Place names

In the British Isles, place names reflect their geographical location and topographical features and history.

Oxford = oxen ford — the place where the oxen cross the river. Cambridge: the bridge over the river Cam. London: Lugh’s town. Norwich: north village (wick). Southampton: south village/town. Northampton: north village/town. Lancaster: the Roman town on the River Lune. Kirby Lonsdale: the church village in the Lune Valley.

You can also identify which culture named the place from the component parts. If it contains —thwaite or —by then it’s in the former Danelaw. If it contains —wich or —wick (town) or —lea or —ley (meadow) then it’s Saxon. Kirk is Northern dialect & lowland Scots for church. Places with —caister and —cester and —chester are former Roman towns.

Sometimes places end up just meaning hill hill hill (Pendle Hill) or river river (the River Avon) because incomers asked the locals “what’s that?” The locals said “hill”. Pen is a Celtic word for hill. Dale is a Danish word for hill. Afon (pronounced Avon) is the Welsh word for river.

Similarly, in Ireland, Dublin comes from Dubh Linn, the black pool. And many places in Scotland also have Gaelic names.

In North America, a lot of settler place names are named after places in England, which makes no sense as the names have lost their geographical context. But that’s why we should go back to Indigenous place-names which are named after geographical features and the Indigenous people who live(d) there. Toronto = T’karonto, the place where the trees are in the water. Ottawa, from the River Odawa. Ose:Kenhionhata:tie, the river of the willows (the Grand River which flows into Lake Erie). Check out the Decolonial Atlas for more Indigenous names. I strongly recommend finding out about the place names and Indigenous people in your area.

4 thoughts on “Place names

  1. Pingback: Random Links of the Day : Places and Magic Addition – Adventures of A Mage In Miami

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