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The Info List - Toponymical List Of Counties Of The United Kingdom


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This toponymical list of counties of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
is a list of the origins of the names of counties of the United Kingdom. For England
England
and Wales
Wales
it includes ancient and contemporary counties.

Contents

1 Background 2 England 3 Northern Ireland 4 Scotland 5 Wales 6 References 7 See also

Background[edit] Throughout the histories of the four countries of the United Kingdom, a variety of languages have been used to name places. These languages were often used in parallel with each other. As a result, it is often difficult to assess the genuine etymology of a placename, hence some of the entries below are assigned more than one meaning, depending on which language was used to originally give the place its name. One of the most common words used in county names in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
is the suffix shire. This is a West Saxon word meaning division. England[edit]

County name Abbreviation Established Language of origin Earliest form Derivation

Avon AV 1974 Brythonic n/a Named after the River Avon. Avon is an Anglicized version of a Brythonic word meaning river. County abolished in 1996.

Bedfordshire BE Ancient Old English Beadafordscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Bedford. Bedford itself derives from Bieda's ford

Berkshire BK Ancient Brythonic + Old English Bearrucscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Berrock Wood.[2] Berrock possibly from Brythonic "Hilly place".

Buckinghamshire BU Ancient Old English Buccingahāmscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Buckingham. Buckingham
Buckingham
itself means Home of Bucca's people.

Cambridgeshire CA Ancient Old English Grantabrycgscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Cambridge. Cambridge
Cambridge
was previously known as Grantbridge (OE Grantanbrycg), meaning Bridge on the River Granta. There is a reference in Gildas
Gildas
to Caer Grawnt indicating an earlier Brythonic origin. The name of the city became Cambridge
Cambridge
due to the Norman influence within the city in the 12th century. The name of the river Cam within Cambridge
Cambridge
is a backwards derivation.

Cheshire CH Ancient Old English Legeceasterscīr, later Ceasterscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Chester. Chester
Chester
derives from the OE ceaster meaning an old Roman town or city. This itself stems from the Latin
Latin
word castra, meaning 'camp' (or 'fort'). The city's former name was Legacæstir (circa 8th century) meaning 'City of the legions'.

Cleveland CV 1974 English n/a Named after the Cleveland area of North Yorkshire, which encompasses the hills and coast of the Whitby
Whitby
area. This historic area was partially included in the new county created in 1974, which also included the urban areas of Teesside. Cleveland is derived from Old English and literally means 'Cliff land'. County abolished 1996.

Cornwall CO Ancient Brythonic + Old English Westwealas [1] The late Roman name for Cornwall
Cornwall
was Cornubia, from the name of the tribe which lived there, the Cornovii, meaning 'people of the peninsula', either from Latin
Latin
cornu or from Brythonic cern, both meaning 'horn'. The suffix wall is derived from OE wealas meaning 'foreigners', as was also applied to the Celtic people of Wales. In the 6th/7th century AD, the Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
referred to Cornwall
Cornwall
as 'Westwealas' to differentiate it from the more northerly land that eventually became Wales. Cornwall
Cornwall
is thus a blend of Cornubia + Wealas.

Cumberland CD Ancient Brythonic + Old English Cumbraland[1] 'Cumber' is derived from Cymry, the word that the Brythonic inhabitants of the region used to identify themselves (similar to the Welsh name for Wales, Cymru). Thus Cumberland means 'Land of the Cumbrians'.

Cumbria CU 1974 Latin n/a 'Cumbria' is derived from Cymry, the word that the Brythonic inhabitants of the region used to identify themselves (similar to the Welsh name for Wales, Cymru). Cumbria
Cumbria
is a Latinised version of this word, which was chosen in 1974 for the name of the new county.

Derbyshire DE Ancient Old Norse
Old Norse
+ Old English Dēorbȳscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Derby. Derby
Derby
itself derives from the ON meaning 'Animal settlement'.

Devon DV Ancient Brythonic Defnascīr[1] Originally 'Defnas'. The word shire was added and has subsequently been lost. Defnas is derived from the Celtic tribal name Dumnonii, which is of unknown origin. The Welsh name for Devon
Devon
is Dyfnaint and the Cornish name is Dewnans.

Dorset DO Ancient Old English Dorsǣt[1] Literally 'People of Dorchester' (cf. Somerset). Dorchester (originally Dornwaraceaster) is an Old English name probably derived from the Roman name Durnovaria, with the addition of the suffix 'ceaster' (denoting an old Roman town). Durnovaria is in turn derived from a lost Brythonic name meaning fist (possibly place with fist-sized pebbles).

County Durham DU Ancient Old English

Named after Durham. Durham is derived from the OE Dūnholm meaning 'Hill island'.

Essex EX Ancient Old English Ēast Seaxe[1] Literally 'East Saxons'. The county was the former petty Kingdom of the East Saxons.

Gloucestershire GE Ancient Old English Gleawcesterscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Gloucester. Gloucester
Gloucester
is derived from the Old English name Gleawcester', meaning approximately 'Roman town called Glevum'. Glevum is in turn derived from a Brythonic name meaning bright place.

Greater London GL 1965 English n/a County formed from its predecessor, the County of London
London
with the addition of the immediately surrounding boroughs and districts of the greater metropolitan area of London. Whilst the county dates from 1965 (Local Government Act 1963), the term Greater London
Greater London
had already been in common usage since, at least, the post-war planning schemes dating from about 1944.

Greater Manchester GM 1974 English n/a Greater metropolitan area of Manchester. Manchester
Manchester
itself is OE version of the Roman name Mancunium. The first part of the name in turn derives from Mamm, a Brythonic word meaning 'breast-like hill'.

Hampshire HA Ancient Old English Hāmtūnscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Southampton; the county has occasionally been called the 'County of Southampton'. Southampton
Southampton
was known in Old English as Hāmwic or Hāmtūn[1] 'home farm', being the place claimed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as being near to the original landing place of the family who became the Royal house of Wessex. Some have claimed that 'South' was added later to distinguish Southampton
Southampton
from Northampton, but there has never been any authoritative source providing the evidence.

Herefordshire HE Ancient Old English Herefordscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Hereford. Hereford
Hereford
is OE meaning 'ford suitable for the passage of an army'. Originally known as Magonsæte
Magonsæte
(Magonset) meaning "people of Magnis", a former Roman town near the modern Kentchester.

Hertfordshire HT Ancient Old English Heortfordscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Hertford. Hertford
Hertford
is OE meaning 'ford frequented by deer'.

Humberside HB 1974 English n/a Area around the River Humber. Humber is a pre-Celtic word of unknown origin.

Huntingdonshire HU Ancient Old English Huntadūnscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Huntingdon. Huntingdon
Huntingdon
is OE meaning 'Hunters' hill'.

Isle of Wight IW 1974 English + Brythonic Wiht[1] Ancient OE Wiht may mean 'place of division'. Alternatively, it may be derived from the Brythonic "eight-sided"; cf. Welsh wyth ('eight'). The Roman name was Vectis.

Kent KE Ancient Brythonic or earlier Cent or Centlond[1] (Land of the) Cantii or Cantiaci, a Celtic tribal name possibly meaning white, bright.

Lancashire LA Ancient Old English

Shire
Shire
of Lancaster. Lancaster itself derived from the name of the River Lune
River Lune
(Lune is a Brythonic word meaning 'pure'), and the OE suffix 'ceaster', denoting a Roman town.

Leicestershire LE Ancient Old English Lægreceastrescīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Leicester. Leicester
Leicester
itself derives from Ligore, a Celtic tribal name of unknown origin, with the OE suffix 'ceaster', denoting a Roman town.

Lincolnshire LN Ancient Old English Lincolnescīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Lincoln. Lincoln is derived from the Roman name Lindum, which in turn derives from the Brythonic Lindon ('The pool'). The county was administered through divisions known as Parts. The Parts of Lindsey, Parts of Kesteven and the Parts of Holland. These were each formed as county councils in 1889 and continued until 1974.

London LO 1889 English London County of London. Formed to cover all the parishes across the area of the Metropolitan Board of Works under the Local Government Act 1888. The Metropolitan Boroughs within the county were formed over the next few years. The name London
London
is derived from the Roman name of the City of London
London
Londínĭum, which in Old English became Lundenwic. Perhaps 'place at the navigable or unfordable river' from two pre-Celtic (pre-Indo-European) roots with added Celtic suffixes.[3] The county was absorbed into Greater London
Greater London
in 1965

Merseyside ME 1974 English n/a Area around the River Mersey. Mersey is an Old English word meaning 'boundary river'.

Middlesex MX Ancient Old English Middelseaxe[1] Literally 'Middle Saxons'.

Norfolk NO Ancient Old English Norþfolc[1] 'Northern people'

Northamptonshire NH Ancient Old English Norðhāmtūnescīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Northampton. Northampton
Northampton
was originally 'Hāmtūn', and the county Hāmtūnescīr; the North was added later to distinguish them from Hampshire
Hampshire
and Southampton. Hāmtūn means 'home farm' in OE.

Northumberland ND Ancient Old English Norðhymbraland.[1] Older Norþanhymbrarīce for the Kingdom of Northumbria.[1] Ancient territory of those living north of the River Humber. Humber is a pre-Celtic word of unknown origin.

Nottinghamshire NT Ancient Old English Snotingahāmscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Nottingham. Nottingham
Nottingham
itself derived from OE name meaning 'home of Snot's people'.

Oxfordshire OX Ancient Old English Oxnafordscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Oxford. Oxford
Oxford
means derives from the OE name 'ford used by Oxen'.

Rutland RU Ancient Old English Roteland 'Rota's territory'.

Shropshire SH Ancient Old English Scrobbesbyriġscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury
is derived from the OE name 'Scrobbesbyriġ' meaning 'scrubland fort'

Somerset SO Ancient Old English Sumorsǣt[1] 'People of Somerton'. Somerton
Somerton
is OE for 'farm used in the summer'. Alternatively, Somerset
Somerset
may be derived from 'people of the summer land', with Somerton
Somerton
derived from thereafter.

Staffordshire ST Ancient Old English Stæffordscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Stafford. Stafford
Stafford
is OE meaning 'ford by a landing place'.

Suffolk SK Ancient Old English Sūþfolc[1] 'Southern people'

Surrey SU Ancient Old English Sūþrīge[1] 'Southern district', referring to its position south of the River Thames

Sussex SX Ancient Old English Sūþ Seaxe[1] Literally 'South Saxons'. The county was the former petty Kingdom of the South Saxons.

Tyne and Wear TW 1974 English n/a Area between the River Tyne and River Wear. Tyne is an alternative Brythonic word for 'river' and Wear is a Brythonic word meaning 'water'.

Warwickshire WA Ancient Old English Wæringscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Warwick. Warwick
Warwick
is OE for 'Dwellings by the weir'

West Midlands WM 1974 English n/a Area in the west of the English Midlands, centred on Birmingham.

Westmorland WE Ancient Old English Westmōringaland[1] Literally 'land west of the moors'.

Wiltshire WI Ancient Old English Wiltūnscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of Wilton. Wilton is OE for 'willow farm' An older OE name for the people of Wiltshire
Wiltshire
was Wilsæt[1] (cf. Dorset, Somerset).

Worcestershire WO Ancient Old English Wigreceastrescīr and variants[1] Shire
Shire
of Worcester. Worcester
Worcester
itself is derived from an OE name meaning 'Roman town of the Weogora'. Weogora is a Brythonic name meaning 'from the winding river'.

Yorkshire YO Ancient Middle English Eoferwīcscīr[1] Shire
Shire
of York. York
York
is directly derived from the ON Jórvík ('horse bay'). However, Jorvik was the Norse interpretation of the OE Eoforwīc ('boar town'), which itself was an interpretation of the Roman name for York, Eboracum. This is in turn derived from a Brythonic name, Eboracon probably meaning place of yew trees. The County of York, being the largest county in England, was divided for administrative purposes into three parts called Ridings. The name Ridings derives from the Old Norse
Old Norse
þriðjungur, meaning 'thirds'.

Northern Ireland[edit]

County name Language of origin Meaning

County Antrim Irish Aontroim, from meaning "Lone Ridge". Aon means single, only or lone, and Troim is related to the back, spine or in geological terms ridge

County Armagh Irish Macha's height

County Londonderry Irish (excluding London) Derry from the Irish Doire, meaning oak grove and London
London
from the Plantation of Ulster
Plantation of Ulster
by the livery companies of the City of London.

County Down Irish County of Downpatrick: Patrick's fort (formerly Dún Lethglaise or Fort by the stream)

County Fermanagh Irish Men of Manach (a tribal name)

County Tyrone Irish Territory of Eoghan (a personal name). Tyr comes from the Irish tír for the generally name of 'land of' or country

Scotland[edit]

County name Language of origin Meaning

Aberdeenshire Pictish Shire
Shire
of Aberdeen: Gaelic scholars believe the name came from the prefix Aber- and da-aevi (variation;Da-abhuin, Da-awin) - which means "the mouth of two rivers".

Angus Gaelic Oengus (8th century king of the Picts)

Argyll Gaelic Earra-Ghaidheal - Coastland of the Gaels

Ayrshire Brythonic Shire
Shire
of Ayr: Old Welsh Aeron[4] - The (River) Ayr.

Banffshire Gaelic Shire
Shire
of Banff: Possibly "piglet", though likely from Banba - a name for Ireland.

Berwickshire Old English Shire
Shire
of Berwick: Possibly meaning Barley
Barley
farm. wick appears to be from a Norse word, vik, meaning bay, but also berewick, a term for farm or settlement dependent on a main settlement.

Buteshire Gaelic Likely from bót - fire

Caithness Old Norse
Old Norse
and non-diagnostic Celtic Cat headland, from the tribal name of those who inhabited the area. The Gaelic name for Caithness
Caithness
is Gallaibh, meaning "among the Strangers" i.e. the Norse who extensively settled the area.

Clackmannanshire Brythonic and Gaelic Shire
Shire
of Clackmannan: "The stone of Manau", a district of the Brythonic people of the Forth area.

Cromartyshire Gaelic Shire
Shire
of Cromarty: Crombaigh - crooked bay

Dumfriesshire Brythonic or Gaelic Shire
Shire
of Dumfries: Uncertain - perhaps Fort of the Frisians
Frisians
(Frisian is of uncertain origin but is thought to mean curly, as in curly hair) or Dun-phris (fort of the thicket), or Druim Phris (ridge of the thicket).

Dunbartonshire Gaelic (Formerly spelled 'Dumbartonshire') Shire
Shire
of Dumbarton: Dùn Breatainn (fort of the Britons).

East Lothian Possibly Brythonic with English ("East") Prob. named from a Gododdin chief, (whom mediæval tradition named Leudonus) by way of Old English Loðene[1]

Fife Gaelic from Celtic Meaning unclear

Inverness-shire Gaelic Shire
Shire
of Inverness: Mouth of the River Nis. Nis is Gaelic, but the original (ancient) meaning of the river name is elusive. It is unrelated to the common suffix ~ness, found all over Scotland.

Kinross-shire Gaelic Shire
Shire
of Kinross: Cinn Rois - head of the wood (or possibly promontory)

Kirkcudbrightshire Gaelic Stewartry of Kirkcudbright: Cill Chuithbeirt - Church of Saint Cuthbert; Kirk is either from Norse or Old/Middle English, but the word order is Celtic

Lanarkshire Brythonic Shire
Shire
of Lanark: (Place in the) glade

Midlothian Brythonic with English (Mid) Prob. named from a Gododdin chief, (whom mediæval tradition named Leudonus) by way of Old English Loðene[1]

Morayshire Non-diagnostic Celtic Moray: Sea settlement

Nairnshire Non-diagnostic Celtic Shire
Shire
of Nairn: Penetrating (river)

Orkney Old Norse
Old Norse
and non-diagnostic Celtic Islands of the Orkos (Orkos is suggested to have come from a Brythonic tribal name meaning boar)

Peeblesshire Brythonic Shire
Shire
of Peebles: Uncertain - possibly pebyll, "pavilions".

Perthshire Probably Pictish Shire
Shire
of Perth: (Place by a) thicket

Renfrewshire Goidelic/Brythonic Shire
Shire
of Renfrew: Rinn Friù - point of the current

Ross-shire Gaelic Rois - either "forest" or "headland".

Roxburghshire Old English Shire
Shire
of Roxburgh: Hroc's fortress

Selkirkshire Old English Shire
Shire
of Selkirk: Church by a hall

Shetland Old Norse
Old Norse
and non-diagnostic Celtic Origin disputed, but may be an Anglicisation of the Old Norse Hjältland (in the Scots Language
Scots Language
a "z" is pronounced as a "y" in modern English), or suggested to refer to a personal name (Zet's land). Sealtainn in Gaelic. The old Gaelic name for the islands was Innse Cat, "islands of the Cats": the same people that Caithness
Caithness
is named after.

Stirlingshire Non-diagnostic Celtic Shire
Shire
of Stirling: Sruighlea in Gaelic. Origin uncertain. Folk Etymology
Etymology
has it as "dwelling place of Melyn".

Sutherland Old Norse Southern territory. The Gaelic name for the region today is Cataibh ("among the Cats"), which refers to the same tribe that Caithness takes its name from, and was originally the name for both Caithness and Sutherland
Sutherland
together.

West Lothian Brythonic with English (West) Prob. named from a Gododdin chief, (whom mediæval tradition named Leudonus) by way of Old English Loðene[1]

Wigtownshire Norse and/or Middle English Shire
Shire
of Wigtown, from vik meaning a bay. In Gaelic, it is Baile na h-Ùige, "town on the bay".

Wales[edit]

County name Language of origin Meaning

Anglesey Old Norse Ongull's Island

Brecknockshire Welsh Brycheiniog + shire : Brychan's territory

Caernarfonshire Welsh Shire
Shire
of Caernarfon: Fort opposite Fôn (Môn is the Welsh name for Anglesey, fon is its lenited form, used here after a preposition)

Cardiganshire Welsh Ceredigion+shire (Cardigan town is a back-formation) : Ceredig's territory

Carmarthenshire Welsh Shire
Shire
of Carmarthen: Fort at Maridunum (the Roman place name Maridunum means fort by the sea)

Clwyd Welsh from the River Clwyd
Clwyd
(the river name means hurdle)

Denbighshire Welsh Shire
Shire
of Denbigh: Little fortress

Dyfed Welsh (District of the) Demetae (Demetae is of unknown origin but describes the pre-Roman settlers of the area)

Flintshire Old English Shire
Shire
of Flint: (Place of) hard rock

Glamorgan Welsh Morgan's land (Welsh Gwlad Morgan)

Gwent Welsh From Venta (Silurum), perhaps originally meaning trading place, the name of the Roman administrative centre later known as Caerwent.

Gwynedd Welsh According to folklore, after Cunedda. The Roman name for this district was Venedotia, seemingly cognate with Gwynedd, thus preceding Cunedda. More likely therefore to be "the place of white-topped mountains".

Merionethshire Welsh Meirionnydd+shire : (Place of) Meirion

Monmouthshire Old English Shire
Shire
of Monmouth: Mouth of the River Monnow
River Monnow
(Monnow is a Brythonic word meaning fast flowing)

Montgomeryshire Norman Shire
Shire
of Roger de Montgomery

Pembrokeshire Welsh Shire
Shire
of Pembroke: Land at the end

Powys Compound of Latin
Latin
and Welsh Provincial place

Radnorshire Old English Shire
Shire
of Radnor: Red bank

References[edit]

^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ^ Asser's Life of King Alfred ^ Brewer's Britain and Ireland, (2005), John Ayto and Ian Crofton (with Dr Paul Cavill) ^ Taliesin: Rheged Arise

The Oxford
Oxford
Dictionary of Placenames by A.D. Mills and Adrian Room (1991) Oxford
Oxford
University Press Pàrlamaid na h-Alba: Ainmean-àite le buidheachas do dh' Iain Mac an Tailleir The Celtic Place-names of Scotland by W.J. Watson (Birlin 2004) ISBN 1-84158-323-5

See also[edit]

List of counties of the United Kingdom British toponymy List of generic forms in British place names Welsh placenames United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names

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