Malaca

Attested:  RC Malaca

Where:  The first of two islands that RC listed in Oceano between Vectis (Wight) and Taniatide (Thanet), evidently off the south-east coast of Britain.  If the second, Insenos, was at Dungeness, Malaca must be nearer the Isle of Wight, among the archipelago that includes Hayling Island, Thorney, Portsea, and the eastern end of the Isle of Wight (still separated by a shipping channel when the Mary Rose sank).  On balance, the best candidate is the Selsey peninsula, often claimed to be Cymenesora, the coming-ashore place of Aelle in AD 477.

Name origin:  RC contains a second instance of Malaca, modern Malaga in Spain, discussed in detail by Villar (2000), who slightly favoured a river-mouth explanation, from PIE *mel- ‘bad’, which led to a word for ‘swamp’ in Slavic languages.  A slightly better parallel may be μαλακος ‘soft’, from PIE *mel- ‘to mill’, implying that Malaca was a marshy island.  It is conceivable that Manhood, a curious name for the Selsey peninsula dating back before Domesday Book, came from Latin masculus ‘male’ reinterpreted from Malaca.

Notes:  Off Selsey lies a rocky reef called The Mixon, which may represent the southern tip of Selsey in Roman times, before sea levels rose.  It was much used over the centuries as a quarry conveniently accessible from the sea and may have contributed stone to the “palace” at Fishbourne, near Chichester.  That might make Latin moles ‘heap of rock, mole, breakwater’, from PIE *mo- ‘to exert oneself’ relevant.  Even less likely is the Semitic root *m-l-k- ‘king’ that led to the Phoenician god Melqart, called Moloch in the Bible.

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Last Edited: 7 June 2016