Monday, 17 June 2013

Jersey - what's in a name?

There is quite a contrast between Jamaica, the last place I blogged about beginning with the letter 'J', and Jersey, the place I have chosen to blog about next.  Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy with almost 3 million people - GDP per capita is around $9,000.  Jersey is a crown dependency with vestiges of feudal rule - it has a population of around 98,000 people, the GDP per capita is $57,000 (more than 6 times that of Jamaica).

One the other hand, they both have Elizabeth II as the Head of State (she's known as the 'Duke of Normandy' in Jersey and 'the Queen of Jamaica' in Jamaica), they both have a complicated history with the UK and they both have English-speaking populations.  Like Jamaica, Jersey is divided into parishes, many of which are named after saints - eg. St Ouen, St John, St Clement in Jersey and St Andrew, St Elizabeth, St Catherine in Jamaica. 

Jersey - part of the UK?

Elizabeth Castle, St Helier by paulafunnell
It might surprise many people in Britain to learn that Jersey isn't actually part of the UK.  It's a crown dependency which means that, although Elizabeth II is the Head of State and the UK has constitutional responsibilities for Jersey, it's a self-governing island and retains many rights and privileges that go back to the time of the Norman conquest of England. This also means that Jersey is not part of the European Union, although it has a special relationship with the EU. 

Likewise, it might surprise people to know that the other Channel islands are not part of the UK, nor is the Isle of Man, which is located in the Irish Sea.  Just this week, the UK Prime Minister had a special meeting with representatives of the crown dependencies, as well as British Overseas territories, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, the so-called 'tax havens', to discuss a clamp-down on tax regulation in these British territories that aren't part of the UK.

Channel Islands or Îles Anglo-Normandes?

In France, the Channel Islands are called les Îles Anglo-Normandes or the 'Anglo-Norman islands', which is, perhaps, an even more accurate description of what they are, than the term 'Channel Islands' - the first thing I've learned during my research is that these islands aren't actually in the English Channel at all, but are in the Gulf of St Malo!

Okay, the Gulf of St Malo is, arguably, part of the English Channel (which, by the way, has no real meaning to the French, who call this body of water La Manche or 'the sleeve'), but the term Channel Islands is quite a political one, as it makes it sound as though they are just off the coast of Kent when, in fact, they are many miles south of England, off the coast of France.

Channel Islands around the world

Corbiere lighthouse in Jersey by paulafunnell
Interestingly, Slavic languages have followed the French example, eg. Russian (Нормандские острова - Normandskie ostrova) and Polish (Wyspy Normandzkie) .  Most Germanic languages use the term, Channel islands - German (Kanalinseln) and Norwegian (Kanaløyane) - Latin languages often, quite diplomatically, offer two alternatives, eg. Spanish (islas del Canal or islas Anglonormandas).

In Welsh, they're, quite patriotically, known as Ynysoedd y Sianel and in Breton they are, equally patriotically, called Inizi Angl-ha-Norman.  In Irish they are known, bizarrely, as Oileáin Mhuir nIocht which means 'Islands in the (Isle of ) Wight Sea'!  The rest of the world seems to conform with the English name - eg. Thai (หมู่เกาะแชนเนล - H̄mū̀ keāa chæ nnel) and Bahasa Indonesia (Kepulauan Channel).

The meaning of Jersey

Adding to the Anglo-Norman mix is a good deal of Scandinavian!  The Channel Islands were frequently raided by Vikings, back in the day, and the three main islands Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney all have the -ey ending, which is similar to the -øy ending, meaning 'island' in modern Norwegian.  The Romans called Jersey Caesarea and I can't help but wonder whether or not the modern name of this island is a combination of Latin Caesarea and Scandinavian -ey. 

Channel Islands from Wikimedia Commons
Home from home?

Like many people who live in Britain or Ireland, I've had a very vague awareness of Jersey and the Channel Islands.  In my mind, it has been a picture not unlike the Isle of Wight or Dorset in the 1950's.  The first thing I've learned is that it's a lot more complicated than that.  The Channel Islands are only miles from the French coast and the influence of French culture means that the islands (whatever you want to call them) are a very unique blend of English, Norman, French and Viking.  Some people still speak the Norman language Jerriais on Jersey and, despite their obvious Britishness, the Channel Islands retain a strong local identity, which I'm already intrigued by.

Over the next few weeks, I intend to learn about the food, music, history and culture of Jersey - why not join me on this virtual journey and we can learn about Jersey together!


Image credits:

The map of the Channel Islands is taken from Wikimedia Commons and you can see the file information there.  

The images of Jersey are from Flickr member paulafunnell - Paula has created a whole set of photos taken in Jersey, which you can see in her photostream.  Thanks to Paula for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons license. 

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