It's funny what you take for granted, or rather it's funny what you never think about investigating. I grew up with the poetic names of beaches, villages and towns ringing in my head, never once occuring to me that they weren't English, that the way they were spelt and the way they were pronounced were so far removed from each other. Grand Anse, Morne Jaloux, Grand Etang, Sauteurs, Point Salines, Beau Sejour, Lance aux Epines, Requin..... the list goes on and on.
One of the things that my husband Lucas loves about Grenada is that so many of the place names are French. Before becoming a British Colony in 1783, Grenada, like many other islands, was owned by the French, and the majority of names in French have stuck. While we were there last year he regaled us with the real meaning of many of the names of towns and villages. The most famous beach, Grand Anse, literally means large handle, no doubt because of its curved shape. Grand Etang? Large pond (this is the famous lake at the top of our one and only volcano).
Sauteurs is the town on the northern coast of the island where in 1651 a group of Caribs, the indigneous people, jumped to their deaths rather than submit to the European settlers. The actual spot where they jumped is now called Carib's Leap. Well guess what? In French the word sauteurs means jumpers. This one clicked for me when I was telling Lucas this story last year.
I'm not sure why when I was growing up I didn't realise this French connection. I don't recall it being mentioned in history class beyond the fact that we were once a French Colony (perhaps I just wasn't paying attention?) And at the time that I was attending the St. Joseph's Convent in St. George's, French was not offered, the only foreign language available was Spanish. This has since changed, as a number of my little cousins proudly demonstrated to Lucas and I on our visit. My only hope is that the French teachers see the opportunity right in front of them to engage their students, and step outside the boundaries of their assigned textbooks to make it a living language.