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I am seeking the etyomology of the name of the peninsula, Kamchatka. The only explanation I have found is in the old book "A shooting trip to Kamchatka", which suggests that it comes from a term meaning "uneven or rough" (possibly камчатый, which Google translates as "crenate" or "scalloped").

Is the explanation substantiated? Is the name's origin Russian anyway? Who named it, and to describe which feature? Was the peninsula so named before the Kamchatka River?

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  • We have a lot of hypotheses, but is there scholarly recognition of the dispute over its origin, or is one of these stories more canonical than the rest? Aug 8 '17 at 5:01
  • There are two chapters devoted to the name's origin in Полевой, Б. П.: Новое об открытии Камчатки. I don't presently have access to the book, but its contents are listed here: knigakamchatka.ru/history/… Sep 20 '17 at 6:44
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There is a hypothesis that the toponym Kamchatka has its origin in the Ainu language. The original inhabitants of Southern Kamchatka, Sakhalin island, Kuril and Japanese islands were the Ainu people, most toponyms in the Southern Kamchatka, Kuril islands, and many toponyms on the Japanese islands are of Ainu origin.

In his book "Курильско-Камчатский диалект айнского языка" (The Kuril-Kamchatka Dialect of the Ainu Language), Александр Акулов (Alexander Akulov) writes:

Также само название Камчатка, похоже, является словом айнского происхождения, поскольку в нем в финальной позиции виден тот же компонент ka, что и в проанализированных выше топонимах; судя по всему слово Камчатка состоит из следующих элементов: kam «простираться» + cak «взрываться» + ka «место» таким образом, изначально топоним, вероятно, выглядел как Kamcakka и означал «простирающаяся [и] взрывающаяся местность».

In English:

Also, the name Kamchatka appears to be a word of Ainu origin, since in it the same component ka is found in the final position, as in the toponyms analyzed above. Apparently, the word Kamchatka consists of the following elements: kam "stretch" + cak "explode" + ka "place", so originally the toponym probably looked like Kamcakka and meant "stretching [and] exploding terrain."

"Exploding" refers to the fact that there are many volcanoes and geyser on the Kamchatka peninsula.

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  • Interesting stuff. So the -ka ending is the principal sign that the name is not Russian? Jul 6 '17 at 0:07
  • @AaronBrick - Ka means 'place' in Ainu and many toponyms in Kamchatka end in -ka, also kam and chak are meaningful words in Ainu.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 6 '17 at 0:16
  • This is very suggestive, but I am surprised to see the natives described as Ainu. I thought the Itelmen were separated from the Ainu by Kuril peoples. Certainly their languages are all related, but the Russian penetration of Kamchatka happened up in Koryak territory. Is the claim about -ka true of all the above languages, or just Ainu? Jul 6 '17 at 0:34
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    I asked a poor question. The name of the book you cited itself suggests that the author regards Ainu peoples as having lived in Kamchatka, which is where I got confused. Thanks for your answer! Jul 6 '17 at 17:50
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    @AaronBrick - The Koryak and Itelmen languages are perhaps related, but Ainu is a language isolate, not related to any other language, although the author of that book argues it can be distantly related to some Papuan and Andaman languages. As for Koryak and Itelmen, I cannot find any dictionaries to check whether their words for 'place' sound like the Ainu ka. If you find any, please, let me know.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 6 '17 at 17:59
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Nobody knows

Well, this whole peninsula was named so because there's a river called Камчатка, but according to wikipedia (and other sources actually) there are literally dozens of version from where this name came.

Here are some facts though:

  • First evidence of Kamchatka we have is a dutch map, dated back to 1687 and based on some Russian sources.
  • Ethnonym камчадал (kamchadal) came to usage not earlier that at at the very end of XVIIth century.
  • There was a Russian землепроходец (sort of pioneer) Иван Камчатый (Ivan Kamchatyj) and from his name Камчатка was derived. The funny part is that actually nobody knows as well whether he reached the peninsula at all - though he traveled a lot through Siberia and Far East.
  • There are versions that this name is actually of Yakut/Tatar/Uygur/Koryak/Itelmen/etc. origin
  • There is a version that it's derived from a name of a specific regional animal

Whatever of the of versions is correct it most probably has nothing to do with Russian language though.

With the exception of (highly doubtful) Иван Камчатый version - камчатый is an adjective, it's about something made of special fabric called камка, which is a Russian word of turkic origin.

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  • I think Камша surname is related to the latter option. So it might be coming from some West-Slavic language not Russian. ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Arioch
    Jul 5 '17 at 17:54
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    SO, if to believe Wikipedia, the fabric literally named "Kamchatka" got its name from the Damascus itself. No, really, was this planet so small back then already?
    – Arioch
    Jul 5 '17 at 17:56
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    @Arioch it has not though, камка is the word that was used for fabric called дамаст, but they do not share the origin etymologically.
    – shabunc
    Jul 5 '17 at 17:58
  • @Arioch ah, you mean the version that is mentioned in Wikipedia - unfortunately I'm not sure it's not a myth - hadn't seen the map myself.
    – shabunc
    Jul 5 '17 at 17:59
  • @shabunc any chance you could provide a citation for the Dutch map? Jul 6 '17 at 1:03
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It might be Turkic, given "kamşag" (kamshag) means "quake" in Old Turkic and Kamchatka region is often hit by earthquakes. The word and its verb form "kamşat-" (kamshat) appear several times in Orkhon Inscriptions.

The Orkhon Inscriptions were erected in honor of the two Turkic princes Kül Tegin and his brother Bilge Kagan and written by Yollug Tegin who was nephew of Bilge Kagan. The Inscriptions are two monoliths that contain long Old Turkic lines in Runic characters on three sides, and on one side (the western) the inscription is in Chinese. They are mostly about the social and political life of the Ancient Turks and their relations with the neighboring people mostly Ancient Chinese. They were deciphered by Danish philologist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1893.

As for the words, “Kamşag” which means “quake” or “shakiness” appears on the north side of Kul Tegin Inscription:

“Ėçim kagan ėli kamşag boltokınta bodun ėlig ėkegü boltokınta izgil bodun birle süŋüşdümiz”

I’m giving Talat Tekin’s English translation of the line from “A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic”, available online from here. (p.270)

“When the empire of my uncle, the kagan, became shaky and when the people and ruler were split into two parts, we fought against the İzgil people.”

And the verb form of the word appears on the east side of Bilge Kagan.

"Türk bodun adak kamşattı" meaning "The Turkish people tottered."

Given the nomadic nature of the Ancient Turks and their history in Siberia, I think the words might be related.

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  • Hi and welcome to Russian.SE! Could you please back up your claim with some kind of a reference? Thanks!
    – Quassnoi
    May 11 '20 at 0:17
  • Hi, and thank you. I'm new at this, sorry. I edited my answer accordingly. May 13 '20 at 10:47
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Another origin story traces the name back to an indigenous man. Georg Wilhelm Steller's 1740s-era History of Kamchatka says:

The name Kamchatka was given to this land when the Russian Cossacks conquered it, because they learned from the heathen people through sign language that their name for the Kamchatka River, which is the largest in the entire land, was Konshatka, and for that reason the Cossacks called all of the land's inhabitants Kamchadali, as was their custom.

The name Konshat is the name of a much admired, very famous man from the past, who lived on this river.

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