Saturday, 13 February 2010

Place names

Glancing at an atlas one sees that there are many towns in Australia and the US which have the same names as towns or counties in England, presumably because emigrants from the UK named new places after the towns where they had previously lived. But I find it interesting to learn how some of those old names came about. Some are comparatively easy. A town with the word "bourne" in its name started off beside a stream (bourne) - such as Eastbourne and Bournemouth. A "dean" or a "combe" indicates a valley, and we have plenty around Brighton's suburbs: Withdean, Hollingdean, Coldean, Bevendean, Woodingdean, Standean, Rottingdean, Saltdean, Westdene (note the alternative spelling) along with Moulsecoombe. The "dean" originates in Old English and can often be found as "den" - particularly in Kent (Frittenden, Benenden, Biddenden, Tenterden). The suffix "ham" (as in Rotherham, Gillingham etc) also comes from Old English and means settlement or village, with the first part usually being a corruption of somebody's name so that the whole means "the village of X's people". Names incorporating "chester" (or "cester") are the sites of Roman military encampments: Lancaster, Colchester, Worcester etc.

"Ton" is another Old English word meaning settlement, so Brighton means "Beorhthelm's farm/settlement" while Stanmer means "stone pond" (the "mer" being a contraction of "mere", which is not too far from the French "mer" meaning "sea") and Patcham is "Pecca's homestead". All this courtesy of Nottingham University.

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