The TOPONYMY OF ENGLAND, like the
Placenames 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, placenames in England 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 spoken in the British Isles, and the combinations in a single name may not all date from the same period, or the same language. Much of the inferred development of British placenames relies on the breaking down and corruption of placenames. 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 Breedon on the Hill in Leicestershire , whose name seems to have grown by the accretion of elements stressing the hill in the language currently spoken.
* 1 Origins
* 2 Languages
* 2.1 Pre-Celtic
* 2.2 Celtic
* 3 Processes and patterns in British toponymy * 4 Problems * 5 Toponymy by region * 6 See also * 7 References * 8 Bibliography * 9 External links
The placenames of England have diverse origins, largely due to historical changes in language and culture. These affected different regions at different times and to different extents. The exact nature of these linguistic/cultural changes is often controversial, but the general consensus is as follows.
The British Isles were inhabited during the Stone and Bronze Ages by
peoples whose languages are unknown. During the
Iron Age , we can
observe that the population of Great Britain shared a culture with the
The principal substrate of British placenames is thus Celtic in
origin, and more specifically Brythonic ('British'), ancestral to
modern Welsh and more distantly related to the Gaelic languages of
After the Roman conquest, many Latinate placenames appear,
particularly associated with military settlements. Often, these were
simply a Latinisation of existing names: e.g. Verulamium for Verlamion
In the so-called "Dark Ages ", which followed the end of the Roman
Empire , major changes occurred in most of the part of Great Britain
now called England. (Brythonic -speaking
Some English placenames commemorate non-Christian religions. Many of them refer to the old Germanic religion: see List of non-Christian religious placenames in Britain .
A few centuries later, around AD 850–1050, the north and east of
England and the islands and coasts of Scotland were settled by
Norwegian and Danish '
After the Norman invasion of England in 1066, some Norman French
influences can be detected in placenames, notably the simplification
of ch to c in Cerne and -cester, and the addition of names of feudal
lords as in
Stoke Mandeville . However, extension of the Norman
system into the lowlands of Scotland resulted in the development of
Scots as the spoken language, which was based on the Northumbrian
dialect of Old English. Non-Celtic place names are therefore common in
southeastern Scotland, for instance
Placenames 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 prefixes or suffixes, such as 'Little'; or distinguishing features, such as a local river name.
Many other languages have shaped and informed the nomenclature of
Celtic languages (including Brythonic , Gaelic (Old
Irish), Welsh and Cornish (in the South West),
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. However, it has been suggested that the original population of Europe ('Old Europeans ' or Proto-Europeans) were 'replaced' by peoples speaking Indo-European languages from the end of the Neolithic onwards, eventually reaching the British Isles. However, the assumption of complete replacement has fallen out of favour, and a more nuanced model, involving cultural and linguistic diffusion and assimilation, is now favoured. It is therefore believed that the population of the British Isles spoke a now unknown language or rather several unknown languages, before adopting Celtic languages during the Bronze or Iron Ages. Some unexplained placenames in the British Isles (particularly of rivers, which tend to be the oldest names) may be derived from these lost languages.
Further information: Celtic toponymy
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 placenames in the British Isles have a substrate of Celtic origin, if they are not indeed self-evidently Celtic. The language spoken in England in the Iron Age is known as Common Brittonic . Hundreds of placenames across the whole of England are of Brittonic origin, and the modern languages of Cornish and Welsh are descended from it. Cumbric was spoken in northwestern England, Northumbria and Lowland Scotland until the 11th century.
Very few Roman names survived the end of Roman Britain in their
original form, though many Roman settlements were reoccupied. These
were generally renamed, although usually with the suffix
caster/chester, from the
The terms " Old English " and "Anglo-Saxon" are fundamentally equivalent in meaning, though the former is normally used for the language and represents the West 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. 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 placenames in England, as well as a substantial number in Lowland Scotland, and some in Wales.
Old Norse , a North Germanic 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
Norman conquest , some placenames acquired prefixes or
suffixes giving the names of their new owners: for example Grays
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
placenames into pseudo-French names, e.g.
PROCESSES AND 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
Rochdale became known as the 'Roch' through this process.
* 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 (of) the
Hwicce ", but the location of the ford is lost.
* The elements den (valley) and don (hill) from
Old English are
sometimes confused now that they lack obvious meaning; for example
TOPONYMY BY REGION
Most English placenames are Old English. Personal names often appear within the placenames, presumably the names of landowners at the time of the naming. In the north and east, there are many placenames of Norse origin; similarly, these contain many personal names. In general, the Old English and Norse placenames tend to be rather mundane in origin, the most common types being or ; most names ending in wich, ton, ham, by, thorpe, stoke/stock are of these types.
In Cumbria, there remain a number of placenames from Cumbric , the former Brythonic language of this region, examples including Carlisle , Helvellyn and Blencathra . Further information: Cumbrian placename etymology
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
In Northern England, particularly
English Place-Name Society
List of places in England
Languages of England
English place names in other countries
List of UK place names with royal patronage
List of Roman place names in Britain
* ^ Bre is Welsh, dun English for hill. "It looks as though the local British people spoke of 'the hill' and the English, not realising 'bre' was a common noun, took it for the name of the hill. A later failure to understand the meaning of the Old English 'dun' has caused the .. .. name to become Breedon on the Hill" Gelling, Margaret (1978). Signposts to the Past: Placenames and the history of England. London: J M Dent & Sons. p. 92. ISBN 0 460 04264 5 . * ^ A B Pryor, F. Britain AD, ISBN 978-0-00-718187-2 * ^ A B C D Pryor, F. Britain BC. ISBN 978-0-00-712693-4 * ^ 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. * ^ Schama S. A History of Britain Volume 1. ISBN 978-0-563-48714-2 . * ^ Standard English words which have a Scandinavian Etymology Archived October 21, 2014, at the Wayback Machine . * ^ Place Details * ^ A B Margaret Gelling, Signposts to the Past (Phillimore, 3rd edition, 1997, Chapter I) * ^ Essays on the early toponymy of the British Isles. Coates, R. ISBN 0-9512309-1-3 . www.sussex.ac.uk/Users/richardc/toptopnew.ps * ^ Place Details * ^ old english - Definitions from Dictionary.com * ^ A B Guide to Scandinavian origins of placenames in Britain Archived 2013-01-14 at the Wayback Machine . * ^ Glossary of Scandinavian origins of place names in Britain * ^ Place Details * ^ Place Details * ^ Place Details * ^ http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/english/ins/kepn/detailpop.php?placeno=6084. Retrieved 3/7/08. * ^ http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/english/ins/kepn/detailpop.php?placeno=5921. Retrieved 3/7/08. * ^ Della Hooke, The Landscape of Anglo-Saxon England (Leicester University Press, Reprinted 2001, page 9) * ^ Place Details * ^ Pryor F. Britain in the Middle Ages: An Archaeological History. ISBN 978-0-00-720361-1 * ^ Standard English words which have a Scandinavian Etymology, s.v. how Archived October 21, 2014, at the Wayback Machine .