެއްތިގިލި  means “finger”, which is strange since very few of them have anything finger-like about them. However, many of the ވިލިނގިލި’s are located near a much larger island (for example near Malé), so you could think of them as a “finger” of that island. But it is more likely that ވިލިނގިލި means “ވިލު-އިނގިލި” where ވިލު refers to the deep part of a lagoon. I don’t see how that can have a finger, though.

ގއ. ވިލިނގިލި …it kind of looks like a finger…

ވަރު (-varu)

28 islands have names with this ending and only 1 is inhabited – ހިންނަވަރު. There are several meanings that ވަރު can have, including “power” and “extent”, but none of them are related to islands or geography.

ވަށް (-vah)

6 islands have names with this ending, 3 of which are inhabited. ވަށް is likely to be shortened form of އަވަށް which can mean “village”, “ward”, “district” or even “suburb”. This is the only name which actually refers to a type of settlement rather than a geographical “thing”.

ރަށް (-rah)

This is another name which could refer to a type of settlement – “city” or “town” – but it is more likely to refer to a geographical feature – “island” (ރަށް has many meanings as I mentioned before). 16 islands have names with this ending and only 2 of those are inhabited. ރަޓާ is a variant of this name used in the south.

ހުރާ (-huraa)

62 islands have names with this ending which refers to small islands made of dead coral and rocks. Variants of this name include ހެރަ and ހެރާThis dictionary says they have no vegetation, but I don’t think that applies to many. The only inhabited one is ހުރާ in Malé Atoll.

ރަހާ (-rahaa)

5 islands have names with this ending. They are all in the south and they are all uninhabited. A ރަހާ is a type of ހުރާ. A variant of this name is ރެހާ.

Some ހުރާ  and ރަހާ  in Laamu Atoll.

ފިނޮޅު (-finolhu)

51 islands have names with this ending which means “sandbank”. None are inhabited.

That pretty much covers the most common names for Maldivian islands. So let’s put all the numbers together and see what we get…

Some Graphs

The following graphs should help you to visualise all the numbers I just threw at you. I have tried to make them accurate as possible but can guarantee you that there are mistakes (for one thing, several islands are not accounted for, but that’s not my fault…). You’ll also notice that there are some names which I haven’t mentioned above. Most of those are for uninhabited islands.

To start with, let’s look at the relative frequency of names across all the islands.


All Maldives Island Names Pie

And now see what happens when you only look at those islands where people live.

Inhabited Islands Name Pie

Clearly Maldivians prefer living on a ދޫ.

Now have a look at the graph for uninhabited islands.

Uninhabited Islands Name Pie

There is a lot more variation in the names of uninhabited islands. It’s probably because there are a lot more uninhabited islands.

The final graph shows the proportions of each “thing” which are inhabited and uninhabited.

Inhabited Ratio Maldives

I’ll leave it here. It would be interesting to see if there is any correlation between the names of islands and their population, but that is beyond the scope of this little study. In the future I may do a post about the first category of place names, that is, the words Maldivians use to describe their islands.