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ENGLISH ENGLISH. English as used in England: ‘Of the two hundred million people speaking English nearly seventenths live in the United States, and another tenth in the British dominions are as much influenced by American as English English’ (Spectator, 5 Feb. 1943); ‘Standard English English differs little from that used in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa’ ( Peter Trudgill, Language in the British Isles, 1984). The usage was rare until the 1980s, when it began to be used in professional discussion. See ANGLO-ENGLISH, BRITISH ENGLISH, ENGLISH IN ENGLAND, STANDARD ENGLISH.


English place-names reflect mixed linguistic origins over more than 2,000 years, and fall compactly into seven chronological groups; Pre-Celtic, Celtic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, Norman French, and English. However, as a result of centuries of hybridization and adaptation, they are by no means neat and tidy: for example, the now unknown name of a Celtic town was turned by the Romans into Eboracum, which the Angles in turn called Eforwic (ceaster), the Danes Jorvik, and the modern world calls York. Two examples of adaptation and hybridization together are: the Roman settlement called Letoceto (from a Celtic name meaning ‘grey forest’), a reduced version of which combined with Anglo-Saxon feld ‘open area’ to become Lichfield (in Staffordshire); the city of Lincoln (pronounced ‘Linken’), whose elements drive from Celtic lin ‘pool’ and Latin colonia ‘colony’.

1. Pre-Celtic and Celtic

Almost nothing is known about place-names before the Celts arrived in the British Isles, but traces of pre-Celtic usage appear to survive in such river names as Itchen, Soar, Tamar, and Wey. Many Celtic names survive in adapted forms, such as the river names Avon (‘water’) and Thames (perhaps ‘dark’), such hills as Malvern (‘bare hill’), and Penkridge (‘chief ridge’), and such forests as Arden (‘steep place’), as well as the hybrids Chute Forest and Melchet Forest, the first elements of which mean ‘wood’ and ‘bare’, and in Dover (‘waters’), Andover (‘ash waters’), and Wendover (‘white waters’).

2. Latin

Although the Romans dominated the parts of Britain that became England and Wales, they added relatively few names of their own, all of which have been adapted and often hybridized. Among them are: Catterick in Yorkshire, from Cataracta ‘waterfall’, Speen in Berkshire from Spinis (‘at the thorn bushes’, ablative plural of spina), Faversham in Kent (‘blacksmith's home’, a hybrid of Latin faber ‘smith’ and Anglo-Saxon ham ‘home’). Latinized Celtic has provided a large number of names, often hybridized with Anglo-Saxon, notably words ending in forms derived through Anglo-Saxon ceaster from Latin castra (‘camp’): Doncaster (‘camp on the Don’, from Romano-British Danum, the name of a river), Gloucester (‘bright camp’, from glevum), and Winchester (‘camp in a special place’, from Venta). The city name Chester consists of the Anglo-Saxonized ‘camp’ element alone. In addition, Latin words appear in Anglo-Saxon names, such as campus (‘field’), in Warningcamp, portus (‘port’), in Portsmouth, and (via) strata (‘paved way, street’), in Stratford.

3. Anglo-Saxon (Old English)

Names in this group are either fully Germanic or adapted Romano-British. Common Anglo-Saxon elements include: burh (‘fort’), taking the later forms -bury (Canterbury, ‘fort of the Kentish people’), -borough (Peterborough, ‘St. Peter's fort’), and -brough (Middlesbrough, ‘middle fort’); dun ‘hill’, as in both the South Downs and the -don of Faringdon (‘fern hill’) and Swindon (‘swine hill’); feld (‘open land’), as in Macclesfield (‘Maccel's open land’), and Petersfield (‘St. Peter's open land’); ford (‘river crossing’), as in Oxford (‘ford of the oxen’), Stamford (‘stony ford’); ham (‘settlement, homestead’), as in Birmingham (‘settlement of Beorma's people’) and Farnham (‘ferny homestead’); stoc (‘place’), taking the later forms -stoke as in Basingstoke (‘place of Basca's people’), and -stock as in Woodstock (‘place in the wood’); tun (‘farm, village, town’), as in Eton (‘riverside farm’), and Surbiton (‘southern barley farm’).

4. Scandinavian (Old Norse, Danish)

Danish names are found mainly in the east and north, and Norwegian in the north-west. The commonest elements are by (‘village, fortified place’), as in Corby (‘Kori's village’), Formby (‘Forni's village’), and Whitby (‘Hviti's village’), and thorp (‘hamlet, outlying settlement’), as in Scunthorpe (‘Skuma's hamlet’).

5. Norman French

A notable consequence of Norman overlordship was massive adaptation in the forms of place-names which they found difficult to pronounce: ‘hard’ ch became c as in Worcester (now pronounced ‘Wooster’); th became t as in Turville; r became I as in Salisbury (earlier Saresbury) and in the adaptation of the county name Salop to the ‘shrop’ of Shropshire. In one instance, n became r, when Dunholm became Durham; in another, Grontabricc (‘Grantabridge’) was reduced to Cambridge (compare the nearby village of Grantchester, whose name survives more or less intact). The Normans also introduced French names which were in their turn adapted towards English, as with Beaulieu ‘beautiful place’ (now pronounced ‘Bewley’) and the name of Roger de Moubray, whose family originally came from Montbray but gave their name to the town of Melton Mowbray, a typical hybrid form.

(6) English

From c.1500 onward, place-names are generally more transparent to people today, their meanings no longer obscured by adaptation and hybridization. The same patterns found among English-speaking settlers in North America, Australasia, and elsewhere are found in England itself, making full use of the traditional and often hybrid sources available there: for example, such descriptive names as Coalville (‘coal town’, combining English and French), Devonport (‘port in/for Devon’, originally called Plymouth Dock), Newhaven (‘new harbour’, using the older word haven), and names commemorating people, as with Maryport (after the wife of its founder), Nelson (after Admiral Lord Nelson), Peterlee (for a local trade-union leader), and Raynes Park for a local land-owner.

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