Nobody knows for certain the origin of the word Damascus, in Arabic, Dimashq. The Syrian capital is considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, dating from 8,000 to 10,000 BCE, and its name may be almost as old.
In Aramaic, the vernacular of the region during the time of Jesus, the city was called Darmeseq, meaning “a well-watered place.” However, scholars believe the city's name is older.
A Syrian friend who was born and raised in Damascus, and whose family traces its roots in Damascus – a fact which apparently gives him some authority to speak on the subject – told me the other day that Dimashq is in fact an archaic Arabic word meaning “to build a foundation.”
Perhaps in the ancient time that the city was first named, it was already home to the half-ruins of yet more-ancient times. They say you can dig a hole anywhere in the old city of Damascus and find the remains of earlier civilizations. (Roman Damascus lies roughly 15 feet below the modern city.) There are stories of people finding buried treasures, usually gold, under the courtyards of their homes.
To my American eye, Damascus looks plenty old on the surface.