Guadalquivir and other Wadis
Saturday, February 25, 2012 4:18:20 PM
Take the town of Guadalajara for instance. It was founded by the Moors in the 8th century. They named it wadi-al-hejara (وادي الحجارة), meaning “Valley of Stones”. This may be the literal translation of a former Iberian name meaning “Stony River”. The Iberian language became extinct by the 1st to 2nd centuries, after being gradually replaced by Latin. That is centuries before the Moors arrived. Funny enough the name was never translated (“back”) into Spanish (or should I say Castilian) into something like ‘Rio Pedregoso’ or what do I know. Guadalquivir, then, comes from the Arabic al-wādi al-kabīr ( الوادي الكبير), ‘The Great River’ (How about calling it ‘Rio Grande’?).
So 'guad' is a sort of transcription of the Arabic word wadi(n) (وادي ) - spelt waw, alif, dal, yeh. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it - I suppose it sounds differently in different Arabic dialects. As to what it means in Arabic - I have seen wadis as deep canyons in Oman. The famous Wadi Rum in Jordan is more like a broad valley with a sandy bottom. And in Northern Africa I have seen them as dry rivers or riverbeds in rather flat sandy landscapes.
The word wadi has been taken over in English and many other languages to mean a river or riverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain. On maps of African countries you may find them with the French transcription ‘oued’ (also occasionally called ‘ouadi’ in French). The usual Spanish word for wadi is ‘uadi’ by the way.