Volcano names: the female factor 9 January 2011Posted by admin in volcano culture.
Tags: volcano names
‘Can anyone tell me why volcanos are named after woman??’ asks Volcanism Blog correspondent Doris in a comment left on 22 December when I wasn’t here. I’ve looked at the issue of volcano names before on this blog, and very interesting it all is (‘From “throat of fire” to “many bats”: the naming of volcanoes’). As you’d expect there is a great variety of volcano names, from the physically descriptive to the highly imaginative, the commemorative to the utterly random. Some of the names do have what might be called a feminine aspect, although it is rarely as simple as a particular volcano being named after a particular woman, unless she is a saint.
There are volcanoes whose names suggest that they have been seen in some way as female: Mexico’s Iztaccíhuatl, ‘the woman in white’ is perhaps the best-known, but there’s also Kick’em Jenny in the Caribbean. Lewotobi in Indonesia consists of two stratovolcanoes, one of which is Lewotobi Perempuan: ‘perempuan’ is very much a female term and can be interpreted as ‘bride’ or ‘wife’ (the other volcano, Lewotobi Lakilaki, represents the ‘groom’ or ‘husband’). The North Sister Field in Oregon consists of two sisters (and a little brother), while a little way away is South Sister, making up the Three Sisters. Over in Alaska, Pavlof also has a sister. Among disputed volcano etymologies, Ecuador’s Chimborazo may mean ‘women of the ice’. Female saints and religious figures are honoured by, among others, Santa Ana (El Salvador), Santa Clara (Galápagos Islands), Santa Isabel (Colombia), St Catherine (Grenada) and Santa María (Guatemala). La Vírgen is one of the volcanoes making up Mexico’s Tres Vírgenes. As for Mount St Helens , that celebrated volcano is only indirectly connected with the saint of that name (mother of Emperor Constantine I), having been named after a British diplomat who took his title from the town of St Helens in north-west England.
Overall there seems to be a significant feminine presence among volcano names, but by no means a predominant one. More research is needed, however. Corrections/additions to the above and suggestions as to further examples are welcome.