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Panama & Canal Zone Place Names

More Place Names -

Pronouncing Gazetteer of the Geographical Names Most Frequently Heard in the Canal Zone and Panama, Together With Their Application, and also Etymology, Where Known

Taken from: Americas Triumph at Panama
By: Ralph E. Avery ©1913

Agua Clara: meaning “clear water” - name applied to several streams on the Isthmus on account of the clearness of their waters. Name of tributary of Gatun River, and also of the Zone waterworks at Gatun village.
Agua Dulce: meaning “sweet water” - name applied to several streams and localities on the Isthmus, on account of the potability of the water. Name of creek that supplies Toro Point settlement with water. Also name of thriving port on west coast in Cocle province.
Agua Fria: meaning “cool running water” - several streams bear this name.
Agua Salud: refers to a number of small streams whose waters are classed as health-giving, or at least drinkable. Name of stream in the Gatun Lake area.
Ahorca Lagarto: meaning literally “hanging lizard” probably inspired from the number of large lizards found on the limbs of trees in this locality. Former station of the Panama Railroad 12.64 miles from Colon. Now inundated by Gatun Lake. *Note: the author did not delve into the past history of this town for his “why” it was so named, and made an assumption based on the obvious.
Alhajuela: meaning “Little jewel” - place on the Chagres River 11 miles from Gamboa, where a gaging station is maintained by the I.C.C.
Almirante: meaning “admiral” - name of town founded by the United Fruit Company in Bocas del Toro province, as its permanent headquarters. Name also of bay in the same locality, from the title given Columbus, who discovered it.
Alto Obispo: meaning “upper bishop” - called by the French “Haut Obispo” - name of native village near Bas Obispo on the old line of the P.R.R. Abandoned on account of Gatun Lake.
Ancon: meaning “open bay, or roadstead” - name applied to Ancon Hill, overlooking Panama and Panama Bay, sometimes also called “Cerro de los Bucaneros” (Hill of the Buccaneers), from the tradition that Morgan and his man first saw Panama from that height. Name also of the American settlement at the foot of the hill.
Arraijan: supposed to be from Spanish “arraigado” - place to settle down. Name of Panamanian village just outside the Zone boundary line west of Empire. Noted for its orange grove.

Barbacoas: supposed to be from Spanish “barbacoa” barbecue. Name of locality on old line of the P.R.R., about 24 miles from Colon. Also applied to the iron girder bridge which formerly spanned the Chagres River at that point.
Bas Obispo: meaning “lower bishop,” in contradistinction to Alto Obispo. American settlement on the old line of the P.R.R., 16 miles from Panama. Site of the United States Marine Camp (Camp Elliott) for many years. Town will be abandoned.
Bayano: origin of name undetermined. Name of one of the large rivers of the Isthmus, emptying into Panama Bay, sometimes called Rio Chepo, famed for its alligator haunts. Also name of tribe of Indians that dwell along the upper course of the stream.
Bocas del Toro: meaning “mouth of the bull” - name of city and province developed by the banana industry, which is wholly in the hands of the United Fruit Company. Annual shipments from this locality now amount to about 7,000,000 bunches.
Bohio Soldado: meaning “soldiers home” - name of a once thriving village in the Canal Zone, 15 miles from Colon. Site now covered by Gatun Lake. Was the largest village in the Zone when the Americans acquired the strip in 1904.
Boqueron: meaning “wide opening” - a tributary of the Rio Pequeni, rising in the mountains near Porto Bello. Also a village in Chiriqui province.
Boquete: meaing “A gap, or narrow entrance” - a rich valley in the mountains of Chiriqui province, inhabited by a foreign colony engaged in the growing of coffee. Many American employees have been accustomed to spend their vacations there.
Buena Vista: meaing “good view” - the name of several localities on the Isthmus, formerly, a hamlet on the P.R.R., in the Gatun Lake area.

Caimito: name of an Isthmian vegetable, also of a small stream in the Canal Zone, and of a station on the new line of the P.R.R., 26 miles from Colon.
Caldera: meaning “caldron” - name of a river, village and hot springs in the province of Chiriqui.
Calobre: from the Spanish word “calor” heat. Name of village in Veraguas province, near which are three hot springs.
Camacho: origin of word undetermined - name of stream in the Canal Zone - also applied to Zone waterworks at Empire.
Cana or Santa Cruz de Cana: name of a settlement in the Darien region, headquarters of the Darien Gold Mining Company, Ltd.
Cascajal: meaning - place full of gravel or pebbles. River, emptying into the bay at Porto Bello.
Cerro Grande: meaning - big hill. Spanish name of Balboa Hill, the highest point in the Canal Zone, over 1,000 feet, situated a few miles from the old site of Gorgona.
Chagres: origin of word undetermined - principal feeder of Gatun Lake.
Chame: meaning - place of barter or trade. Town on the west coast in Panama province. Also name of a peninsula in the same locality, at the end of which, called Punta Chame, was obtained all of the sand used in the construction of the Packfic Locks of the Canal.
Chitre: most rapidly growing small town on the west coast, in Los Santos province. Center of the fruit-shipping interests for the Panama market.
Chorrera: meaning - waterfall. Native village in Panama province a little west of the Zone boundary. Chorrera Falls, four miles from the village, are quite picturesque.
Chiriqui: Indian word - province in western Panama, the richest, from an agricultural standpoint, in the republic. Horses and cattle are raised, and coffee, tobacco and rice are grown. Also name of an extinct volcano in the same province, the highest peak in the country, 11,500 feet. Also name of the national prison in Panama City.
Cocle: Indian word - name of Panama’s smallest province; also a tribe of Indians that inhabit the mountains of this province. Several rivers, one of size, bear this name.
Cocoli: formerly a lake in the Canal Zone, used as one of the reservoirs for the Panama water supply, now a part of Miraflores Lake. Also the name of the stream that fed the lake.
Coiba or Quibdo: largest island in Panamanian waters, situated off the coast of the Province of Veraguas. The Panama Government plans to establish the national prison on this island.
Colon: city at the Atlantic entrance of the Canal, second in size in the republic, and capital of Colon Province. Formerly called Aspinwall, but the Colombian Governement refused to recognize the name, and it was changed to Colon, the Spanish for Columbus.
Corozal: Said to be the name of a plant growth. American settlement three miles from Panama, one of the first to be established. In moving Gorgona, most of the American type quarters were transferred to this place.
Cristobal: Spanish for the first name of Columbus. American settlement opposite Colon. Contains docks and the varied industries of the commissary department of the P.R.R.
Cruces: meaning, “a crossing” - ancient town on the Chagres River, a few miles above Gamboa. Important stopping point on the overland trail in the early days. Now abandoned on account of the rise of Gatun Lake.
Cucaracha: meaing cockroach. Name of former labor settlement on the banks of the canal, near Paraiso. Also name of the worst slide in Culebra Cut.
Culebra: meaning - a serpent - name of American settlement on the banks of the canal, 11 miles from Panama, the engineering headquarters of the I.C.C. and residence of Colonel Goethals. Will ultimately be abandoned. Also the name of the famous rock cutting through the Isthmian cordillera, nine miles long.

David: corresponding to the proper name David. Capital of the province of Chiriqui, also the name of a river near the city.
Darien: Name of a large and only partially explored territory in eastern Panama, heavily wooded and rich in minerals. Name of a tirbe of Indians that inhabit the mountains of this region, better known as the Chucunaques. Name of one of the early proposed ship canals across the Isthmus. Name of the high-power radio station located near Caimito in the Canal Zone.
El Diablo: meaing “The Devil” - name of a small hill outside of Corozal on the P.R.
R. A few American type quarters have been maintained here.
El Vigia: meaning - watch tower - a point on the upper Chagres River about 17 miles from Gamboa, where a river gaging station is maintained by the I.C.C.
Emperador: the Spanish name of Empire - the largest town in the Canal Zone, 12 miles from Panama. It contains large repair shops, and the Disbursing and Examining of Accoutns’ offices. Will eventually be abandoned.

Flamenco: meaing - flamingo - one of the group of fortified islands in the Bay of Panama, owned by the United States.
Frijoles: meaing - beans- the old town of Frijoles, 18.64 miles from Colon, was abandoned on the rise of Gatun Lake. The new town, located on the new main line, is a collection fo a few native houses, 20 miles from Colon. Near here the Subsistence Department of the I.C.C. is growing fruit to supply the commissaries.

Gamboa: meaning - a kind of quince. Point on the new line of the P.R.R., where the Chagres River is crossed by an iron bridge. Also water gaging station at this point. Name of the dike which was blown up October 10, 1913, to fill Culebra Cut.
Garachine: meaning of word unknown. Cape on San Miguel Bay, marking the eastern limit of the Bay of Panama.
Gatun: name possibly derived from Spanish word “gatuna” - meaning cat-like, or feline, or “gatunero” - a seller of smuggled meat, more probably the latter. Name very common in the Canal Zone, applied to river, American settlement at Gatun Locks, the locks, spillway, and dam, to one or two native villages, and to the settlement at New Gatun, near the American town; also to Gatun Lake.
Gorgona: meaing, according to the best definition - a whirlpool, or place of swirling water. A town that formerly existed on the banks of the Chagres River, 28 miles from Colon. Abandoned in August, 1913, on account of Gatun lake. Was an important place in both French and American canal times. Location of the largest shops in the canal service prior to their removal.

Indio: meaning - Indian. One of the chief tributaries of the Chagres River, and the name of several other streams in the republic.

Juan Mina: meaing John Mine. Small settlement near the mouth of the Chilibre River on the Chagres.

Las Cascadas: meaning “The Cascades” - American settlement on the old line of the P.R.R., 15 miles from Panama, the transportation headquarters of the Central Division for several years. Wll be abandoned.
Los Santos: meaning “The Saints” - name of province in southwestern Panama, and also of its capital, La Villa de Los Santos, “The Village of the Saints” - town was formerly important, but has been distanced by Chitre, its port. This province was the center of the earthquake shocks in October, 1913.

Majagual: from Spanish - majagua - a tree of the linden variety. Small native town in the Canal Zone, across Folks River from Cristobal.
Mamei: name of a native fruit; also of a former settlement in the Canal Zone on the old line of the P.R.R., in the Gatun Lake area.
Mandingo: a small stream of the Canal Zone, which passes the village of Bas Obispo and enters into Gatun Lake.
Mandinga: A bay on the San Blas coast of the isthmus.
Manzanillo: so-called from the number of “manchineel” or poison trees, formerly found in the vicinity. These trees exude a juice, which, falling on a person, cause irritation sores. Name of island on which the city of Colon stands, now connected with the mainland by a braod fill, so that it is an island no more. Also name of a bay near Colon.
Matachin: probably from the Spanish word “matar” to execute. Popularly supposed to be a word coined from -matar, kill- and -chino, Chinaman- on account of the alleged excessive number of suicides said to have occurred among the Chinamen at this point, at a time when Chinese labor was employed in the construction of the Panama railroad. This word has caused greater dispute than any other local term. Opponets to the above definition say the word refers to “butcher” - Name of a former town on the old line of the P.R.R., called during the days of the French, Bas Matachin, but shortened by the Americans to Matachin. Place abandoned with the rise of Gatun Lake.
Mindi: origin of word unknown. Name of a river near Colon, and also of a low range of hills cut through by the Atlantic entrance to the canal.
Miraflores: meaining -look at the flowers- Name given to Miraflores Locks, lake, and a station on the P.R.R., about 5 miles from Panama. The town itself has been moved on account of the lake. At this point is located the new Panama waterworks. The only tunnel on the line of the railroad passes under a hill here.
Monte Lirio: in English “Mount Lily” - station on the new line of the P.R.R., 14 miles from Colon. There is a lift bridge over the Gatun River at this point.

Naos: from the Spanish word - nave - ship. One of the group of islands in Panama Bay, woned and fortified by the United States. Connected with the mainland by a breakwater and causeway.
Nargana: Indian village on the San Blas coast of Panama, headquarters of Chief Charley Robinson, head of a branch of the San Blas tribe.
Nata: one of the oldest wons on the isthmus, situated in Cocle Province. Contains the oldest church that is still in use.
Nombre de Dios: meaing “Name of God” - one of the early towns of the Isthmus, situated on the north coast, about 35 miles east of Colon. From this point was obtained the greater part of the sand for building Gatun Locks.

Palo Seco: meaing “Dry stick” - a point on the south coast, a short distance from Balboa, where the leper settlement is located.
Panama: meaning, according to tradition in the early Indian tongue, an abundance of fish. Capital and chief city of the republic, situated on Panama Bay, on the south side of the Isthmus.
Paraiso: meaing “Paradise” - American settlement in the Canal Zone, about eight miles from Panama, closely hugging the banks of the Canal. Permanent dredging headquarters will be here. *Note:this was changed, permanent headquarters were made at Gamboa.
Pearl Island (Islas de Perlas): a group of about 115 islands and islets situated in Panama Bay, about 50 miles from the port of Panama. Largest is Rey, 8 miles wide and 15 long. Mostly noted for their pearl fisheries.
Penonome: probably from the Spanish word - penoso- so-called on account of the Feast of the Penitents formerly held there by the mountain Indians, who, on the principal day of the feast, would flagellate themselves until the blood streamed down. This ceremony has recently be prohibited by the Government of Panama. It is an interesting little town, the capital of Cocle Province, and the home of some of Panama’s most prominent men.
Pequeni: one of the principal tributaries of the Chagres River, flowing through a rich alluvail country.
Perico: meaning - paroquet. One of the group of islands, four miles out in Panama Bay, which the United States purchased and fortified.
Porto Bello or Puerto Bello: meaning “Beautiful port” - name bestowed on the place by Columbus on account of its magnificent haven. It is one of the oldest towns on the Isthmus, at one time the Atlantic terminus of the great trans-Isthmian trade route. Small native town and ruins still exist. Across the bay is the American settlement established on account of the neighboring rock quarry, from which the rock was obtained for the concrete in Gatun Lockws, as well as for the armor of the west breakwater in Colon Harbor.
Punta Mala: meaning, literally, bad point. The name of a cape and headland on the south coast of Panama, marking the westerly limit of the Bay of Panama. Small ships give it a wide berth.

Rio de Jesus: meaing, literally, “River of Jesus” - a picturesquely situated townin the Province of Veraguas, where cheap native straw hats are made.
Rio Grande: meaning “Great River” - a name misapplied to a small stream in the Canal Zone now a tributary of Miraflores Lake. Also the name of a reservoir, and a labor settlement in the Zone.

Sabanas or Las Sabanas: a part of the Canal Zone lying east of Panama City, so-called from the rolling character of the ground, resembling rolling prairie. Occupied by the wealthier citizens of Panama, who have summer homes here.
Sambu: name of a valley in southerastern Panama, inhabited by a tribe of Indians of the same name.
San Blas: a name given to all of the north coast of Panama, east of Santa Isabel in Colon Province, inhabited by a tribe of Indians of the same name.
San Lorenzo: St. Lawrence - a ruined fort at the mouth of the Chagres. A town in Chiriqui Province.
San Miguel: St. Michael. Bay on south coast of Panama, where Balboa first discovered the Pacific Ocean. Name of largest village in the Pearl Island Archipelago.
San Pablo: St. Paul - name of a former settlement on the old line of the P.R.R., in the Gatun Lake area. Also of a large river of western Panama emptying into Montijo Bay.
Santiago or Santiago de Veraguas: James - Capital of the province of Veraguas, connected with its port of Aguadulce by a modern road.

Tabernilla: meaining “Little tavern” - former town on the old line of the P.R.R., which disappeared with the rise of Gatun Lake. Near here was one of the largest dumping grounds for canal spoil.
Taboga: island belonging to Panama, 12 miles out in Panama Bay. Contains quaint native village, old church, I.C.C. sanitarium, and an excellent bathing beach. Noted for its fruit, especially pineapples.
Taboguilla: meaing “Little Taboga” - island lying near Taboga, sparsely peopled.
Tiburon: in English, “shark” - a cape at the entrance of the Gulf of Darien or Uraba, on the northeast coast of Panama.
Tonosi: a port on the coast of Los Santos Province, near the center of the earthquake disturbances in October, 1913.
Trinidad: the second largest feeder of Gatun Lake.
Tuyra: the largest river in the republic, draining the mountain watersheds of Darien, and emptying into the Gulf of San Miguel.

Uraba: name given to the gulf separating Colombia from Panama on the north coast of the Ishtmus, into which the Atrato River empties.

Veraguas: Ancient Veraguas - a transplanted Spanish name. Once embracing a large part of the territory of the Isthmus, it now refers to the province, which, in productiveness, is second only to Chiriqui.

Canal Zone Town Glossary

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