Many names in Qatar have interesting origins or derivations, especially for non-Arabic speakers and some of the place names really need an explanation! Here goes…

Doha’ and ‘Al Khor’. ‘Doha’ means a wide, open bay and ‘Khor’ means a bay with a narrow ‘neck’ or entrance. Look at the map of Qatar and it is clear that Doha, even with the construction of Doha Port and the reclaimed Al Dafna, is situated on a wide bay, open to the sea. Now look at Al Khor to the north and the even more dramatic Khor Al Adaid to the south; both bays are large areas of water but which are shielded from the sea by their very narrow necks through which the water has to ingress or egress.

The second largest city in Qatar, Al Wakra, probably comes from wakr, a bird’s nest, the name given to a hill in the area where birds used to build their nests. 

Al Shamal area of Qatar translates from the geographical term ‘north’, with the town Madinat Al Shamal being ‘city of the north’. Hence Al Shamal Road (Route 1), which is the main arterial road from Doha to Al Khor, Al Zubara, Ras Laffan and all points north. In this region lies Al Ruwais, meaning a ‘small headland’, and three abandoned fishing villages: Al Areesh – areesh is a shelter made from date palm fronds; Al Kuwair – kuwair being a small water canal; and Al Jumail (also known as Al Jemail) – possibly named after jumail, a nightingale. Did someone once own one of these singing birds?

Al Rayyan is another town with various meanings attached to it. One is that rayyan is a derivative of ray, Arabic for irrigation. The area has a low elevation allowing water to gather which lengthens the period of time during which the land remains wet. However, rayyan also means ‘gate of Heaven’, the name of one of Islam’s Heaven gates through which only the observers of Ramadan would enter on the Day of Resurrection.

Dukhan literally means ‘smoke’. Possibly this came about because this is where industrial activity first took place in Qatar. Here oil was discovered, oil wells were drilled, oil was processed and exported.

Mesaieed is Qatar’s original industrial city, initially built to handle the task of getting Qatar’s oil from Dukhan out into world markets. It now has a thriving community and is the site of many petrochemical plants, including QAFCO and QAPCO. The original name was Umm Said (mother of Said), similar to Mesaimeer, which is derived from Umm Sameer.

QP Refinery Mesaieed

Ras Laffan is Qatar’s industrial city built to process the natural gas extracted from the giant North Field and indeed to develop more downstream activities. Ras Laffan Port is the largest export terminal for natural gas anywhere in the world. ‘Ras’ means head and is also used for a headland jutting out on the coast, like Ras Bu Abboud and Ras Bu Funtas

Districts and streets in Doha

What is Al Dafna? This is the official name for the area some people call West Bay. It is understandable if you know that the whole area encompassing the City Centre Doha and many, many hotels (including Hilton, Sheraton and Four Seasons) have been reclaimed from the sea. The Arabic word, dafna, having connotations of burying, so here meaning ‘filled in’ or ‘reclaimed’ land.

What about Rawdat Al Khail? Difficult to get your tongue around, but it is a good story. Rawda(t) means a meadow and Al Khail has to do with horses. So, the verdant area alongside the street at the C Ring Road Intersection, formerly called Al Muntazah Park and soon to be re-opened as Rawdat Al Khail Park, is where, in days gone by, the servants of the Amir brought his horses to graze. The horses would have loved the foliage, the cool, shaded meadow, though it was a long walk to get there from Al Bidda, where the Amir resided.

Jamiaa means university and thus the name for the street running from TV roundabout past Qatar University to the start of Al Khor Road near Doha Golf Club. Most signs are now in English (University Street). Of course, it was named before the creation of Qatar Foundation and Education City, and the subsequent proliferation of universities there and indeed elsewhere.

Wadi Mushaireb Wadi means a area of land which is low lying or depressed, where water will gather after some rain. The English word ‘oasis’ is often used, and there are many pictures of areas of desert in which in one particular place appears the incongruous picture of a small patch of green trees, vegetation and water. ‘Mushaireb’ (also spelt ‘msheireb’) actually means a ‘place to drink’. So, the centre of Doha was obviously low lying and held a certain amount of water, which may explain why the first settled area of Doha, and the site of the Amir’s palace, was at nearby Al Bidda.

Streets, roads and more

Arabic has many words on the subject and horses have long been loved here, so it is no surprise that the street at the edge of Doha, alongside Aspire Park, is called Al Furousiya Street. Furousiya roughly means ‘equestrian’ and you will notice that on the Al Rayyan side of the street is the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club (QREC). Go and visit sometime. Between October and April there are races on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. It’s a great spectacle, and it’s free.

Al Funduq Street is the name of the street leading to the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel. Funduq means hotel, and the road was named when the Sheraton was almost the only hotel in Doha. Hard to believe now!

Al Shamal Road Shamal means north and Al Shamal is the main road out of Doha leading to the towns of Al Shamal and Al Ruwais, which are situated at the northern tip of the Qatar peninsula.

22 February Street is the date of the Accession (coming to power) of Sheikh Khalifa, grandfather of The Amir, HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. It took place on 22 February 1972.

Salwa Road The area at the southwestern corner of Qatar is called Salwa. There is a town called Salwa across the border and the area of water between Qatar and Saudi Arabia is called Doha(t) Salwa which means Salwa Bay. (See also the first section of this article.)

Sabah Al Ahmad Corridor crosses Salwa Road

Sabah Al Ahmad Corridor is the name of the upgraded F Ring Road from the airport to Al Shamal Road, with quick access to points north and south, and to Industrial Area Road at Mesaimeer Interchange. It then continues along Mesaimeer Road, over Salwa Road by the striking new suspension bridge, then crossing under Al Rayyan Road (Al Rayyan Al Jadeed St) in Doha’s longest tunnel. The corridor then sweeps past Education City and finally joins Al Shamal (North) Road at Umm Lekhba Interchange; if you carry straight on you enter Al Markhiya Street which will take you back to Doha’s Corniche, thus completing a wonderful ride around central Doha. Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad was the Amir of Kuwait whose support for Qatar during the recent economic blockade was hugely significant.

Curious about the meaning of other names? Leave us a comment and we’ll find out for you!

Author: Terry Sutcliffe

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