Query re meaning of toponym 'Moni'

Jan Tent jan.tent at MQ.EDU.AU
Mon Jul 2 09:54:51 UTC 2012

Dear An-Langers,

I am researching the origin of the toponym ‘Moni’ (vars. ‘Mony’ and
‘Monij’) that appeared on 16th and 17th century European (Dutch, English,
Portuguese) charts of the East Indies. The toponym was ascribed to what we
now know as ‘Christmas Island’.

Logic dictates that the name derives from Dutch, Portuguese, Malay or some
Javanese language. It certainly isn’t Dutch. I haven’t found any
satisfactory Portuguese candidates either, although the 1st person singular
past-perfect form of the transitive verb *monir* ‘to remind, advise, warn’
(i.e. *eu moni*  = ‘I had warned’) (Vieyra 1850; *Infopédia Enciclopédia e
Dicionários Porto Editora* [n.d.]) comes close. If *moni* were the 1st
person simple present tense form of *monir*, it would be tantalizingly
suggestive of the Dutch use of the Portuguese expression *abrolhos* on the
Tirion map mentioned above, and in the toponym *Houtman Abrolhos*. *Abrolhos
* is said to be a contraction of the Portuguese expression *abre os
olhos*‘open the eyes’ or
*abri vossos olhos* ‘keep your eyes open’, and was used by European
mariners as a toponymic generic meaning ‘reef’. However, (Forsyth 1957, 19)
provides convincing evidence that this is a folk etymology. In the
contemporary Portuguese, *abrolhos* referred ‘spiked obstructions’ (e.g.
caltrops or *cheveaux*-*de-frise*), but also appropriately served as a term
for offshore reefs. To Spanish ears, however, the term sounded like *abre
ojos* ‘open your eyes’, so this meaning was imputed, with this folk
etymology being adopted by other European mariners in naming dangerous
reefs. The Dutch were not averse to using Portuguese geographic feature
names, e.g. the use of *cabo* instead of the Dutch term
*kaap*/*kaep*/*caep*‘cape’. Examples of early Dutch placenames using
Portuguese terms along the
coast of the Southland include: *Cabo Keerweer* (Willem Janszoon 1606), *Pedra
Brancka* (Abel Tasman 1642), *Cabo Maria* and *Cabo van Diemen* (Abel
Tasman 1644). It would be tempting to suggest that the term *moni* was used
by the Dutch as a warning in much the same way they had used the term *
abrolhos*. *Moni*’s isolation, rugged coast, lack of easy landing sites,
and its being uninhabited would have made it a definite maritime hazard at
the time, thereby justifying the use of a name incorporating a warning.
However, to suggest that *moni* is derived from the verb *monir* and thus
used in this way is stretching matters too far, I think.

The other alternative – Malay, also doesn’t offer any candidates. This only
leaves some Javanese or other indigenous Indonesian language.

There is a village by the name of ‘Moni’ on the island of Flores. It’s
close to the town Ende. The local language is Ende-Lio (a Bima-Sumba
language). I have not been able to discover the meaning of this toponym, so
I don’t know whether it would be some clue to the origin or meaning of
'Moni' aka 'Christmas Island'.

Can anyone help with this conundrum?

Thanks in advance,


Dr Jan Tent
Department of Linguistics
Macquarie University
NSW 2109
Room C5A 528

Telephone: +61 (02) 9850 9659
Fax: +61 (02) 9850 9352
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