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Toponymy in Great Britain examines the linguistic origin of place names in Great Britain, their origins and trends in naming. Toponymy is distinct from the study of etymology, which is concerned mainly with the origin of the words themselves. British toponymy is rich, complex and diverse. Modern interpretations are apt to be inexact and non-empirical. Many British forms and names have been corrupted and broken down over the years due to changes in language and culture which caused the original meanings to be lost. In some cases words used in place names are derived from languages that are extinct, and of which there are no extant known definitions. Place names may be compounds between two languages from different periods.

Place names typically have meanings which were significant to the settlers of a locality (not necessarily the first settlers). Sometimes these meanings are relatively clear (for instance Newcastle, Three Oaks), but more often elucidating them requires study of ancient languages. In general, place names in Great Britain contain three broad elements: personal names (or pre-existing names of natural features), natural features and settlement functions. However, these elements derive from ancient languages which have been spoken in the British Isles, and the combinations in a single name may not all date from the same period, or same language. Much of the inferred development of British place name relies on the breaking down and corruption of place names. As the names lose their original meaning (because a new or modified language becomes spoken), the names are either changed, or drift to new forms, or are added to. An example is Torpenhow Hill, in Cumbria; the name seems to have grown by addition of new elements by people who did not understand the original name. The first syllables "tor" and "pen" being Brythonic, while "how" is derived from the Old Norse haugr and "hill" is Old English, all meaning 'hill'.

Contents

Origins

The place names of Britain are unusually rich and diverse, primarily as a result of historical changes in language and culture. These affected different parts of the British Islands to different extents, resulting in a mosaic effect in the names of places. The exact nature of these linguistic/cultural changes is often controversial,[1] but the general consensus is as follows.

The British Isles were inhabited during the Stone and Bronze Ages by peoples of whom very little can be said with certainty. Modern men arrived around 35,000 years ago. Their language may or may not have been pre-Indo-European, perhaps related to Aquitanian (see Atlantic Bronze Age).

During the Iron Age, we can observe that the population of Britain shared a culture with the so called 'Celtic' peoples inhabiting Northern Europe at the time.[2] Land use patterns to do not appreciably change from the Bronze Age period, suggesting that the population remained in situ.[2] Although there is little direct evidence, the Romans thought that the Britons were 'Celtic', and the names given to historical British rulers of this period are 'Celtic'. Celtic languages are still spoken (or were until recently) in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Cumbria and Cornwall. Together with the evidence of shared culture, this suggests that the entire population of the British Isles spoke a Celtic language(s) up to the Roman conquest, possibly since the Stone age.

The 'underlay' of British place names is thus Celtic in origin, and more specifically Brythonic ('British'), to distinguish it from the closely related Gaelic languages of Ireland. The oldest place names in England appear to be the names of rivers, many of which can easily be interpreted as Brythonic in origin, e.g. Exe/Axe/Usk, Derwent. In the areas of Great Britain in which Brythonic languages were not replaced until relatively late on (Cumbria, Cornwall), or have not been replaced (Wales), most place names are still essentially Brythonic in origin.

After the Roman conquest, many Roman place names appear, particularly associated with military settlements. However, often these were simply latinisation of existing names; e.g. Verulamium for Verlamion (St. Albans); Derventio for Derwent (Malton). After the collapse of Roman Britain, few of these place names survived. Most Roman sites are known by later names; many are distinguished as Roman sites by the suffix chester/cester/caster (from the Latin castra = camp), but with no reference to the Roman name. The influence of Latin on British place names is thus generally only slight.

In the so-called "Dark Ages" which followed the end of the Roman Empire, major changes in the part of Britain now called England occurred (plus or minus Cornwall). The language of this region became Anglo-Saxon, a hybrid Germanic language originating in north-west Germany and Denmark. Traditionally, this has been supposed to be due to a mass migration of Angles and Saxon in Britain, 'pushing back the Celts into Wales and Scotland'.[1] However, this view is not supported archaeologically, and it is possible that a small population of Anglo-Saxon settlers 'Germanised' this region of Britain over a few generations.[3] This possibility is supported by genetic studies showing that most whites in England are descendants of a small group of Ice Age hunters and gatherers who lived in England approximately 12,000 years ago.[4] Regardless of the cause, due to this linguistic (if not cultural etc.) replacement most place names in modern England are discernibly Anglo-Saxon. A large fraction of these contain personal names, suggesting that they were named after the first Anglo-Saxon to dwell there. Personal names are less common in Brythonic place names.

A few centuries after, in the period c.850-1050 AD, the north and east of England and the islands and coasts of Scotland were settled by Norse and Danish 'Vikings'.[5] Many place names in these areas are thus of Old Norse origin. Since Old Norse had many similarities to Anglo-Saxon, there are also many hybrid Saxon/Norse place names in the so-called 'Danelaw' of England. Again, many of the Viking place-names contain personal names, suggesting they are named for the local Norse/Danish lord or chieftain.[6]

Contemporaneously, the west coast of what is now called Scotland was settled by people from Ireland, the 'Scotti'. Again, the actual details are hazy, and the degree of 'invasion' versus 'cultural spread' is open for debate.[7] It is unclear what language was spoken by the Picts, the name given to the people who inhabited Scotland before (and presumably after) the appearance of the Scotti; it is assumed to be a Brythonic language. What is clear, however, is that many place names in modern Scotland derive from the Gaelic family of languages, rather than Brythonic. Some place names in Scotland (particularly in the Highlands) may have been gradually modified from Brythonic to Gaelic during the 'invasion' of the Scotti.

After the Norman invasion of England in 1066 AD, some Norman French influences can be detected in place names, notably the simplification of ch to c in Cerne and -cester, and the addition of names of feudal lords as in Stoke Mandeville.[8] However, extension of the Norman system into the lowlands of Scotland resulted in the development of Scots as the spoken language, a hybrid based on Anglo-Saxon. Non-Celtic place names are therefore common in the southern part of Scotland, for instance Edinburgh.

Place names in Britain have remained relatively stable since the early Norman period, breaking down and 'weathering' to modern forms, but without further dramatic changes. At most, some place names have continued to accrue pre- or suffixes, such as 'Little'; or distinguishing features, such as a local river name.

Languages

There are many other languages which have shaped and informed the nomenclature of the United Kingdom: various Celtic languages (including Brythonic, Gaelic (Old Irish), Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Pictish), Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Norman French, modern French and perhaps a few others besides.[9]

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Pre-Celtic

There is currently much debate about the identity of the earliest dwellers in the British Isles, during the Stone and Bronze Ages. Patterns of land use in Britain suggest a continuity of population throughout these periods and into the Iron Age.[2] However, it has been suggested that the original population of Europe ('Old Europeans' or proto-Europeans) were 'replaced' by Indo-European speaking peoples from the neolithic onwards (the Kurgan hypothesis), eventually reaching the British Isles. Recently this hypothesis has fallen out of favour, and cultural and linguistic diffusion is now favoured.[2] It is therefore possible that the population of the British Isles spoke a now unknown language, before adopting Celtic languages during the Bronze/Iron Ages. It has been suggested that some unexplained place names in the British Isles (particularly of rivers, which tend to be the oldest names) may be derived from this hypothesised proto-European language.

Celtic

Celtic languages appear to have been spoken in the British Isles at the time of the Roman conquest (see above). It is therefore a general assumption that many place names in the British Isles have a substrate of Celtic origin, if they are not indeed self-evidently Celtic. The Celtic languages of Britain are divided into two families; Brythonic (i.e. 'Briton-ish'), including Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish and the hypothesised Pictish language; and Goidelic, including Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic

In Wales and Cornwall most place names are, respectively, Welsh or Cornish. In Cumbria, there are Celtic place names, mostly associated with natural features, rather than settlements. These include the mountains Blencathra and Helvellyn,[10] and the rivers Ehen and Cocker.

In Scotland there is a substrate of apparently Brythonic names in the east and south (e.g. Kincardine, Dunragit). However, most Celtic place names in Scotland are Gaelic, stemming from the settlement of Scotland by the Irish 'Scotti', and the subsequent expansion of the Gaelic language.

Latin

Very few Roman names survived the end of Roman Britain, though many Roman settlements were re-used. These were generally renamed, although usually with the suffix caster/chester, from the Latin castra (camp). In Wales and Cumbria, caer, of the same derivation, was used for the same purpose [11] (cf. Caerdydd (Cardiff) and Carlisle). Another partial roman survival was pons (bridge), which survives in Welsh as 'pont', e.g. Pontypridd.[11] In England, several places contain the element 'street', derived from the Latin strata (paved road); these places are generally on the course of a Roman road, hence the name; e.g. Chester-le-Street.

Other Latin elements in British place names often derive from the medieval period as affectations. This includes the use of magna and parva instead of the more usual 'Great/Little'; e.g. Chew Magna. Some Latin elements are more recent still; for instance Bognor Regis. Regis (Royal) was given to the town as an honorarium by George V after he convalesced there.[12]

English

The terms "Old English" and "Anglo-Saxon" are fundamentally equivalent in meaning, though the former is normally used for the language and represents the Germanic language in use between the arrival of the Saxons (with Jutes and Angles) up to about 100 years after the Norman invasion of 1066.[13]. Old English existed in a number of forms such as West Saxon, Kentish and Anglian. Middle English was used from about 100 years after the Norman Conquest until the end of the Middle Ages. Modern English is derived directly from Middle English. Old English derived names form the majority of place names in England, as well as a substantial number in Lowland Scotland, and some in Wales.

Many of the Scottish place names are derived via Scots, which was an Anglic dialect spoken in southern Scotland, thus some of the common English elements survived in different forms in Scotland. For instance, the Old English burg "town" (dative byrge "in town") developed into buruh, dative burig[14], becoming Modern English borough and bury[15] in place-names like Peterborough and Newbury. In Scotland and Northern England, -borough is often spelt -burgh, with the same pronunciation, eg. English Bamburgh, Scottish Edinburgh.

Scandinavian Languages

Old Norse, a language from which both Danish and Norwegian are derived was spoken (with dialects) by the 'Viking' settlers who occupied many places in the north of the British Isles during the Viking era. In general Danes settled in eastern England, whilst the Norse settled around the islands and coasts of Scotland, Ireland and western England.[16] Although the language of the two groups were essentially similar, there is bias amongst the elements found in place names. For instance -by and thorpe are much more common in Danish place names, whilst toft/taft and bister/ster/bost are more common in Norse names; all these elements essentially mean 'settlement/dwelling'.[16][17]

Norman French

Following the Norman conquest, some place names acquired prefixes or suffixes giving the names of their new owners; for example Grays Thurrock or Stoke Mandeville. Other names that are suffixed with the name of a landowning family include Stanton Lacy and Newport Pagnell. The influence of Norman French also occasionally modified existing place names into pseudo-French names; e.g. Chapel-en-le-Frith (Fr. Church-in-the, OE. Woods[18]); Chester-le-Street.

Processes & patterns in British toponymy

For a general list of toponymic processes, see Place name origins.

  • Back-formation: the process whereby names are derived from one another in the opposite direction to that which would be expected - for example, rivers with an obsolete/forgotten name are often renamed after a town on its banks rather than vice versa. The river running through Rochdale became known as the 'Roch' through this process.[citation needed] Cambridge, perhaps uniquely, illustrates both normal and back-formation. Originally Grontabricc, a bridge on the Granta, the name became Cantebruge and then Cambrugge, from which the river was renamed Cam.
  • Element order: In Germanic languages, and thus in Old English and Old Norse place names, the substantive element is generally preceded by its modifier(s); 'Badecca's spring' (Bakewell).[19] In Celtic place names, the order is usually reversed, with the thing being described (hill, valley, farm etc.) as the first element: e.g. Tregonebris 'settlement (of) Cunebris', Aberdeen 'mouth (of the) Dee'. This is not true of all Celtic names; e.g. Malvern 'bald hill'[20] (cf. W. moel + bryn).
  • Translation: The general similarity of Old Norse and Old English meant that place names in the Danelaw were often simply 'Norsified'. For instance, Askrigg in Yorkshire, 'ash ridge'[21]; whilst the first element is indubitably the Norse asc (pronounced "ask"), ask- could easily represent a "Norsification" of the Old English element æsc (pronounced "ash"). In this case both asc and æsc mean the same - 'ash' (tree).
  • False analogy: Sometimes, however, the place names were changed to match their own pronunciation habits without reference to the original meaning. Thus Skipton should be 'Shipton' (Old English scipetun - 'sheep farm'[22]). However since sh in Old English was usually cognate with sk in Old Norse, the name became changed by false analogy to Skipton, in this way losing its meaning (since the Old Norse for sheep was entirely different from the Old English).

Problems

  • Interpreting some names can be difficult, if the reason for the name is no longer evident. Some names originally referred to a specific natural feature such as a river, ford or hill, that can no longer be identified. For example, Whichford (Warwickshire) means "the ford on the Hwicce", but the location of the ford is lost.[23]
  • The elements den (valley) and don (hill) from Old English are sometimes confused now that they lack obvious meaning - for example Croydon is in a valley and Willesden is on a hill. Their expected spellings might therefore be "Croyden" and "Willesdon".
  • Another problematic element is -ey, as in Romsey. This commonly means 'island', from the Old English -eg . However, -ey can also be derived from the Old English haeg, meaning 'enclosure', for example in Hornsey.
  • The elements wich and wick can have a variety of meanings. Generally wich/wick/wyke indicates a farm or settlement (e.g. Keswick - 'Cheese-farm'[24]). However some of the sites are of Roman, or shortly post-Roman origin, in which the wich is related to the Latin vicus ('place'). These "wics" seem to have been trading posts.[25] On the coast, wick is often of Norse origin, meaning 'bay' or 'inlet' (e.g. Lerwick).

Toponymy by Region

England

Most English place names are Old English.[9] Personal names often appear within the place names, presumably the names of landowners at the time of naming. In the north and east, there are many place names of Norse origin; similarly, these contain many personal names. In general, the Old English and Norse place names tend to be rather mundane in origin, the most common types being [personal name + settlement/farm/place] or [type of farm + farm/settlement]; most names ending in wich, ton, ham, by, thorpe, stoke/stock are of these types.

In Cumbria there remain a number of place names in Cumbric, the Brythonic language of this region, examples including Carlisle, Helvellyn and Blencathra.

Most old Roman settlements, whether actually inhabited or not, were given the title of chester/caster in Old English (from the Latin castrum, for 'camp'); the specific names for each may only have little relation to the Roman names (e.g. modern Chester was actually called Deva by the Romans). Modern Winchester was 'Venta Belgarum', the 'Win-' element deriving from 'Venta' in a similar way to the names Caerwent and Gwent from Venta Silurum in south Wales.

In Cornwall most place names, especially in western areas, are Cornish in origin; e.g. Penzance (Holy Head). Cornish being a Brythonic language, such names show some similarity to Welsh and Breton. In Eastern Cornwall the placenames show a stronger English influence.

In Northern England, particularly Yorkshire, names record significant Scandinavian influence. For example, the names Howe and Greenhow (both in North Yorkshire) reflect the Old Norse word haugr meaning a hill or mound.[26]

Wales

The vast majority of place names in Wales are Welsh by origin, containing elements such as Llan-, Aber-, Pen- etc. Along the border with England there are a number of towns with Old English names, Wrexham for instance. Along the south coast of Wales, where English has historically been more widely spoken, many place names are commonly anglicised, such as Pontypool, derived from Pont-y-Pŵl. Many places throughout Wales have alternative names in English unrelated to the name in Welsh, for example, Newport (where the Welsh name Casnewydd means "New Castle") and Swansea (derived from the Norse meaning "Svein's island") for the Welsh Abertawe (Mouth of the River Tawe). In some cases these are in fact related to their Welsh name, but disguised through linguistic processes of mutation, for example Monmouth and the Welsh Trefynwy both referring to the River Monnow (Mon- < Monnow < Mynwy > -fynwy).

Welsh place names tend to be associated with natural features rather than people, hence elements describing rivers, hills and valleys are common. The obvious exceptions are places with the prefix Llan, originally meaning 'enclosure', but because of the common religious associaton of the element, evenually assuming the meaning 'Church', which often contain the name of the Saint the church is dedicated to e.g. Llansantffraid - 'Church of St. Bridget' - and the frequently found Llanfair, 'Church of St. Mary' (Mair > -fair).

Scotland

In the islands of Scotland, particularly Orkney and Shetland, but also the Western Isles, there are many names of Norse origin; this is also true of the coasts of the mainland. In the Highlands, the names are primarily in Scottish Gaelic, with emphasis on natural features; elements such as Glen- (valley) and Inver- (confluence, mouth) are common.

In lowland Scotland, names are of more diverse origin. Many are Gaelic, but many are also from the Brythonic branch of Celtic languages (such as Ayr). There are also a substantial number of place names, particularly in the east lowlands, derived from the northern dialect of Old English (see Northumbrian language and Scots Language), such as Edinburgh.

Britain and Ireland

Whilst this article details toponymy in Britain, it is worth noting the close relationships that exist between toponymy in Britain and in Ireland (which are much stronger than, for example, Britain and France). As noted above, the Celtic languages of Britain and Ireland are closely related. Thus, the same toponymic processes and the same name elements are found in both regions. Furthermore, since the Gaelic language spread from Ireland into Scotland, there is a very direct relationship between place names in Scotland and Ireland. Both Britain and Ireland have a significant Scandinavian input into their toponymy, and throughout both regions place names have tended to become Anglicized. In Ireland, place names such as Waterford, Wexford and Limerick show a dual influence of Norse and English, which can be instructively compared to the processes producing names such as Swansea and Fishguard in Britain. The process of Anglicisation in Northern Ireland has significant, and often controversial, political meanings (see for instance, Derry/Londonderry). Likewise, moves to revert to Gaelic names has also been controversial.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Pryor, F. Britain AD, ISBN 9780007181872
  2. ^ a b c d Pryor, F. Britain BC. ISBN 9780007126934
  3. ^ Thomas MG, Stumpf MP, Härke H. Evidence for an apartheid-like social structure in early Anglo-Saxon England. Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Oct 22;273(1601):2651-7.
  4. ^ British Have Changed Little Since Ice Age. National Geographic News, July 19, 2005.
  5. ^ Schama S. A History of Britain Volume 1. ISBN 9780563487142.
  6. ^ Standard English words which have a Scandinavian Etymology
  7. ^ Magnusson, M. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. ISBN 9780006531913
  8. ^ Place Details
  9. ^ a b Margaret Gelling, Signposts to the Past (Phillimore, 3rd edition, 1997, Chapter I)
  10. ^ Essays on the early toponymy of the British Isles. Coates, R. ISBN 0-9512309-1-3. www.sussex.ac.uk/Users/richardc/toptopnew.ps
  11. ^ a b Guide to Welsh origins of place names in Britain. Ordnance Survey (http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/freefun/didyouknow/placenames/welsh.html)
  12. ^ Place Details
  13. ^ old english - Definitions from Dictionary.com
  14. ^ Campbell, A. Old English Grammar. Clarendon Press. 1959.
  15. ^ Hoad, TF (ed). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Oxford University Press. 1986.
  16. ^ a b Guide to Scandinavian origins of place names in Britain
  17. ^ Glossary of Scandinavian origins of place names in Britain
  18. ^ Place Details
  19. ^ Place Details
  20. ^ Place Details
  21. ^ http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/english/ins/kepn/detailpop.php?placeno=6084. Retrieved 3/7/08.
  22. ^ http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/english/ins/kepn/detailpop.php?placeno=5921. Retrieved 3/7/08.
  23. ^ Della Hooke, The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England (Leicester University Press, Reprinted 2001, page 9)
  24. ^ Place Details
  25. ^ Pryor F. Britain in the Middle Ages: An Archaeological History. ISBN 9780007203611
  26. ^ Standard English words which have a Scandinavian Etymology, s.v. how.

Bibliography

  • G.B. Adams, Placenames from pre-Celtic languages in Ireland and Britain, Nomina 4 pp46–83 (1980).
  • K. Cameron, A Dictionary of British Place Names (2003).
  • R Coates, Toponymic Topics - Essays on the early toponymy of the British Isles.
  • E.McDonald and J. Creswell, The Guinness Book of British Place Names (1993).
  • M. Gelling, W.F.H. Nicholaisen and M Richards, The Names of Towns and Cities in Britain (1986).
  • W.F.H. Nicolaisen, Old European names in Britain, Nomina 6 pp37–42 (1982.
  • P. H. Reany, The Origin of English Placenames (1960).
  • A. Room, A Concise Dictionary of Modern Place Names in Great Britain (1983).
  • A. Room, Dictionary of World Place Names derived from British Names (1989).
  • C. C. Smith, The survival of British Toponomy, Nomina 4 pp27–41 (1980).

External links


British toponymy is the study of place names in Great Britain, their origins and trends in naming. Toponymy is distinct from the study of etymology, which is concerned mainly with the origin of the words themselves.

British toponymy is rich, complex and diverse. Modern interpretations are apt to be inexact and non-empirical. Many British forms and names have been corrupted and broken down over the years due to changes in language and culture which caused the original meanings to be lost. In some cases words used in place names are derived from languages that are extinct, and of which there are no extant known definitions. Many place names are also many compounds between two separate languages from separate periods.

Place names almost always have meanings which were significant to the settlers of a locality (not necessarily the first settlers). Sometimes these meanings are still obvious (Newcastle, Three Oaks), but more often elucidating them requires study of older languages. In general, British place names contain three major types of elements: personal names (or pre-existing names of natural features), natural features and settlement functions. However, these elements derive from the several different languages which have been spoken in the British Isles, and the combinations in a single name may not all date from the same period (or same language). Much of the inferred development of British place name relies on the breaking down and corruption of place names. As the names lose their original meaning (because a new or modified language becomes spoken), the names are either changed, or drift to new forms, or are added to. An interesting example is Torpenhow Hill, in Cumbria; the name seems to have grown by addition of new elements by people who did not understand the original name. The first syllables "tor" and "pen" being Brythonic, while the last "how" and "hill" are Old English, all meaning 'hill'.

Contents

Origins

The place names of Britain are unusually rich and diverse, primarily as a result of historical changes in language and culture. These affected different parts of the British Islands to different extents, resulting in a mosaic effect in the names of places. The exact nature of these linguistic/cultural changes is often controversial,[1] but the general consensus is as follows.

The British Isles were inhabited during the Stone and Bronze Ages by peoples of whom very little can be said with certainty. Modern men arrived around 35,000 years ago. Their language may or may not have been pre-Indo-European, perhaps related to Aquitanian (see Atlantic Bronze Age).

During the Iron Age, we can observe that the population of Britain shared a culture with the so called 'Celtic' peoples inhabiting Northern Europe at the time.[2] Land use patterns to do not appreciably change from the Bronze Age period, suggesting that the population remained in situ.[2] Although there is little direct evidence, the Romans thought that the Britons were 'Celtic', and the names given to historical British rulers of this period are 'Celtic'. Celtic languages are still spoken (or were until recently) in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Cumbria and Cornwall. Together with the evidence of shared culture, this suggests that the entire population of the British Isles spoke a Celtic language(s) up to the Roman conquest, possibly since the Stone age.

The 'underlay' of British place names is thus Celtic in origin, and more specifically Brythonic ('British'), to distinguish it from the closely related Gaelic languages of Ireland. The oldest place names in England appear to be the names of rivers, many of which can easily be interpreted as Brythonic in origin, e.g. Exe/Axe/Usk, Derwent. In the areas of Great Britain in which Brythonic languages were not replaced until relatively late on (Cumbria, Cornwall), or have not been replaced (Wales), most place names are still essentially Brythonic in origin.

After the Roman conquest, many Roman place names appear, particularly associated with military settlements. However, often these were simply latinisation of existing names; e.g. Verulamium for Verlamion (St. Albans); Derventio for Derwent (Malton). After the collapse of Roman Britain, few of these place names survived. Most Roman sites are known by later names; many are distinguished as Roman sites by the suffix chester/cester/caster (from the Latin castra = camp), but with no reference to the Roman name. The influence of Latin on British place names is thus generally only slight.

In the so-called "dark age" which followed the end of the Roman Empire, major changes in the part of Britain now called England occurred (plus or minus Cornwall). The language of this region became Anglo-Saxon, a hybrid Germanic language originating in north-west Germany and Denmark. Traditionally, this has been supposed to be due to a mass migration of Angles and Saxon in Britain, 'pushing back the Celts into Wales and Scotland'.[1] However, this view is not supported archaeologically, and it is possible that a small population of Anglo-Saxon settlers 'Germanised' this region of Britain over a few generations.[3] This possibility is supported by genetic studies showing that most whites in England are descendants of a small group of Ice Age hunters and gatherers who lived in England approximately 12,000 years ago.[4] Regardless of the cause, due to this linguistic (if not cultural etc.) replacement most place names in modern England are discernibly Anglo-Saxon. A large fraction of these contain personal names, suggesting that they were named after the first Anglo-Saxon to dwell there. Personal names are less common in Brythonic place names.

A few centuries after, in the period c.850-1050 AD, the north and east of England and the islands and coasts of Scotland were settled by Norse and Danish 'Vikings'.[5] Many place names in these areas are thus of Old Norse origin. Since Old Norse had many similarities to Anglo-Saxon, there are also many hybrid Saxon/Norse place names in the so-called 'Danelaw' of England. Again, many of the Viking place-names contain personal names, suggesting they are named for the local Norse/Danish lord or chieftain.

Contemporaneously, the west coast of what is now called Scotland was settled by people from Ireland, the 'Scotti'. Again, the actual details are hazy, and the degree of 'invasion' versus 'cultural spread' is open for debate.[6] It is unclear what language was spoken by the Picts, the name given to the people who inhabited Scotland before (and presumably after) the appearance of the Scotti; it is assumed to be a Brythonic language. What is clear, however, is that many place names in modern Scotland derive from the Gaelic family of languages, rather than Brythonic. Some place names in Scotland (particularly in the Highlands) may have been gradually modified from Brythonic to Gaelic during the 'invasion' of the Scotti.

After the Norman invasion of England in 1066 AD, some Norman French influences can be detected in place names, notably the simplification of ch to c in Cerne and -cester, and the addition of names of feudal lords as in Stoke Mandeville.[7] However, extension of the Norman system into the lowlands of Scotland resulted in the development of Scots as the spoken language, a hybrid based on Anglo-Saxon. Non-Celtic place names are therefore common in the southern part of Scotland, for instance Edinburgh.

Place names in Britain have remained relatively stable since the early Norman period, breaking down and 'weathering' to modern forms, but without further dramatic changes. At most, some place names have continued to accrue pre- or suffixes, such as 'Little'; or distinguishing features, such as a local river name.

Languages

There are many other languages which have shaped and informed the nomenclature of the United Kingdom: various Celtic languages (including Brythonic, Gaelic (Old Irish), Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Pictish), Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Norman French, modern French and perhaps a few others besides.[8]

Pre-Celtic

There is currently much debate about the identity of the earliest dwellers in the British Isles, during the Stone and Bronze Ages. Patterns of land use in Britain suggest a continuity of population throughout these periods and into the Iron Age.[2] However, it has been suggested that the original population of Europe ('Old Europeans' or proto-Europeans) were 'replaced' by Indo-European speaking peoples from the neolithic onwards (the Kurgan hypothesis), eventually reaching the British Isles. Recently this hypothesis has fallen out of favour, and cultural and linguistic diffusion is now favoured.[2] It is therefore possible that the population of the British Isles spoke a now unknown language, before adopting Celtic languages during the Bronze/Iron Ages. It has been suggested that some unexplained place names in the British Isles (particularly of rivers, which tend to be the oldest names) may be derived from this hypothesised proto-European language.

Celtic

Celtic languages appear to have been spoken in the British Isles at the time of the Roman conquest (see above). It is therefore a general assumption that many place names in the British Isles have a substrate of Celtic origin, if they are not indeed self-evidently Celtic. The Celtic languages of Britain are divided into two families; Brythonic (i.e. 'Briton-ish'), including Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish and the hypothesised Pictish language; and Goidelic, including Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic

In Wales and Cornwall most place names are, respectively, Welsh or Cornish. In Cumbria, there are Celtic place names, mostly associated with natural features, rather than settlements. These include the mountains Blencathra and Helvellyn,[9] and the rivers Ehen and Cocker.

In Scotland there is a substrate of apparently Brythonic names in the east and south (e.g. Kincardine, Dunragit). However, most Celtic place names in Scotland are Gaelic, stemming from the settlement of Scotland by the Irish 'Scotti', and the subsequent expansion of the Gaelic language.

Latin

Very few Roman names survived the end of Roman Britain, though many Roman settlements were re-used. These were generally renamed, although usually with the suffix caster/chester, from the Latin castra (camp). In Wales and Cumbria, caer, of the same derivation, was used for the same purpose [10] (cf. Caerdydd (Cardiff) and Carlisle). Another partial roman survival was pons (bridge), which survives in Welsh as 'pont', e.g. Pontypridd.[10] In England, several places contain the element 'street', derived from the Latin strata (paved road); these places are generally on the course of a Roman road, hence the name; e.g. Chester-le-Street.

Other Latin elements in British place names often derive from the medieval period as affectations. This includes the use of magna and parva instead of the more usual 'Great/Little'; e.g. Chew Magna. Some Latin elements are more recent still; for instance Bognor Regis. Regis (Royal) was given to the town as an honorarium by George V after he convalesced there.[11]

English

The terms "Old English" and "Anglo-Saxon" are fundamentally equivalent in meaning, though the former is normally used for the language and represents the Germanic language in use between the arrival of the Saxons (with Jutes and Angles) up to about 100 years after the Norman invasion of 1066. [12]. Old English existed in a number of forms such as West Saxon, Kentish and Anglian. Middle English was used from about 100 years after the Norman Conquest until the end of the Middle Ages. Modern English is derived directly from Middle English. Old English derived names form the majority of place names in England, as well as a substantial number in Lowland Scotland, and some in Wales.

Many of the Scottish place names are derived via Scots, which was an Anglic dialect spoken in southern Scotland, thus some of the common English elements surived in different forms in Scotland ; e.g. the Old English 'Byrig/Burh', survivng in England as 'bury/borough', being in Scotland 'burgh', a form that was also retained in Northern England (e.g. English Bamburgh, Scottish Edinburgh).

Scandinavian Languages

Old Norse, a language from which both Danish and Norwegian are derived was spoken (with dialects) by the 'Viking' settlers who occupied many places in the north of the British Isles during the Viking era. In general Danes settled in eastern England, whilst the Norse settled around the islands and coasts of Scotland, Ireland and western England.[13] Although the language of the two groups were essentially similar, there is bias amongst the elements found in place names. For instance -by and thorpe are much more common in Danish place names, whilst toft/taft and bister/ster/bost are more common in Norse names; all these elements essentially mean 'settlement/dwelling'.[13]

Norman French

Following the Norman conquest, some place names acquired prefixes or suffixes giving the names of their new owners; for example Grays Thurrock or Stoke Mandeville. Other names that are suffixed with the name of a landowning family include Stanton Lacy and Newport Pagnell. The influence of Norman French also occasionally modified existing place names into pseudo-French names; e.g. Chapel-en-le-Frith (Fr. Church-in-the, OE. Woods[14]); Chester-le-Street.

Processes & patterns in British toponymy

For a general list of toponymic processes, see Place name origins.

  • Back-formation: the process whereby names are derived from one another in the opposite direction to that which would be expected - for example, rivers with an obsolete/forgotten name are often renamed after a town on its banks rather than vice versa. The river running through Rochdale became known as the 'Roch' through this process.[citation needed] Cambridge, perhaps uniquely, illustrates both normal and back-formation. Originally Grontabricc, a bridge on the Granta, the name became Cantebruge and then Cambrugge, from which the river was renamed Cam.
  • Element order: In Germanic languages, and thus in Old English and Old Norse place names, the substantive element is generally preceded by its modifier(s); 'north farm' (Norwich), 'Badecca's spring' (Bakewell).[15] In Celtic place names, the order is usually reversed, with the thing being described (hill, valley, farm etc.) as the first element: e.g. Tregonebris 'settlement (of) Cunebris', Aberdeen 'mouth (of the) Dee'. This is not true of all Celtic names; e.g. Malvern 'bald hill'[16] (cf. W. moel + bryn).
  • Translation: The general similarity of Old Norse and Old English meant that place names in the Danelaw were often simply 'Norsified'. For instance, Askrigg in Yorkshire, 'ash ridge'[17]; whilst the first element is indubitably the Norse asc (pronounced "ask"), ask- could easily represent a "Norsification" of the Old English element æsc (pronounced "ash"). In this case both asc and æsc mean the same - 'ash' (tree).
  • False analogy: Sometimes, however, the place names were changed to match their own pronunciation habits without reference to the original meaning. Thus Skipton should be 'Shipton' (Old English scipetun - 'sheep farm'[18]). However since sh in Old English was usually cognate with sk in Old Norse, the name became changed by false analogy to Skipton, in this way losing its meaning (since the Old Norse for sheep was entirely different from the Old English).

Problems

  • Intepreting some names can be difficult, if the reason for the name is no longer evident. Some names originally referred to a specific natural feature such as a river, ford or hill, that can no longer be identified. For example, Whichford (Warwickshire) means "the ford on the Hwicce", but the location of the ford is lost.[19]
  • The elements den (valley) and don (hill) from Old English are sometimes confused now that they lack obvious meaning - for example Croydon is in a valley and Willesden is on a hill. Their expected spellings might therefore be "Croyden" and "Willesdon".
  • Another problematic element is -ey, as in Romsey. This commonly means 'island', from the Old English -eg . However, -ey can also be derived from the Old English haeg, meaning 'enclosure', for example in Hornsey.
  • The elements wich and wick can have a variety of meanings. Generally wich/wick/wyke indicates a farm or settlement (e.g. Keswick - 'Cheese-farm'[20]). However some of the sites are of Roman, or shortly post-Roman origin, in which the wich is related to the Latin vicus ('place'). These "wics" seem to have been trading posts.[21] On the coast, wick is often of Norse origin, meaning 'bay' or 'inlet' (e.g. Lerwick).

Toponymy by Region

England

Most English place names are Old English.[8] Personal names often appear within the place names, presumably the names of local landowners at the time of naming. In the north and east, there are many place names of Norse origin; similarly, these contain many personal names. In general, the Old English and Norse place names tend to be rather mundane in origin, the most common types being [personal name + settlement/farm/place] or [type of farm + farm/settlement] - most towns ending in -wich, -ton, -ham, -by, -thorpe, -stoke/stock are of these types.

In Cumbria there remain a number of place names in Cumbric, the Brythonic language of this region, examples including Carlisle, Helvellyn and Blencathra.

Most old Roman settlements, whether actually inhabited or not, were given the title of chester/caster in Old English (from the Latin castrum, for 'camp'); the specific names for each may only have little relation to the Roman names (e.g. modern Chester was actually called Deva by the Romans). Modern Winchester was 'Venta Belgarum', the 'Win-' element deriving from 'Venta' in a similar way to the names Caerwent and Gwent from Venta Silurum in south Wales.

In Cornwall most place names, especially in western areas, are Cornish in origin; e.g. Penzance (Holy Head).

Cornish being a Brythonic language, such names show some similarity to Welsh and Breton. In Eastern Cornwall the placenames show a stronger English influence.

Wales

The vast majority of place names in Wales are Welsh by origin, containing elements such as Llan-, Aber-, Pen- etc. Along the border with England there are a number of towns with Old English names, Wrexham for instance. Along the south coast of Wales, where English has historically been more widely spoken, many place names are commonly anglicised, such as Pontypool, derived from Pont-y-Pŵl. Many places throughout Wales have alternative names in English unrelated to the name in Welsh, for example, Newport (where the Welsh name Casnewydd means "New Castle") and Swansea (derived from the Norse meaning "Svein's island") for the Welsh Abertawe (Mouth of the River Tawe). In some cases these are in fact related to their Welsh name, but disguised through linguistic processes of mutation, for example Monmouth and the Welsh Trefynwy both referring to the River Monnow (Mon- < Monnow < Mynwy > -fynwy).

Welsh place names tend to be associated with natural features rather than people, hence elements describing rivers, hills and valleys are common. The obvious exceptions are places with the prefix Llan, meaning 'Church', which often contain the name of the Saint the church is dedicated to e.g. Llansantffraid - 'Church of St. Bridget' - and the frequently found Llanfair, 'Church of St. Mary' (Mair > -fair).

Scotland

In the islands of Scotland, particularly Orkney and Shetland, but also the Western Isles, there are many names of Norse origin; this is also true of the coasts of the mainland. In the Highlands, the names are primarily in Scottish Gaelic, with emphasis on natural features; elements such as Glen- (valley) and Inver- (confluence, mouth) are common.

In lowland Scotland, names are of more diverse origin. Many are Gaelic, but many are also from the Brythonic branch of Celtic languages (such as Ayr). There are also a substantial number of place names, particularly in the east lowlands, derived from the northern dialect of Old English (see Northumbrian language and Scots Language), such as Edinburgh.

Britain and Ireland

Whilst this article details toponymy in Britain, it is worth noting the close relationships that exist between toponymy in Britain and in Ireland (which are much stronger than, for example, Britain and France). As noted above, the Celtic languages of Britain and Ireland are closely related. Thus, the same toponymic processes and the same name elements are found in both regions. Furthermore, since the Gaelic language spread from Ireland into Scotland, there is a very direct relationship between place names in Scotland and Ireland. Both Britain and Ireland have a significant Scandinavian input into their toponymy, and throughout both regions place names have tended to become Anglicized. In Ireland, place names such as Waterford, Wexford and Limerick show a dual influence of Norse and English, which can be instructively compared to the processes producing names such as Swansea and Fishguard in Britain.

References

  1. ^ a b Pryor, F. Britain AD, ISBN 9780007181872
  2. ^ a b c d Pryor, F. Britain BC. ISBN 9780007126934
  3. ^ Thomas MG, Stumpf MP, Härke H. Evidence for an apartheid-like social structure in early Anglo-Saxon England. Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Oct 22;273(1601):2651-7.
  4. ^ British Have Changed Little Since Ice Age. National Geographic News, July 19, 2005.
  5. ^ Schama S. A History of Britain Volume 1. ISBN 9780563487142.
  6. ^ Magnusson, M. Scotland: The Story of a Nation. ISBN 9780006531913
  7. ^ Place Details
  8. ^ a b Margaret Gelling, Signposts to the Past (Phillimore, 3rd edition, 1997, Chapter I)
  9. ^ Essays on the early toponymy of the British Isles. Coates, R. ISBN 0-9512309-1-3. www.sussex.ac.uk/Users/richardc/toptopnew.ps
  10. ^ a b Guide to Welsh origins of place names in Britain. Ordnance Survey (http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/freefun/didyouknow/placenames/welsh.html)
  11. ^ Place Details
  12. ^ old english - Definitions from Dictionary.com
  13. ^ a b Guide to Scandinavian origins of place names in Britain. Ordnance Survey (http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/freefun/didyouknow/placenames/scan.html)
  14. ^ Place Details
  15. ^ Place Details
  16. ^ Place Details
  17. ^ http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/english/ins/kepn/detailpop.php?placeno=6084. Retrieved 3/7/08.
  18. ^ http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/english/ins/kepn/detailpop.php?placeno=5921. Retrieved 3/7/08.
  19. ^ Della Hooke, The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England (Leicester University Press, Reprinted 2001, page 9)
  20. ^ Place Details
  21. ^ Pryor F. Britain in the Middle Ages: An Archaeological History. ISBN 9780007203611
  • P. H. Reany, The Origin of English Placenames (1960).

See also

External links


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