Matterhorn as seen on 4 December 2011Cervin from a vantage point near Gornergrat, 4 Dec. 2011

I came across an interesting explanation for the name of Switzerland’s most famous mountain, Cervin’ in French, ‘Cervino’ in Italian and ‘Matterhorn in German, yesterday in a book which is mostly a study on the toponyms (place names) of Switzerland.

According to the author, Jean-François Kister – in On megaliths, legends and gods (1998) –, who quotes the etymological derivations of other authors (including the famous 19th century Celtist Henri d’Arbois de Jubainville (1827-1910) and Georges Richard Wipf, a toponymist), ‘Cervin’ is derived from the Celtic word ‘carvos’ (deer), itself derived from the Celtic root ‘car’ (horn).

However, this was not an ‘eureka’ moment for me as the connection is so obvious (I studied Latin for a number of years (‘cervus’), I also know some Italian (‘cervo’) and, in fact, I had made the association myself). Far more interesting is Mr Jean-François Kister’s association (on pages 69 and 70) of the mountain with a Celtic deity, Cernunnos, often depicted sporting a pair of antlers (supposed to symbolise fertility, aggressiveness, power, according to him), as is the case on this parietal (rock painting dating back to prehistoric times) representation at val Camonica in northern Italy:

DSCN9571_On myths, legends and godsRock painting in Italy (photo said to be by Emmanuelle Süss)

We know that the Celts and their forefathers inhabited some of the valleys in the area, so this hypothesis is really plausible. In fact, I am a strong believer in the idea that there must be some truth in names. Yet it also warrants further research. So many interesting things to find out about, so little time.  😦

Right now however, I am more interested in the fact that the Celts had a strong connection with water, unlike us (see my other blog).


Deadly mountain’ (a post I wrote on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of ‘Cervin’)