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Place names of Sinhala origin, have a typical X+Y structure, where Y is a geographical feature such as mountain, river or village and X is a qualifier, like an animal or plant often found at that place, or otherwise associated with it.Examples for this are The X part can also refer to social concepts like caste.Examples for this are waduwa (carpenter), batta (lower caste settlement), ambataya (barber), aruwa (potter), goviya (farmer), bamuna (Brahmin) and Villiya (Rodiya).Besides the Y parts already mentioned, other commonly used land usage forms are Kumbura (paddy fieldds), Deniya, watte (garden), pola, gama (village), and Hena (cultivated lands). The place names are simple and descriptive; they reflect criteria normal to early societies and are related to the concepts and outlooks of people of those times.
Grasslands were termed as talava and tree groves were termed golla. The majority of the place names can be listed under caste and occupational, landforms, land classifications, coastal features, irrigation works, fields and farms, trees, animals, names of deities, personal names, old, new, big, small, good, settlement and village.The X-part in Tamil place names is often one of the following: The commonly used trees are Vembu, Panai (palm) and Illupai.Commonly used animals and birds are Anai (elephant), Puli (tiger), and Kuranku (monkey).Other notable classifications are deities such as Amman, Andi, Kali and Pillaiyar.
In the past, the many composite or hybrid place names and the juxtaposition of Sinhala and Tamil placenames reflected the coexistence of people of both language groups.Today, however, toponyms and their etymologies are a source of heated political debate in the country as part of the political struggles between the majority Sinhalese and minority Sri Lankan Tamils.