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How the Places Got Their Names. page 2

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The majority of the Norse settlers came, not direct from Norway, but from Ireland and the Western Islands, where they had been settled for some years. Place-names bear interesting witness to this. The Vikings were very fond of nicknames, and a raider or raiders who had spent some time in Ireland would be known as the "Irishman" or "Irishmen," as the case might be. Such "Irish" Vikings gave their names to the Irbys, Irebys and Irton in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Others who had been raiding in Wales were known as "Britons," and hence we have two Brettons in Yorkshire, a Bretby in Derbyshire, and Birkbys (earlier Bretby) in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland.

The character and intensity of the Viking settlements varied from district to district. In counties where the land was systematically divided up among the new settlers, as in a good part of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, there was wholesale re-naming of the earlier Anglian settlements, with the result that the nomenclature became generally Scandinavian in its complexion, and in areas where the Anglian hold had never been very strong, as in Cumberland and Westmorland, you get little else bedside Celtic and Scandinavian names. Unfortunately we know very little of the actual process of transformation from Anglian to Scandinavian names. In some cases it can be seen, from recorded examples, that the English elements were replaced by their Norse or Danish cognates, thus Old English Heafoddene was altered in its first element to O.N. Hofuth, and that is the source of our present-day Howden. O.E. Eoforwic became O.N. Jorvik, later York. In others the old name was ousted by an entirely new-one. Thus Whitby is the Scandinavian name for what the English called Streoneshalh or Strensall. Sometimes the Scandinavian suffix by was substituted for the English bury, though their actual meaning is entirely different. Thus in the tenth century Badby in Northants is called indifferently Baddanburh and Baddanby, and even as late as Domesday there is a good deal of uncertainty as to the suffix of some of these names.

The best-known Scandinavian suffix is by, denoting variously "farm, hamlet, village." We may note also thwaite, "clearing," toft, "piece of ground, messuage, homestead," thorp, "village, hamlet, especially one due to colonisation from a larger village" (carefully to be distinguished from the native English thorp or throp, found in the South Midlands in such names as Souldrop, Thrupp, Astrop). Common Scandinavian elements denoting natural features are scoe, skew, "wood," force, "waterfall," fell, "mountain," Norwegian breck as distinct from Danish brink, both meaning slope, holm, "water-meadow." Some Scandinavian words became part of the ordinary language in Middle English and so spread into areas which were not necessarily Scandinavian. A good example of this is biggin, "building," very common in the name Newbiggin in Northumberland, a county in which on the whole the evidence for Scandinavian settlement is very slight.

Our last great foreign influx, the coming of the Normans, left far less trace of its influence in our place-nomenclature. It was a conquest by a powerful military minority and had none of the popular or mass character of the Anglian and Scandinavian settlements. For the most part the newcomers contented themselves with taking over the earlier English names and pronouncing them as best they could. Their chief influence on our place-names lay in the curious phonological results of their efforts to get their tongues round the difficult English sounds. The final cester, seter of Worcester, Wroxeter is their rendering of the common English chester, the Gloucestershire river Churne appears in the alternative French form Cerne in Cirencester on its banks, the initial sn of Snottingham was simplified to the n of Nottingham, the initial y of the Ure river became j in Jervaulx, they found it easier to say Grantbrigge, and so Cambridge, rather than Grantbrigge, and they had the same difficulty over initial th that Frenchmen have to this day, so that Turnworth replaced earlier Thornworth. Their tendency to nasalise a vowel before an n led to the development of the form Staunton side by side with the usual Stanton. These Norman pronunciation-forms are specially common in the neighbourhood of the great Norman castles and abbeys, but they are found sporadically all over the country. The old charters and deeds were drawn up by Norman clerks, and the forms that they used often came to be looked upon as the official and correct ones.

Of actual naming or re-naming of places they did very little, and what they did tended to be of a somewhat monotonous type. To them we owe numerous Beaumonts, "beautiful hills," Bear Park, Bewper, Berepper, Belper, Beaupre, all meaning "beautiful retreat" (O.Fr. repair), Belvoir, "beautiful view, belvedere," Richmond, "strong hill." Only rarely do common French words appear, as in Cowdray from O.Fr. coudraie, "hazel-hedge."

With the Normans came the complete manorialisation of the English country-side, and from this sprung the fashion of adding, or in some cases prefixing the name of the Norman feudal holder of the manor. Hence arose such names as Ashby-de-la-Zouche, Stoke Damerel, Kingston Bagpuize, Red-marley D'Abitot, Zeal Monachorum (i.e. of the monks), Monks and Princes Risborough, Bishop's Tawton and Stoke Episcopi (i.e. of the bishop). Occasionally, even as late as the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the name of a Norman subtenant might be compounded with ton to form a new place-name, as in Herringstone from the Harang family, or Bunson, earlier Bonevileston, from the family of Bonevile.

After the Norman conquest the tide of new names set in the opposite direction, and it was the turn of English names to find themselves taking the place of earlier Celtic ones in Wales, Ireland and elsewhere. In conclusion, a word of warning is necessary. From numerous examples used in the course of this chapter it is clear that little or nothing can be learned from the modern form of a place-name as to its past history. Indeed, one may say that, more likely than not, the modern form is misleading and may suggest entirely wrong conclusions. Who would guess that Butterby in county Durham is not a Scandinavian name at all, but a corruption of O.Fr. beau-trouve, "beautiful hidden place," that St. Chloe in Gloucestershire is really O.E. senget-leah, "singed or burned clearing," or that Botolph Clay don in Buckinghamshire has nothing to do with St. Botolph but is a village formed by the union of Bottle, meaning literally "building," and Clay don. Never trust an historical inference based on the modern form.

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