Nfld. & Labrador

Where does Quidi Vidi get its name? 'No one knows,' says folklorist

The area, which was settled early in the 16th century, has many different names and pronunications: "Quidi Vidi," "Quidi Vidi Village" (or simply "the Village"), "Quaida Vaida," and "the Gut."

Philip Hiscock says many origin stories attached to the small fishing village's name

Philip Hiscock, a retired folklore professor from Memorial University, says there are dozens of different names and origin stories about Quidi Vidi Village. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

How did Quidi Vidi — the tiny fishing village with a protected harbour tucked away in the east end of St. John's — get its name?

Folklorist Philip Hiscock says no one knows.

"[It's] the name in Newfoundland and Labrador that has the most amount of folklore associated with it, and the least amount of known historical documentation," he said. 

"We've got nothing to really nail down, to put our thumb on the origin."

The area, which was settled early in the 16th century, has many different names and pronunciations: "Quidi Vidi," "Quidi Vidi Village" (or simply "the Village"), "Quaida Vaida," and "the Gut."

The tiny fishing village of Quidi Vidi was settled early in the 16th century. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"It's been a confusing name for several hundred years," Hiscock said. "We don't even know what language the name 'Quidi Vidi' comes from."

Dozens of origin stories

Hiscock says there are multiple etymologies for the name, stemming from a handful of different languages.

"When people see it written down on a sign, they say, 'Oh, that must be French,'" he said.

"But when we look back at the historical documents — say, the records of French visitors here at the beginning of the 1700s — Abbé Beaudoin, for example, wrote a diary as he went through here, he got it fooled up. He spelled it two or three different ways, with the weirdest spellings. 

"He really had a problem with this English word that he was hearing. So we know that he didn't recognize it as French."

Hiscock says there are stories from Italian and Portuguese that claim Quidi Vidi got its name for meaning 'what a beautiful sight' or 'here is the divide for the land.' (Ted DIllon/CBC)

Hiscock says others have claimed it comes from Italian or Portuguese, for sounding possibly like "quey de videy," meaning, "what a beautiful sight" or "here is the divide for the land."

He says others claim it's from Latin. 

Hiscock recounts a funny story featuring Moses Harvey, a Scottish Presbyterian minister who moved to Newfoundland in the mid-1800s. He was also an avid writer, and crafted a vast amount of essays and articles about the island.

"Harvey said he was standing up talking to some visitor, who looked at [a sign of] Quidi Vidi's name and said, 'Oh, that must be Latin, hey?'"

That's when, Hiscock says, Harvey looked at the tourist, perplexed — but then decided he was going to poke some fun.

"'Look, it's obviously Latin!… This is where Julius Caesar came ashore. Julius Caesar and his men trumped up and they looked around and they said, 'What a beautiful sight.'"

The curious case of Kitty Vitty

Another origin story comes from Harvey, who claimed to have known a woman who owned a hotel and bar on Quidi Vidi Lake, by the name of Kitty Vitty.

"And you know, maybe she existed, but we've got no record of her," Hiscock said.

"The first time she shows up is 200 years after he said she died. So maybe her name was Witty, Kitty Witty — Witty is a common enough name, if she existed."

Hiscock says there are two other places in Newfoundland that are known to be named for women's hotels: Kit Hughes, which is now Kitchuses, and Anne Fitzgerald, in St. Anne's.

"According to some people on the train, the conductor didn't like to say 'Anne's,' so he started saying 'St. Anne's,'" he said.

But Hiscock says, in both cases, they have possessives at the end.

"It's not 'Quidi Vidi's,' never has been. It's Quidi Vidi. So, we don't know," he said.

'Most likely' story

Hiscock says there's one origin story that's the most dry, but probably the most likely.

"We know it's a very old name.… By the time that it's being documented, it was very variable," he said.

This is what Quidi Vidi Village looked like in 1969, a year after Ron Seary suggested the area got its name from a French family or a place in France. (CBC)

"It changed enough that different people were saying different things. That suggests to the folklorist ... that without [it] being written down, that it had been traded in speech for a long time."

Hiscock says Ron Seary, who was a names scholar in Newfoundland, suggested in 1968 that some of the earliest names have a 'D' and an 'L.'

Seary offered that it comes from either a family name from one of the French planters — the name for early colonists who settled in the region — or from a place name in the Normandy or Picardy regions of France.

"[Quidi Vidi] was a good place to lay out your fish. It was a very sheltered cove....  And [Seary] suggests that a French planter named it: 'Ked-Ville' or 'Ked-Villa' and that … became eventually all those other names that we've seen," Hiscock said.

Changing pronunciations

Hiscock says the most common pronunciation of the area over the past 300 years has been "Kitty Vitty," and more recently, with the 'T's morphing into 'D's.

"We look at the maps going back to the beginning of the 18th century, it's spelled 'Kitty Vitty.'"

Philip Hiscock says there are stories that the name 'Quidi Vidi' comes from English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Latin. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The pronunciation you use may depend on where you're from.

Hiscock says "Quaida Vaida" became popular about a century ago, and it was mostly associated with people who lived on Quidi Vidi Road, the street from Signal Hill Road to Forest Road.

"Quidi Vidi Road had a new church, St. Joseph's Church, built there in the 1910s or '20s. And a lot of the people associated with that parish pronounced it 'Quaida Vaida,' including some of the people who lived … in Quidi Vidi," Hiscock said.

'Guy Divide'

There's another story about how that pronunciation may have come about.

In the late 19th century, there was a claim the name was associated with John Guy, the governor of the first English colony in Newfoundland.

It was said that Quidi Vidi was the spot where David Kirke's colony, based down on the Southern Shore, and Guy's colony, based in Conception Bay, divided.

"So it was the 'Guy Divide,'" Hiscock said.

"So people then said, 'Oh, Quaida Vaida — Guy Divide. Right, of course.'"

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a reporter and producer with CBC News in St. John's.