Tunis: Why the Name?


Today, we will be talking about the beautiful city of Tunis, the capital of TunisiaWhere does the name Tunis come from?  Is Tunisia, the name of the country whose capital is Tunis, just a derivative of the name Tunis?

Well for starters the city of Tunis is built on a set of hills that go down towards the lake of Tunis.  Tunis was born at the crossroads between the basins of lake Tunis and the Séjoumi.  Situated on a large Mediterranean Sea gulf (the Gulf of Tunis), behind the Lake of Tunis and the port of La Goulette (Halq al Wadi), the city extends along the coastal plain and the hills that surround it.  At the centre of more modern development (from the colonial era and later) lies the old medina.  Beyond this district lie the suburbs of Carthage, La Marsa, and Sidi Bou Said.

Map of Tunisia
Map of Tunisia (from World Atlas)

Tunis is the French transcription of a name, which is pronounced tûnus, tûnas or tûnis (with û sounding like an ‘ou’ in French) in Arabic.  The three pronunciations were indicated by the arab geographer Yaqout al-Rumi in his book Mu’jam al-Buldan (Dictionary of countries).  The last pronunciation tûnis is the most used of the city’s name tûnisi ou tûnusiThis vocable is defined to mean “to lie down” or “lying down”, and by extension “spending the night,” or “spending the night at”, or “getting somewhere and spending the night.” Among many of the derivatives of this term, one can find tinés (pluriel de ténésé) which indicate “the idea of lying down,” and by extension “the fact of spending the night.”

Ancient Tunisia
Ancient Tunisia

Thus the name Tunis probably had the meaning of “night camp” or “bivouac” or “stop.”  In the ancient toponymy of Roman Africa, several towns carry similar names such as: Tuniza (modern-day El Kala), Thunusuda (modern-day Sidi Meskine), Thinissut (modern-day Bir Bouregba), Thunisa (modern-day Ras Jebel) or Cartennae (modern-day Ténès in Algeria).  All these berber localities were located on roman roads, and probably served as road houses, or stops.  From the name Tunis, arose the country name Tunisia.  The name gained prominence among French historians and geographers, by analogy with the word Algeria derived from Algiers. Today Tunis is well-known for its beauty, its people, and its sunny days; it is one of Africa’s best touristic spots. Enjoy the video below, which gives a quick historical view of Tunis and Tunisia.

5 thoughts on “Tunis: Why the Name?

  1. Pingback: Who/What did we Celebrate in Africa in 2014? | African Heritage

  2. Pingback: Where we come from… | The Talk Machine

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