Toponyms in all languages seem to be relatively slow to change. In modern Bahrain, there is a large number of village names which are patently of non-Arabic origin. Many are Persian, e.g. dēh ‘village’, dirāz ‘long, straight’, jirdāb (< gurd-āb) ‘whirlpool’, several having -bād, -kān and -stān endings (the most interesting of which, dumistān, may be a corruption of the pre-Islamic Persian dimestān ‘winter’12). A few, of uncertain etymology (e.g. samāhīj), occur in mediaeval Arabic gazeteers such as the Muʿjam al-Buldān of Yaqūt, and a few are even mentioned in ancient Greek sources (e.g. modern ʿarād, which appears in Greek as Arados). There are two at least which may he of Aramaic/Syriac origin: dēr (Syriac/Aramaic ‘monastery’) now a Baḥārna village on the island of Muharraq, and close to the village of the previously mentioned samāhīj (known in the Nestorian sources, and before that in the Babylonian Talmud, as mašmāhīj, a bishopric in the ecclesiastical province of Beth Qaṭraye); and māhūz (Aram/Syr/Mand) ‘town or small walled city’, now a suburb of Manama, but at the beginning of the last century still a free-standing Baḥārna village. The Aram/Syr place-name dēr, common in the Levant, is noteworthy since it suggests some kind of permanent Christian settlement,13 and, as already noted, the archaeological remains of a number of Nestorian churches have been discovered down the Gulf coast, from Failaka in the north to Sir Bani Yas off the coast of Abu Dhabi; māhūz is familiar as the Syriac name of one of the five ‘royal towns’ of southern Iraq which became known as al-Madāʾin after the Islamic conquest. Again, the evidence here is no more than suggestive: Aramaic māhūz was itself a loan-word from Akkadian māxāzu ‘town, settlement’, and it could be that the Bahraini toponym predates any putative Aramaic-speaking population, since Bahrain was under Babylonian rule for centuries. The presence of Aramaic toponyms in north eastern Arabia led Sachau to suggest in 1915 that the Aramaic-speakers described in Ptolemy’s 2nd century A.D. Geography as inhabiting Mesene (= the southern Iraqi marshes, still known today as mīsān) had come to the region as traders and sailors, and founded settlements there as well.14 Perhaps dēr and māhūz may be further evidence for such a presence.
12 This word also occurs in Kumzari, the Persian-based patois of the Shihuh of Kumzar, Musandam peninsula, Oman, described in outline in Thomas, B. ‘The Kumzari dialect of the Shihuh tribe, Arabia, and a vocabulary’, JRAS, October 193o, pp. 785–854 (see esp. pp. 853–4).
13 According to J.G. Lorimer (Gazeteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia (19o8) Vol IIA p. 361), the village was known as Dēr ar-Rāhib ‘the monk’s monastery’ until the early 20th century, and there still existed at that time ‘ruins … of what the Arabs suppose to have been Christian settlement’.
14 Potts [D.T.], op.cit [The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity, Oxford University Press] 1990, [Vol. II,] p. 219.