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PLACE-NAME, also placename, place name. Technically toponym. The proper name of a locality, either natural (as of bodies of water, mountains, plains, and valleys) or social (as of cities, counties, provinces, nations, and states). In an island like Britain, settled by successive waves of peoples, the place-names embody its history. Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Norman names vie with one another today as their name-givers did in past centuries. The elements that make up place-names reflect a polyglot heritage: -coombe from Celtic *kumbos (Welsh cwm) for a hollow or small valley, as in Cwmbrân and Cwm Rhondda in Wales, Coombe and High Wycombe in southern England, and Cumloden and Cumwhitton in northern England. The variants -chester appear in Chester and Manchester, -caster in Lancaster, and -cester in Cirencester and Gloucester, and come from Latin castra (a military camp). Forms of the Old England burh (dative case byrig), a fortified settlement, appear in England as -bury in Canterbury, -borough in Scarborough, and -brough in Middlesbrough, and in Scotland as -burgh, in Edinburgh (with mainland European cognates in Hamburg in Germany and Skanderborg in Denmark). The Scandinavian -by (a farm or village) can be found throughout northern and eastern England, in such names as Derby, Grimsby, Romanby, Walesby, and Whitby.

In more recently settled English-speaking countries, names are often commemorative of places in the motherland, as with the city of Boston in Massachusetts in the US (after the town in Lincolnshire in England) and the town of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada (after the town near Glasgow in Scotland). They may also commemorate well-known people in the motherland or the new settlement: for example, the settlements and features called or incorporating the name of Queen Victoria in Cameroon (now Limbe), southern Africa, Canada, and Australia. Sometimes the names are simply descriptive, wherever they are found: the Black Isle a peninsula in Scotland, North Island in New Zealand, and the Rocky Mountains in the US and Canada.

Some place-names have two or more elements: a generic for the kind of place and a specific for a particular locale. The generic usually comes last, as in Atlantic Ocean, British Isles, Malvern Hills, Madison Avenue, New York City; sometimes, however, it comes first, as in Cape St Vincent, Mount Everest, Lake Huron; and sometimes the elements are joined by of, as in Bay of Fundy, Cape of Good Hope, Gulf of Carpentaria. Some names which might be expected to have a generic lack one: for example, the Matterhorn, the Himalayas. In a few instances, British and American practice differs: River Thames as against Mississippi River; County of Warwick and Warwickshire as against Clinton County, with county used attributively in Ireland, as in County Clare and County Tyrone (and in the one instance of County Durham in England). See place-name panels for AMERICAN, AUSTRALIAN, CANADIAN, ENGLISH, IRISH, NEW ZEALAND, SCOTTISH, SOUTH AFRICAN, WELSH.