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 Origin of Place Names

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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 08:35

Have been looking at some unusual place names around the UK and have found quite a few interesting and amusing examples, but most lists don't seem to include etymologies. Personally, can't see the point in collecting names and not look into the origin or explanation of the names but it seems people do.

There is decent list of place names here http://www.ashton-under-lyne.com/placenames.htm and further investigation has found a reasonable list of word origins here http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pbtyc/Misc/Etymology.html. But the etymological list still does not explain all, for example Pisser Clough in West Yorkshire, it seems Clough is Erse meaning a stone, however I have had no luck in finding the meaning of Pisser. So do we assume the modern meaning or not?

Can anyone help with the meaning of Pisser (and no sniggering either!). Or have any other interesting examples of unusual names to add and discuss?
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 11:50

Pisser Clough was discussed on Women's Hour on Radio 4 some time ago, along with other odd placenames. A local West Yorkshire historian traced the name back to a barony boundary map on which three cloughs were itemised in near proximity to each other ("clough" might sound like it could have come from the Gaelic "cloch" - stone - but there is no reason to surmise Gaelic connotation in Yorkshire, which leaves the standard interpretation of "wooded vale" as the logical choice of meaning, whatever the supposed etymology). Each clough was listed with a comparative description based on size and the lesser of the three was marked as "pissen". Since the boundary map was from early post-conquest it is a fair assumption that "pissen" was simply a rendition of the French "pissant", meaning insignificant or least significant.

Like "Booby's Bay" near Padstow in Cornwall, "Pisser Clough" is simply an example of a term therefore which did not have any overt double meaning when it was coined (a booby is a seabird), nor indeed for long afterwards, but has fallen foul of modern terminology.

The opposite can also happen. Foolmay in County Cavan, for example, a name that sounds trivial and slightly comical anyway, has an origin which would have appalled some of the Earls of Cavan on whose land it is situated and who regarded it as a local beauty spot. It comes from the Irish "Fual Medbha" which literally means "Maeve's Piss Hole" and refers to the point in the Tain legend where the Connacht queen, after weeks of refusing to urinate eventually cannot hold it in any longer and the resulting torrent carves out three deep channels ("large enough to contain each a whole household" is what the Tain says). In this case anglicisation and a shift in cultural values has rendered the original earthy connotation redundant and to the modern ear it has lost its original suggestiveness completely.
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 12:05

By a process of odd sideways connections in my brain then, can you explain the derivation of 'Maiden' as in Maidenhead and Maiden Castle? I'm assuming of course that it doesn't mean maiden in the current sense.
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 12:19



So what about these two... Shitterton sits on the River Piddle down here in Dorset... and the other one, i've tried many times to pronounce... one from up your neck of the woods ferval.


Last edited by normanhurst on Sun 26 Feb 2012, 12:33; edited 2 times in total
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 12:24

Quote :


I'm assuming of course that it doesn't mean maiden in the current sense.



It could, ferval, but in the case of Maidenhead in Berkshire it also has several other suggested origins, depending on whether its origin lay in Celtic, Saxon, Viking or Norman times. If Celtic it is supposed to have derived from Mawr-din-heth (Place of the fort of barley) though this is a purely linguistic supposition. No fort or no association with barley can be demonstrated from that time by any other means. If Saxon then it could be derived from "Maegden" (maiden) "hythe" which would indicate a wharf or harbour affording easy embarkation, an explanation which would also have made total sense to Viking ears. It could also be a topographical description from Celtic "Mai-eadhainn" (big cauldron) suggesting its function as a natural bay apart from the river current. Or it could be the Norman "midden" (rubbish dump) indicating its medieval inferiority to South Ellington, then the name of the inhabited sector which has now become Maidenhead's town centre. In the 19th century it was simply assumed to refer to the nearby convent in Cookham whose nuns used the hythe as a source of revenue, but this also defies confirmation by the records which appear to coin the placename earlier than the convent's establishment.

The same various possible origins of "maiden" apply almost everywhere the term is used throughout Britain, and very few are verifiable one way or the other.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 12:36

normanhurst wrote:
And what about Shitterton on the river Piddle down here in Dorset.

Keith Briggs is the expert on British placenames containing the word "shit". He maintains it is named after the small river which the Domesday book recorded as Scetra and the small town as Scatera - both meaning "shitter" and indicating a designated privy stream. I wasn't aware that Shitterton is "on" the Piddle river, however the assumed etymology for the Piddle (which features in some form in a huge amount of English placenames) is that it is derived from "pidd" or "pudd", meaning fen, marsh or wetland.
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normanhurst
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 12:39

interesting that... as the piddle has two other names... the puddle and the trent and along its course there's many small villages and hamlets that take their names from the river.
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 12:54

Achaglachgach (pronounced Awkh-a-glawkh-gawkh) is simply Gaelic for the agricultural field (achadh) of the small valley (glach - genitive of glac) of the sheep (gach - genitive of gac "herd of sheep"). There are several places with this name in Scotland and Ireland since it refers to a wintering spot for sheep in hilly surroundings.

If you have difficulty pronouncing it then at least be grateful that it has not retained its original Gaelic spelling which would have been something like Achadhnaglaidheachnagaidheach.
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 13:37

Brilliant… thank you very much… been trying for ages to get me English/Norman/Roman/Anglo-Saxon tongue around that for ages.
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 15:30



Thanks for the explanation Nordmann, I really should listen to radio 4 more often. There appears to be lots of interesting stuff discussed there.

Hopefully, Nielsen could explain the meaning of this startling place in central Demark and pictured above.

Edit. Lets see if this works now.


Last edited by Islanddawn on Sun 26 Feb 2012, 16:14; edited 1 time in total
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normanhurst
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 16:05

blimey... what happend?
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 17:17

Middelfart simply means "medium speed". It could refer to the current in the Lillebælt (Little Belt) strait for which Middelfart was long the ferry port on the eastern side. It is now where Lillebæltsbro (bridge) joins the mainland.

If you still find use of "fart" in place and peoples' names humorous you would be advised to steer clear of most of northern Europe, ID. The surname Midelfart is shared by many in Norway, their name indicating an origin in Middelfart in Fyn, Denmark. But fart itself is a common element in other names for both people and places.

Incidentally "Middelfart" is not really a Danish term but low German. Locally the Danish term "Melfar" is also used.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 17:44

Thankyou once again Nordmann, I am grateful to finally know the meaning as I saw the name some time ago and have been wondering ever since.

I'd best steer clear of northern Europe then, I won't be able to help a giggle as I'm unaccustomed to the differing word meaning and association. In much the same way as Greeks will smirk when they hear the English word butcher, I suppose. As interesting as it is, language can be a mine field. Sigh.
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 18:28

Why do the Greeks giggle at 'butcher' ID? I'd like to add it to my collection of obscenities if it's appropriate.
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Sun 26 Feb 2012, 18:50

The pronunciation of the word butcher sounds almost exactly like a Greek word that is totally inappropriate to say here or for a woman to use ferval. In fact, I even avoid using the word here altogether and will say "the shop where you buy meat" or "the man who cuts the meat" instead!
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Mon 05 Mar 2012, 14:30

nordmann wrote:
Middelfart simply means "medium speed". ...



Thank you - it's only now I've come to this place.



ID - please restrain yourself from looking at travel plans generally in Scandinavia they tend to include that word somewhere.
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Mon 05 Mar 2012, 15:06

Yes indeed Nielsen, it seems I'll have to avoid Northern Europe at all costs. Excessive giggling and smirking is bad for the health.
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PostSubject: Re: Origin of Place Names   Thu 12 May 2016, 22:46

Middelfart in Northern Europe apart, naming places in Middle Europe is currently quite fun too with the decision to officially register at the United Nations the name 'Czechia' as the generic (English-language) version of the Czech Republic. Other options are 'the Czechlands' (as in the Netherlands) and 'Czechany' or 'Czechony' (as in Brittany, Germany and Saxony). 'Czechany', however, is thought to sound too similar to Chechnya and could thus lead to confusion.

There are also historical options such as just calling it 'Bohemia'. But that would be like referring to the Netherlands as just 'Holland' or like referring to the UK as just 'England'. Another historical alternative would be 'Bohemia & Moravia' or 'Bohemia-Moravia', which (quite apart from excluding Czech Silesia) has unhelpful Second World War connotations too.

If genuine anglicisation is required then surely the construct 'Czech' itself needs to go and be replaced with 'Check'. But then, of course that could lead to confusion with Croatia whose soccer team famously play in checkerboard shirts. And let's not get started with Croatia's neighbour Slovenia getting mistaken for the Czech Republic's neighbour Slovakia...

So perhaps it's not so much a case of "Goodnight Vienna", but (with the Eurovision Song Contest pending this weekend), it's more like "Bonsoir Prague". But Prague where?
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