Thursday, 19 March 2015

Place names

This is, in a way, a sort of continuation of my post yesterday.  Or maybe it's just an offshoot.  Either way, the origin of place names some times jumps up and grabs me by the throat.  Or rather, the subject does.  I'm talking, really, about English place names; the names of towns and villages in this country.  There are many towns in Australia, America and Canada with names of English places, presumably because some of the early immigrant settlers in those places gave them the names of their home towns.  While that provides a hint to genealogists, it does little explain the real meaning of those names.

Many English (and Welsh and possibly Scottish) place names derive from two or three principal sources: Celtic, Roman and a sort of mixture of what is sometimes called Old English and sometimes Anglo-Saxon, ie Teutonic, languages.  For example, most people know that towns and cities whose names end in -caster, -cester or -chester were Roman camps or forts.  Examples are Lancaster, Worcester, Rochester.  Cornwall has many towns and villages starting Tre (Trenerth, Trenean, Trengale, Trengume, Trenhorne, Treningle, Treninnick are just a few).  These all date to Celtic times and the Tre means hamlet, village or town. 

But by far the most common source is Anglo-Saxon.  A common ending of town names is -ham, which is another word for village, town or even settlement.  The inclusion of -ing-, leading to the ending -ingham - as in Gillingham - means "the place of the people of", the first part of the name providing the clue to the local chieftain.  In the case of Gillingham (the Kent and Norfolk towns) it was Gylla but in Dorset it was Gythla, although I rather suspect that there were three chieftains each called Gylla.

Anyway, my old granny always said that little things please little minds, little pants fit little behinds.

1 comment:

OldAFSarge said...

This sort of thing fascinates me. I guess it's the frustrated historian in me.