The origins of many of Europe's modern place names
can be extremely obscure at times. Trying to uncover a name origin
can be a tortuous process, and one that can be subject to intense
scholarly dispute. The source of the name of the Apennine mountain
range in Italy is one such example.
Perceived wisdom suggests that its name derives from the
Celtic 'penn' which means 'mountain', 'summit', or 'head' as in the headwaters
of a river. 'A-penn-inus' could have been applied to the mountain range
by the time of the Celtic domination of northern Italy in the fourth
The German geologist, Johannes Ernst Wilhelm Deecke,
noted that some people had derived the name from the Ligurian-Celtish
'pen' or 'ben', which meant mountain peak (and it still in use
today; Ben Nevis in Scotland, for example).
However, the name might not derive from Celtic at
all but from Italic. When thinking of Italic, the mind automatically
focuses on the heavily-documented dialect of Latium: Latin. The
problem with this is that there were two distinct waves of Italic speakers
who settled Italy, and they probably occurred hundreds of years apart.
Latin is descended from the
first wave, and is a Q-Italic dialect which appears to have been
strongly altered by contact with non-Indo-European speakers
(Etruscans). What is not well documented are the later P-Italic
dialects which remained far less 'tainted' by contact with other
With this in mind, it seems likely that an alternative
theory is that the Apennines were named by P-Italic speakers who crossed
the Adriatic Sea to arrive on the eastern coast of the Italian peninsula.
Then they moved inland, many crossing the mountains as they did so. Since
they arrived later, their dialects had less time to be contaminated by
foreign words, so they were able to retain their very close relationship
The territory settled by Italic tribes often used the mountainous Apennines
as a border, forming a clear spine down the middle
of Italy as they did