Noongar place name meanings

15 Jan 2020
Noongar place name meanings

There are many metropolitan suburbs and regional towns that are named after Noongar places or words, yet many people may not know the meanings of these words.

The Noongar language is more than just a way to communicate, it is also integral to the identity of the Aboriginal People of the south-west area of Western Australia. It has survived for more than 200 years amid colonisation of Western Australia.

Sharing and understanding these Noongar place names can open up a new understanding into the Noongar culture and also give a sense of place. It also gives recognition to the traditional owners of the land and their ongoing connection to the region.

These place name meanings are courtesy of Landgate WA. To find out more about Noongar meanings and further information on Noongar culture, visit the Noongar culture website here.

We acknowledge that there are variations of the spelling of the Noongar language and that no particular way is incorrect.

History of the Noongar Language

The Noongar language is the official language of the Aboriginal People of the south-west area of Western Australia. The word Noongar means ‘a person of the south-west of Western Australia’, or the name for the original inhabitants of the south-west of Western Australia’. While Noongar is identified as a single language, there are several ways of pronouncing it, which is reflected in the spelling: Noongar, Nyungar, Nyoongar, Nyoongah, Nyungah, Nyugah, Yungar and Noonga.

Even though there are 14 dialect groups, the language between the groups is similar enough to be collectively referred to as the Noongar language. This common language allowed for communication and trade between dialectal groups.

The main difference between the Noongar language groups is pronunciation, but because the groups are geographically and ecologically distinctive, there are also regional vocabularies. Some words may only be known in one region of Noongar country, particularly plants, which are unique to the local climate and soil type. Overall there are many common words in Noongar, for example: kaya= hello, moort = family, boodja = country and yongka = kangaroo. These words are used every day but they sound slightly different from region to region.

To view a map of the different groups please visit the Noongar Culture website here.

In a booklet named ‘Nyungar Tourism in the South West of Western Australia’, Noongar Elder Ralph Winmar said “Nyungar language has a harmonious quality, and it is a real treat to hear two fluent speakers in conversation.”

Some words of the Noongar language have been adopted into the English language, such as names for places, plants (Marri, Karri, Jarrah) and animals (Quokka). Many suburbs and towns end in the suffix ‘up’, such as Joondalup, Karrinyup and Dwellingup, which means place in the Noongar language.

*Noongar Elder Ralph Winmar in van den Berg, Collard, Harben and Byrne, Nyungar Tourism in the South West of Western Australia, Murdoch University, 2005