Having looked at Jachna, let’s look at other river names in Germany.  Here is the Jeetzel:

Looking at the Deutsches Gewässernamenbuch it seems the river is German.  Specifically, the author, Albrecht Greule, claims that the root is the Old West German:

  • osa ‘in heftige Bewegung setzen’ meaning that is “to set about in rapid motion.”

This, in and of itself, should be interesting.  Why?  Because that is the Polish and Slavic word for a wasp:

Indeed, this should also be of interest to some readers since at least Brueckner thought that the word changed as follows having had a “w” upfront:

  • *wopsa > *opsa > *osa

The proof of this is supposed to be the Lithuanian wapsa and the German Wespe as, of course, also the English wasp or latin vespa.

(The insertion (or retention?) of the frontal “w” is present in northwest Slavic languages.  Thus, the Polish jaszczurka which also used to exist in the form jeszczerzyca becomes wieszczerzyca in Kashubian and wiestarica in Polabian).

In any event, the Jetzel flows, as Greule himself notes, through the so-called Wendland.  The Wendland refers to the Wends meaning Slavs.  The name itself was first used at the beginning of the 18th century.  This was because, at the time, there still lived Slavs in the area and a local priest took an interest in their customs, beliefs and language.   Note that this Wendland is west of the Elbe. 

Note too that the entire area to the northeast, labeled Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the above picture was Slavic as well.  As a few points of interest, the Elde, in Slavic was Leda (same as Elbe or really Alba vs Laba) and note too Neu Kaliss (first mentioned in 1431) which is yet another Kalisz type name in Slavic lands (if you had any doubts about Ptolemy’s Calissia being Slavic).

But back to the Jeetzel which is also visible flowing through the Wendland. Greule lists the following names for it in the following years:

  • Jesne (1014)
  • ultra Yesnam (1258)
  • vltra Yesnam (1268)
  • Yhesene (1303)
  • iuxta Gysnam (1339)
  • Gisne, Gysne (1341)
  • Gysna (1344)
  • by der Iesne (1362)
  • Jetze (1392)
  • an der Yetze (1452)
  • in de Jetzen (1531)
  • Jetza (1652)
  • Jeetzel (1702)

There is also a town nearby in Kreis Lüchow and Greule shows its name’s historic development too – obviously the two are relate:

  • Yesne (1330 or 1352)
  • to Getzene (1360)
  • to Yesne (1360)
  • to dem Iesne (1360)
  • to Jesene (1368)

All this is great record keeping.

Given the Wendland connection and the obvious Slavic etymology:

you would think that the matter of the name of Jeetzel would be easy for Greule to resolve.

To be sure you understand this, remember that jasny is a masculine adjectival ending.  For a river name which is necessarily feminine in Slavic (rzeka/reka), the adjective ending would be -a as in jasna.

But what happens next is strange.

Greule observes that there are other place names/towns with such names, states that their etymology is Middle Low German and decides that, therefore, the above must be German too in the form Jesene, Jesne!  The root is a reconstructed (of course) *jesa-/*jeso.

Let’s see how that reasoning holds up.

What are those other town names?

  • Niedernjesa and Obernjesa
    • Gese (1022 or 12th century)
    • Gese (1142)
    • Yese (1196)
  • Jesuborn
    • geseborn (1368)
    • Yesebirn (circa 1450)
    • Jheseborn (1465)

You can see these town and their relation to the Jeetzel of Wendland on this map.  Jeetzel in Wendland is in the Northeast.  Niedernjesa and Obernjesa in the middle and in the south, near Goettingen lies Jesuborn.

The problem with these other names is that – were they Slavic – they would indicate Slavic presence far to the West of where it is permitted by official historiography.  Since the names of these places exhibit a similar development and, therefore, etymology and since these other names “cannot” be Slavic, the obvious answer as to the origin of Jeetzel is also that it is not Slavic.

But this is only true so long as we desperately defend the assumption that Slavs could not have lived in Niedernjesa/Obernjesa and at Jesuborn.  Is that assumption defendable though?

Niedernjesa and Obernjesa

What about Niedernjesa and Obernjesa? The lower and upper Jesa were once one.  The name appears in annals as Gese/Jese/Iese/Jese in the years 1022, 1100, 1142, 1168, 1189, 1197 and 1269. In 1269, for the first time we have in Minori Jese presumably referring to the “minor” or maybe “lower” Jesa.

According to Die Ortsnamen des Landkreises Göttingen which was put out by, among others, Juergen Udolph of the Slavic hydronymy fame, the origin of the name Jesa is not entirely clear. The supposition is that the name goes back to jesan (gären, schäumen meaning “to boil” or “to gush” or “to simmer”) which may have been replaced by the word Leine which, the writers, guess could have been even older.

Well, the Jesas are located near a river and the river’s name – Leine – appears old.  In the old documents several versions of the name appear – most often Loine, Legine, Leine but also Laina.  The Polish version of the name is Lejna. The obvious Slavic etymology would be from “lac” that is “to pour”.  Beyond that the name appears in three other contexts.  There is a Leine which is a tributary of the Helme and then of the Solawa (that is the Thuringian Saale).  That one appears first as Lina.  Then there is Leine which is in Sachsen Anchalt.  Finally, further East  you have the Leine that is a tributary of the Mulde.  This last one Greule thinks may (but not necessarily) have been of Sorb origin (certainly all the associated towns appear Slavic).  The first mention of this Leine is in 1185 as fluvius Lynaw.

What about town names?  Most of the town names around the Jesas appear German.  But you also have some oddities such as:

  • Bovenden (Bowenden)
  • Weende (Wenden)
  • Weenderode
  • Potzwenden

In Gottingen itself which is the main town in the area, as last as the 15th century one of the gates was called Wender-Thor since right next to it there apparently was an old Slavic village: antiqua villa [?] Wendensis. There apparently was a Wenderwald near Ziegel-Huette and a river Wenda and even a Wender-Spring fountains.  In Heilgenstadt there was even a Windischgasse.  The other nearby river – Garde (earlier Garthe) – reminds one of the Slavic gardina.

Check out too the Urkundenbuch der Stadt Göttingen and Dietrich Denecke’s Göttingen: Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des Dreissigjährigen Krieges:

There is a town nearby called Grone which, I confess, brings to mind the Slavic grono (as in wino-grono) meaning roughly “a bunch”.  It is true that Gronau is another place name in Germany but to be honest that name appears in the area on the Dutch border where such suspicious names as Vreden, Borken, Velen, Reken, Gescher pop up.

In any event, according to Wilhelm Boguslawski, in the 18th century, between Grone and Lauenstein, there were discovered 52 funerary urns suggesting a pagan ritual similar to the one that the Slavs used in historic times. Boguslawski’s claim is based on the Descriptio salae principatus Calenbergici locorumque adjacentium by Daniel Eberhard Baring from 1744.

Of course, all of this could be nothing and yet, I think there is enough here for a deeper investigation of the topic.

For more in Polish see pages 244-266 of volume 4 of Boguslawski’s Dzieje słowiańszczyzny północno-zachodniej do połowy XIII wieku (“The History of North Western Slavic Lands Through the First Half of the 13th Century”).


As regards Jesuborn, a Slavic etymology is more than possible.  The town lies between Pennewitz (clearly Slavic) and Gehren (which spelling is identical to Gehren in the East Sorb country which was a German rendering of Thietmar’s urbs quaedam Jarina).  Just to the east is Ilmenau (compare with Lake Ilmen?) which seems to have been founded by Slavic Sorbs.  So Jesuborn is quite easily a Slavic name – at least as regards the prefix.

Officially, the name is (first mention in 1368 as das dorf czu deme geseborn) to be derived from the “Indogermanic” (!) word jesen, which, as alleged above, meant “to boil” or “to gush” or “to simmer”.  That is the name refers, as per the above, to the “springs” that surface there.

This is not impossible as indicated by the Slavic jazda, jechac/jechat and so forth.  But the Slavic etymology is more likely for two reasons.  First, there are two Slavic etymologies – that of “bright” or “light” being the second.  And, moreover, the Slavic word forms exist today whereas the Indogermanic  Indoeuropean etymologies have to be reconstructed.  The same word “jasion” or “jesion” is the name of the ash tree in Slavic todayJezioro/ozero means “lake” to this day and so forth. Compare this too to the Persian rulers Yazdegerds – supposedly meaning “made by God” with “Yaz” being the Persian name for God – this too indicates a connection to Jassa – perhaps through the Slavic way of worshipping fast moving streams.

Incidentally, it is more than curious that the Slavic jazda should have the same suffix as the Persian Mazda or that the suffix -t should be similar to the Old Indian -ti.

Of course, Born is a bit of a problem here unless one wants to look at Borna as a Dalmatian/Croatian name (the placenames Borna appear principally in Saxony – if you don’t count India). In any event, it may well be that “Jesu” comes from one language but “born” from another – that is, “born” being Germanic.


All in all there does not seem to be a reason to assume that Jeetzel/Jesna does not have a Slavic etymology.  Whether or not the same is the case with Niedern- and Obernjesa and with Jesuborn is another matter.  However, even here a Slavic etymology seems a reasonable possibility.

Incidentally, the idea that there was a Germanic word jesan and that it meant “to simmer” and so forth, seems to have come from Karl Brugmann and later Jan Pieter Marie Laurens de Vries (altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch and Nederlands Etymologisch Woordenboek).

De Vries had a bit of a checked past but I don’t think he was overall biased.  I just doubt he knew much about Slavic languages – I will only note that the word jaga there is derived from “hunt” (jagen) which, I suppose means that Baba Yaga was an evil huntress. A similar view is expressed by Pokorny but is hardly the only one.  Here is Alois Walde in his Lateinisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (in a slightly different context): 

Note too the Old Indian “-ti” suffix in “yasati, yasyati” which is similar to the Slavic “-t” ending or -ć in Polish .

The Sprachgeschichte: ein Handbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und ihrer Erforschung (edited by Werner Besch) suggests that the Jeetzel was a Slavic name but that it was formed from a prior Germanic name:

This is indeed possible but is hardly necessary since Jasna would refer to a bright, light river.

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December 4, 2017

One thought on “Jeetzel

  1. Maciek P.

    In the face of onomastics and today’s findings of genetics, it is very difficult for German science to depart from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of rigid arrangements! They see everywhere imaginary cores (“reconstructing” some Preindo-Germanic language), which according to their “recognition” are to be Germanic. The so-called. Althochdeutsch is a conglomerate of Slavic, Celtic, Latin and just – something Scandinavian. (The Altniederdeutsch and so the English too has for example the verb “to smack”, what is pure Slavic smagać – semantic exactly the same!) The later phases of this language are already a self-evolving evolution. Another Germanic language, Jidisch, which is at least as old as the Althochdeutsch, would still have to be analyzed. Here is also a link to the mine of knowledge about Slavic names and surnames in Mecklemburg, it is really worth using this source for analysis, for example the names around Göttingen.


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