Chapter 12: English river-names

Since place-name scholars describe most English river names as ‘Celtic’ or ‘pre-English’ they would appear to be suitable for interpretation in terms of Archaic Gaelic. However a closer look at the current approach to English place-names shows that it is based on some rather quirky assumptions which are by no means compatible with the Archaic Gaelic hypothesis. According to this view, English settlement names, with a few (but significant) exceptions, were created in the post-Roman period by invasive peoples coming into England from northern Germany or from Denmark. River names, however, were passed on by displaced or enslaved native peoples. A similar belief holds in Scotland, where all place-names are attributed to Irish, Welsh, Northumbrian and Norwegian settlers, with virtually no native survival, and in France, where Franks and feudal landowners are implicated. In every case the language of settlement names is taken to be the contemporary written languages of these various peoples.

When one takes a wider view it becomes evident that there is strain, not to say conflict, between these various approaches. On the one hand, when current theory suggests that we should find shared features and similar names, we do not. The names attributed to Scandinavian settlers in the north and west of Scotland have little or nothing in common with the names proposed for the Solway, Cumbria, or Yorkshire, or, for that matter, those found in Iceland or Scandinavia. On the other hand, where there should be divergence, we find common features. The same basic elements occur in Scotland, England, France, Flanders and further afield in names that allegedly reflect settlement by different linguistic groups. Settlement names share a great many elements with river names, which suggests that the two classes must be of similar age. A further discrepancy is while the English place-name lexicon may sometimes resemble Anglo-Saxon it does not do so consistently, and many of the interpretations in terms of Anglo-Saxon are, to say the least, unconvincing. All of this suggests an older common origin for British place-names and a common origin for river names and settlement names.

There is no doubt that place-name theory is showing its age. It is increasingly adrift from the findings of archaeology and early history. Archaeologists no longer believe in the kind of population replacement proposed for England and Scotland, and it is also declining in popularity with historians, who are waking up to the very dubious historical value of their early sources. Incomers can certainly be detected in post-Roman England, but they appear on the whole to have been humble folk and at the most optimistic calculation could not have added more than five per cent to the existing population. Whether elite or slaves, there is no evident reason why these immigrants should have altered a settlement pattern which in many places can be shown to have been in place before the Roman occupation. If the settlement pattern survived, it is a safe assumption that settlement names also survived. We might accept a few signs of Norwegian administration in the former Norwegian colonies and a few new farms carved out of the fenland by enterprising immigrants accustomed to the similar soils of northern Europe but not wholesale resettlement.

English settlement names certainly look ‘Anglo-Saxon’ rather than ‘Celtic’ and many of them lend themselves to interpretation in terms of Germanic personal names and Anglo-Saxon, though the results are often very unconvincing. The explanation lies in the history of literacy in England. Those who first transcribed English settlement names and who perpetuated these early written forms through the following centuries were not natives but foreigners whose native language might have been Frankish, Danish or French and who were literate in Anglo-Saxon, French or Latin. They were detached but not neutral. Like the nineteenth-century surveyors who first transcribed many Gaelic place-names in Scotland, they were influenced and restricted by their native languages in their choice of forms and they often ‘recognised’ personal names and other elements of their current vocabulary which did not exist in fact. A Scottish example is Cyderhall (Sutherland), which has recently reverted to an earlier spelling Sythera, suggesting an original outlook post or sith rather than an English apple orchard. However this place in the thirteenth century was ‘Siwardhoch’ or Sigurdhaug ‘the burial place of Sigurd’, an identification discussed by Anderson, who could not make much sense of it.1 A more recent example is the name Thomasgreen, found in the township of Braeleny near Callander, Perthshire. Thomasgreen was once the site of the school was and can be reconstructed as tom a’ sgriobhan, ‘the knoll of the scribbling’. We can recognise a Norse or Icelandic voice and an English voice in these cases, as we can recognise Welsh voices in Strathclyde, Anglian voices in Galloway and a rag-bag of Germanic or Frankish voices in England.

A further source of bias is that English clerks have always been familiar with the Anglo-Saxon foundation fable. It was created in the ninth century by foreign clerks who used as evidence an excessively naïve interpretation of a handful of English place-names in terms of Germanic personal names.2 Naïve or not, since then everyone concerned has continued to interpret English settlement names in terms of Germanic personal names or in terms of the obscure written ‘Anglo-Saxon’ used in religious texts and a few secular documents from the eighth century onwards. This approach raises a few questions. The use of personal names to identify local farms and hamlets is not very common in the English-speaking world, not even in the recently-settled and certainly literate lands of the American colonies. Those who came to England in the post-Roman period were illiterate and pagan. One might wonder how such transient personal names were perpetuated? And we might also wonder if these illiterate settlers, whose origins are diffuse and obscure, spoke a language which is known only several centuries later in a literate, elite, Christian context? Such questions are not asked. The place-name creed assumes settlement by Saxon invaders and explanation is a secondary matter.

There are certainly links between place-names and personal names, but they arise from the fact that European personal names were very often derived from the names of places, as is still often the case, at least in Scotland.3 This allows a multitude of multilingual puns linking the one with the other. But the landscape was named first.

A striking example of the ability of imported clergy to influence or reinterpret local place-names in terms of personal names is found not in Anglo-Saxon England but in the Celtic south-west, where Breton clergy, in a frenzy of pious creativity, converted dozens of place names into those of parish saints, most of whom are known nowhere else in Christendom. They found Sulyen at Luxulyan, Mab at Lavabe, Mawgan at Mawgan, Melanus at Mullion and a great many more. It appears that the Christian forms were largely confined to literary use, kept alive in documents maintained by the Church while the natives continued to use the original names on which such speculation was based. These vernacular names have persisted in many cases. Towednach is now believed to be a broken-down version of the correct form, ‘Saint To-Winnoc,’ which it barely resembles but is readily explained as ‘gathering fire’, a very common type of settlement name. Towinnoc is also ‘gathering fire’ but with AG. fionn ‘fire’ instead of aodh ‘fire’. The parish names of Cornwall and Devon show that the influence of literacy on the form and apparent meaning of a place-name can be very powerful.

Finally, current studies cannot explain how it is that many settlement names recorded by the Romans and other early writers remain in use. Even York, in its Latin form Eboracum or its Danish form Euruic, remains recognisable. It is surely curious that the settlement names recorded in the Roman period are the only settlement names which are allowed to have survived from before the advent of the Saxons. It is entirely improbable that in order to have remained in use, a pre-English settlement name must have been written down in the Roman period.


When we use Gaelic and Archaic Gaelic to explain English river-names, a very different picture emerges. The names make consistent sense as early names coined by hunters. The key elements are tribal deer forests and fire, either cooking fires indicating settlement or, more probably, beacons used to define territory and organise hunting. Explanations currently offered for English river names include many ‘water’ words such as ‘fresh’, ‘clean’, ‘bright’, ‘running’, ‘dirty’, ‘pure’ and ‘smooth’, but such words, which define transitory states, are without value as place-names. The alternative explanations offered here are of course tentative but make consistent sense within the parameters of a hunting population and relying on what is known of Archaic Gaelic in other contexts. With the exception of names such as Avon, Don or Esk which mean simply ‘water’ and which are very early indeed, river-names are not a class apart but part and parcel of the basic naming pattern. Almost every river name listed below is matched by a number of settlement names. Kenn is the name of two rivers but is also found in more than thirty settlement names listed by Mills.4 Laver is the name of a river in Yorkshire but occurs also in Laver (Essex), Laverstock (Wilts), Laverstoke (Hants), and Laverton (Glos, N Yks, Somer). Sid is a river in Devon but also occurs in Sidbury (Shrops), Sidcup (London), Siddington (Ches, Glos), and Sidestrand (Norf). It thus follows that many settlement names are as old as river names and can also be interpreted in terms of Archaic Gaelic. The occurrence of similar names in Scotland show that this language was once common to Britain as a whole.

The interpretations proposed are in many cases only the most probable among several options. The reason for this is the notable overlap between ‘river’ words and ‘fire’ words in Gaelic. This may reflect the fact that early settlement occupied river valleys or it may reflect some deeper association of ideas. Gaelic has àin ‘heat, light’ and àine ‘fire’ as well as ain ‘water’, an ‘water’, èan ‘water’ and aon ‘country’ (aon ‘one’ is a single defined unit). It also has éibh ‘fire’ and ab or àbh ‘river’. The compound word àbhainn ‘river’ (Avon) appears to mean ‘fire-river’. A similar overlap occurs between G. bior ‘water’ and AG. bior ‘fire’ (found in bior-fuinn ‘landmark, beacon’). The generic river name Amber might be thought to make better sense as ‘fire river’ or ‘settlement river’ than as ‘river-river’. It is possible that the fires in so many river names were not the domestic fires of hunting camps but beacons lit to organise hunts or to define territories. This ambiguity is brought out by G. dobhair which can mean ‘territory’, ‘boundary’ or ‘water’ and which is found in river names and settlement names in both England and Scotland. The first element is cognate with AG. dubh ‘deer’ and the most appropriate sense is ‘tribal hunting lands defined by water’. The various elements require analysis in a European context to establish their relative ages.

The picture obtained conforms with a general rule, which is that most place-names are as old as the named elements. The assumption is that, once named, a feature or locality very seldom changes its name. The whole point of naming a place is to create a permanent identify for it. If the names of most features are as old as the features themselves, most river names must be as old as the Mesolithic. Naming a new country has always been a priority with new settlers, since names serve as a way of finding one’s way around. Elements added since the Mesolithic will obviously have later name but the landscape seems to have been densely named at an early period.

Modern changes of name are all associated with a radical change of government and tight control of national administration. Thus Byzantium became Constantinople when it was the capital of the Eastern Empire and Istanbul when it was conquered by the Turks. The new capital of Russia founded by Peter the Great in 1703 was first named St Petersburg (a name which no doubt replaced an earlier pedestrian place-name), renamed Petrograd in 1914, then Leningrad in 1924, and reverted to St Petersburg in 1991. Such events are exceptional even today. In England most new settlement names rely on existing names. There have been only a score of major settlements with entirely new names, such as Bourneville, Fleetwood, Iron-Bridge, Maryport, Nelson, Peterlee, Port Sunlight, Telford, Waterloo and Westward Ho!.5 With the exception of Westward Ho! which was the title of a novel, all these new names mimic ‘real’ place-names. Fleetwood, Peterlee and Telford were the names of notable men but before they were used as surnames they were also place-names. Had these gentlemen been surnamed Jenkins or Hodges they would probably have looked for inspiration elsewhere in the family. Our theory accepts that new names have always been coined for new features but these become formal place-names with more difficulty than one might imagine. The OS Gazetteer of 1992 does not list anywhere called ‘Shopping Centre’ or ‘Garage’. It does however list the equally pragmatic Bridgetons and Miltons, as well as the Newtons, Suttons, and Middletons resulting from the subdivision of existing estates or communal townships following agricultural improvements.

In hilly country rivers are central to settlement and in flat country they are still often used as boundaries and in both cases would be among the earliest features to be named. However, given the power of clerks to influence place-names, it is quite probable that many smaller rivers were renamed at a later date in Anglo-Saxon or even modern English – Winterbourne is one such name. A few English rivers are known to have changed their names or go today by two different names. The Asker in Dorset was once the Loders, the Swift in Leicestershire was probably once the Lutter, and the river Limen in Kent is now known as the East Rother. The Thames is also the Isis and the Granta is also the Cam. Since the new names are as obscure as the old names in most of these cases, it is possible that these rivers once had different names at different places. This is not uncommon in Scotland. Despite the intervention of two lochs, the Tay essentially begins as the Fillan which then becomes the Dochart. The Leny, a tributary of the Teith, also in Perthshire, is the direct descendant of the Balvaig, again interrupted by a loch. Smaller streams regularly adopt the name of the estates they run through or border. In Midlothian, one small stream is known in different places as the Bonaly Burn, the Braid Burn and the Figgate Burn while another is the Lothian Burn, the Burdiehouse Burn, the Niddrie Burn, and the Brunstane Burn. The custom of giving a river the same name throughout its length may be modern.

The word ‘river’ itself is said to ‘derive from’ Lat. ripa ‘bank’. River names are among the oldest and simplest names in Britain. The first settlements in Britain were on the banks of rivers, which were easy of access by land and by water and provided drinking water and, in times of emergency, fish to eat. The word ‘river’ is also cognate with E. tribe, another pointer to the link between tribal settlement and river catchment areas.

The counties are given as an approximate guide to location. Archaic Gaelic meanings are given in brackets or marked ‘AG’. Names are cross-referenced only when the initial letters are different. The solutions are all hypothetical but generally refer to a beacon, to hunting or to some early settlement feature. Many smaller rivers are still named for the settlements they pass through.

Adur or Adurn (Susx). G. aodh ‘fire’ + (fh)earann ‘portion’, or as Dearne.
Aire (N Yks). G. aire ‘watching’. A ‘fire’ word. See Yar, Yare.
Alaw (Corn). G. allum ‘hind’.
Alde (Suff). G. allt ‘stream with steep sides’.
Alham (Somer), Alentona 1086. Allen (Corn, Dorset, N’thum). Aln (N’thum). Alne (Yks, Warw). Ellen (Cumbria). Yealm (Devon), Elintona 1086. G. àlainn ‘white, bright (fire, light)’.
Alt (Lancs). G. allt ‘steep-sided stream’.
Alver (Hants). G. aill ‘rock’ + a cognate of E. fire.
Alwin (N’thum). G. aill ‘rock’ + fionn ‘bright, white, (fire)’.
Amber (Derby). Umber (Devon). Probably G. cam ‘bend’ + AG. bior ‘fire’. Amber is red and glowing like fire. See also Ember, Humber.
Amble (Corn). AG ab ‘river’ + ilidh ‘place’.
Ancholme (Lincs). Perhaps G. àin ‘heat, light’ + an English suffix.
Anker (Warw). G. eang ‘portion’ + ar ‘place’.
Ann (Hants). Annas (Cumbria). G. ain ‘water’ or àin ‘fire’.
Ant (Norf). Perhaps G. annadh ‘delay (trap)’.
Arrow (H&W). G. arr ‘stag, hind’. Cognate with Alaw.
Arun (Susx). G. àr ‘battle, slaughter (hunting)’ + ain ‘water’ or àin ‘fire’.
Ash (Herts, Surrey). G. as ‘kindle a fire’ or AG ‘shelter (with a fire)’.
Avill (Somer). G. abh ‘water’ + ilidh ‘place’. As Amble.
Avon (Avon, Devon, Hants, H&W, Warw, Wilts). G. àbhainn ‘river’.
Axe (Devon). G. uisge ‘water’. See also Exe, Ouse, Wiske, Wissey,
Baddow (Essex), Beadewan c.975, Baduuen 1086. Bedwyn (Wilts). G. bad ‘thicket (deer trap)’ + aodhan ‘fire’.
Bain (Lincs, N Yks). Beane (Herts). G. bann ‘death (hunting)’ or AG. bàn ‘fire’. See Wandle.
Barle (Somer). AG. bar ‘fire’ or bor ‘enclosure’ + ilidh ‘place’.
Batherm (Devon). G. bàth ‘slaughter, death (hunting)’ + earrann ‘portion’.
Beal (G Man). Bela (Cumbria). Belah (Cumbria). Beult (Kent). Bewl (Kent). Bollin (Ches). G. baile ‘enclosure (pen, deer trap).
Biss (Wilts). Box (Suff). G. bas or bos ‘death (of deer)’.
Blade (Oxon). Bladon (Glos) now the Evenlode. Blithe (Staffs). Blyth (N’thum, Notts, Staffs, Suff). G. blàth ‘warm; flower (fire)’, blad ‘mouth (deer trap)’. Blyth (Peebles), Blythe Burn (Berwicks).
Bovey (Devon). G. buabh ‘cow (deer)’.
Boyd (Avon). Bude (Corn). G. buth ‘shelter (used by hunters)’.
Brain (Essex), Branche 1086. Brant (Lincs). Brent (G Lon). G. brann ‘firebrand, burning coal (beacon)’.
Breamish (N’thum). G. breamas ‘misfortune, fatality, the Devil’: perhaps referring to a local disaster, but the appearance of the horned god suggests that those who died were deer.
Brede (Sussex). Brett (Suff). Bride (Dorset). Bridge (Somer). Brit (Dorset). G. brèagh ‘fine, showy (fire)’, as E. bright.
Brock (Lancs). G. breac ‘dappled (deer)’.
Brue (Somer): Bruton was Briwetone 1086. A BRM ‘fire’ word found in Birmingham and E. brimstone.
Brun (Lancs). Burn (Devon, Norf, N Yks). More likely to be a BRN ‘fire’ word, as E. burn, than G. burn ‘water’.
Bure (Norf). G. burg ‘enclosure’.
Caen (Devon). AG. co ‘to gather’ + eang ‘place’.
Calder (Cumbria, Lancs, W Yks). Caldew (Cumbria). AG. cùil ‘deer trap’ + dobhair ‘territory defined by water’. There are Calder rivers in Ayrshire, Caithness, Inverness, and Lanark (3) as well as settlement names in Nairn (Cawdor) and West Lothian.
Cale or Wincale (Somer). G. cùil ‘stone nook (deer trap)’ + AG. fionn ‘fire, light’.
Calne (Wilts). Cole (Cumbria). Coln (Glos). Colna or Cole (Somer, Warwick). Colne (Bucks). Coly (Devon). G. cùil ‘stone nook (deer trap)’ + in ‘country, island (defined territory)’.
Cam (Cambs, Glos, Somer, Essex). Cam Brook (Avon). Camel (Corn). G. cam ‘bend’ appears to be specifically a bend of a river in which deer or other animals were trapped. G. ilidh ‘place’. Identical to Can.
Camel (Corn): see Cam.
Can (Essex). G. ceann ‘head (circular trap)’. Identical to Cam. As Kenn.
Candover (Hants), Cendefer c.880. Conder (Lancs). Condover (Shrops), Conedoure 1086. Cound Brook (Shrops). G. ceann ‘head, round enclosure (trap)’ + AG. dobhair ‘territory defined by water’.
Cant (Lancs). Kent (Cumbria). County of Kent, Canterbury (Kent). AG. ceann-tir ‘land of the trap’.
Carey (Devon). Cary (Somer). G. caer ‘camp’.
Cerne (Dorset). Char (Dorset); Charmouth was Cernemude 1086. Charter (Leic). Churn (Glos). Churnet (Staffs). Yare (Norf), Gerne 1086. G. céir ‘wax (fire)’ + in ‘country’. Cirencester, Korinion c.150, Cirecestre 1086. Kilchurn (Argyll). See also Yarm.
Chelmer (Essex). G. cùil ‘stone nook (deer trap)’ + AG. mar ‘hunt, round-up’.
Chelt (Glos). Chilt (Sussex). G. cùilt ‘stone nook (deer trap)’.
Chess (Herts). G. cìs ‘submission’, either ‘capturing, hunting’ or a conquered territory. The game of chess, a ritual battle, comes from the same word.
Chet (Norf). AG. cath ‘hunt’.
Chew (Avon), Ciw 1065. G. cuibh ‘pen, enclosure’. See Cober, Hipper.
Claw (Devon). G. clab ‘open mouth (deer trap)’. See Clun.
Clun (Shrop). G. glun ‘knee (deer trap in an angle)’. See Glen.
Clyde (Durham). Clough (N Yks). The Scottish Clyde is Cluadh in Gaelic. G. clùach ‘hero (hunter)’.
Clyst (Devon). G. cleas ‘warlike exercise, AG hunting’.
Cober (Corn). G. cuibh ‘pen, enclosure’. See Chew, Hipper.
Cocker (Cumbria, Lancs). Coker (Somer). Coquet (N’thum). AG. coc ‘deer’.
Corve (Shrops). G. corb ‘consume, waste (by hunting)’ or cairbh ‘carcass (of deer)’.
Cover (N Yks). G. cabar ‘deer’.
Creedy (Devon): Cridian(tune) 930. G. cridhean ‘gallant (hunter)’ or creachadh ‘plundering (hunting)’.
Crouch (Essex). G. creach ‘plunder, booty, pillage (hunting)’.
Crowle (Humber). G. crom ‘crooked (deer trap)’ + ilidh ‘defined place’.
Culm (Devon). Culvery (Devon). G. cùil ‘nook (deer pen)’ or G. culm ‘gloom, haze (smoke)’.
Dacre (Cumbria), Dacor c.1125. G. daigh ‘fire’ + ar ‘land’.
Dalch (Devon). G. dealaich ‘separate, divide’.
Dane (Ches). Dean (Ches). Dene (Warw). Obscure. But Dana, the Devil, is a hunting god and G. danair ‘stranger, guest’ refers to a hunter who comes from a distance.
Darent (Kent). G. doire ‘forest (deer forest)’ + eang ‘small portion’. The English ending -nd is commonly -nn in Gaelic. G. brann is E. firebrand.
Dart (Devon).
Darwen (Lancs), Derewent 1208. Derwent (Cumbria, Derby, Durham, N Yks). G. doire ‘(deer forest)’ + fionn ‘fire’. For ending see Darent.
Dawlish (Devon), Douelis 1086. Dewlish (Devon), Devenis 1086. Dowlish (Somer), from a river Duuelis 1086. AG. dubh ‘deer’ + G. leus ‘light’ or lios ‘garden, park’. The second element in Devenis is innes ‘area pf good grazing’. See also Divelish, Douglas.
Dearne (S Yks). Dorn (Oxon). G. dubh ‘deer’ + (fh)earann ‘portion’. A tribal deer forest. As the river Deveron (Moray). See Adur.
Dee (Ches); Chester was Deoua c.150. The Aberdeenshire Dee was also Deoua c.150 and this is also the Latin name of Cahors, France. Also in D&G, Scotland. AG. dubh ‘deer’ + abh ‘river’.
Deer (Devon). As Dour. A place-name in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. See also Dever.
Delph (Norf). G. dealbh ‘spectre (hunter)’.
Dever (Hants). As Dover. See also Deer.
Deverill (Wilts), now known as the Wylye. AG. dubhar ‘deer forest’ or G. dobhair ‘border of a country (deer forest), territory, water’ + ilidh ‘place’.
Devon (Leic, Notts). G. dubh + an ‘water, fire or territory’.
Dibb (Yks). G. dibh ‘farm (deer forest)’, from AG. dubh ‘deer’.
Dikler (Glos). G. digh ‘fairy hillock (outlook point)’.
Divelish (Deven). As Dawlish.
Don (Lancs, S Yks, Tyne & Wear). Dun (Hants). G. don ‘water’. Rivers of this name are found also in Aberdeenshire, Russia and India.
Dore (H&W). AG. doire ‘deer forest’.
Dorn (Oxon). Drone (Derby). G. doire ‘forest (deer preserve)’ + locative suffix.
Douglas (Lancs). AG. dubh ‘deer’ + glas ‘light’. A common name. Into English as Blackwater. See Dawlish.
Doulting (Somer), Doltin 1086, now the river Sheppey. Doul may represent AG. dubh ‘deer’ + gal ‘fire’ + G. ing ‘portion of land’.
Dour (Kent), the stream at Dover, Dubris 4c. Dover (Essex, H&W). AG. dobhair ‘deer place’.
Dove (Derby). AG. dubh ‘deer’.
Dowlish (Somer): see Dawlish.
Duddon (Cumbria) but in Dunnerdale. A dod is a beacon hill. G. diod ‘spark. See Tiddy, Tud, Tutt.
Eden (Cumbria, Durham, Kent, Surrey). G. aodhan ‘fire’. Also in Borders, Fife.
Ellen (Cumbria): see Alham.
Ember (Surrey): see Amber.
Erme (Devon). G. àr-magh ‘field of slaughter (tribal territory)’. The same as G. earrann ‘portion, tribal territory’, as Earn (Perthshire).
Escley (H&W). Perhaps G. uisge ‘water’ + ilidh ‘place’ but this does not make much sense. Perhaps G. is ‘ox (stag)’. See Ise.
Esk (Cumbria, N Yks). G. uisge ‘water’. There are six Esks in Scotland (Angus x 2, Dumfries x 2, Lothian x 2). See Axe, Exe.
Etherow (Derby). G. aodh ‘fire’ + ruadh ‘deer’.
Exe (Devon). G. uisge ‘water’. See Axe, Esk.
Eye (Leic, Glos). G. aodh ‘fire’.
Fal (Corn). G. fàl ‘penfold, circle, guard (deer trap)’.
Flit (Beds). G. fleadh ‘feast, company, spell (hunting)’. Fairies were always ‘flitting’ or ‘flyting’.
Fowey (Corn). G. faomh ‘spoil, booty, conquest, carcass (hunting)’.
Frome (Dorset, Glos, Somer). G. freumh ‘lineage’, ‘to take root, establish’, so the river of a tribal settlement. Probably cognate with fearann ‘tribal land’.
Gade (Herts). Goyt (Derby). G. gath ‘ray of light’.
Garron (H&W). G. garan ‘grove, forest (deer forest)’.
Gelt (Cumbria). G. geal ‘bright, radiant’.
Gifle (Somer): see Ivel.
Gifle (Somer): Yeovil was Gifle c.880, Givele 1086, now the Yeo. See Ivel.
Glassene (Lancs). Glasson (Cumbria, Lancs). Glaze Brook (Ches). AG glas ‘fire, beacon site’. (But Glassonby alleged to be the farmstead of a man called Glassan, an Old Irish personal name.)
Glaven (Norf). Glem (Suff). Glyme (Oxon). Rel. to G. glaimh ‘glutton (hunter)’.
Glen (Lincs, N’thum). G. glen ‘narrow valley’, once a narrowing feature used as a deer trap. See Clun.
Glenderamackin Beck (Cumbria) ‘the glen of the deer forest of the little plain’ and Glenderraterra Beck (Cumbria) ‘the glen of the deer forest of the hunting’.
Gowan (Cumbria). Gowy (Ches). G. gamhainn ‘yearling deer’.
Granta or Cam (Cambs-Essex). Cambridge was Grontabricc c.745, Cantebrigie 1086. This may be G. grinn ‘garrison’, grunn ‘crowd, people’, griom ‘war, battle (hunt)’, grian ‘land’ or AG. griann ‘bonfire’, all related words. For intrusive t see Darent.
Greeta (Notts). Greta (Cumbria, Lancs, N Yks). Writtle (Essex), now the Wid. G. grioth ‘sun’ suggests a local beacon.
Hail (Cambs): see Hailes.
Hailes (Glos), Heile 1086. Hail or Heil (Cambs), now the Kym. Hayle (Corn). G. geal ‘bright, white, radiant’ (a beacon site). Hailes (Midlothian, East Lothian), Hailie Brae (Ayrshire) with a panoramic view of the Firth of Clyde.
Hamble (Hants), Hamele 1165. Hamps (Staffs). Hems (Devon). The aspirate of G. cam ‘bend, curve (deer trap) + ilidh ‘place’. cf Amber, Humber.
Heil (Cambs): see Hailes.
Hemyock (Devon), Hamihoc 1086, diminutive of ham, the aspirate of G. cam ‘bend, curve (deer trap)’.
Highclere (Hants), Clere 1086. Probably a beacon name, as E. clear.
Hipper (Derby). G. cuibh ‘pen (deer trap)’. cf Chew, Cober, Whipling.
Hodder (Lancs). ?G. cuith ‘enclosure (deer trap, cattle pen)’ + locative.
Hodge (N Yks). Perhaps AG. cuch ‘hunt’ from G. cuchair ‘hunter’.
Humber (Yks, H&W). The aspirate of AG. cam ‘bend, curve (deer trap)’ + G. bior ‘water’ or AG. bior ‘beacon’. See Amber, Ember, Umber.
Ide (Devon). Idle (Notts). G. id ‘chain (of hunters)’.
Ight (Oxon), now river Ray. G. igh ‘tallow, fat (hunting-place)’.
Irk (G Man).
Irt (Cumbria). Irthing (Cumbria). G. irt ‘death’ + ing ‘piece of ground’.
Irwell (G Man). G. ire ‘ravage, plunder (hunt)’.
Ise (N’hnts). Isis or Thames (Wilts). Isle (Somer). Slea (Lincs): Sleaford was Slioford 852, Eslaforde 1086. G. is ‘ox (stag)’ + ilidh ‘place’.
Itchen (Avon, Hants). G. itcheadh, ithche ‘eating’. cf Ight.
Ive (Cumbria). AG. éibh ‘fire’ + locative. See also Ivel.
Ivel (Beds, Herts): Northill (Beds) was Nortgiuele 1086. Gifle (Somer) was the old name of the Yeo. G. geimheal ‘custody (trapping animals)’. cf Fr. gibier ‘game’.
Iwerne (Dorset). G. éibh ‘fire’ + earrann ‘portion (tribal deer forest)’.
Keilder (N’thum). G. cùil ‘stone nook (deer trap)’ + doire ‘forest (deer forest)’.
Kemp (Shrops).
Kenn (Avon, Devon). AG. ceann ‘head-shaped deer trap’. As Can.
Kennal (Corn). Kennett (Cambs, Wilts). Kensey (Corn). AG. ceann ‘head-shaped deer trap’ + various locative elements.
Kent (Cumbria): see Cant.
Kenwyn (Corn). G. ceann ‘head (trap)’ + fionn ‘fire’.
Kinder (Derby). G. ceann ‘head (trap)’ + doire ‘forest (deer forest)’.
Kyle (N Yks). G. caol ‘narrow place (deer trap)’.
Kyre (H&W), Cuer 1086. AG. cu ‘gathering’ and G. ar ‘land’. cf Soar.
Lark ( Suff). G. lairig ‘narrow pass (deer trap)’.
Lathkill (Derby). AG lath ‘fire’ + cùil ‘stone nook’.
Lavant (W Susx). Laver (N Yks). Leam (Warw). Leeming (Yks). Leven (Cumbria, N Yks): Kirklevington on the Leven was Levetona 1086. Lew (Devon), Leuia 1086. Lim (Devon, Dorset). Limden (E Suss). Limen (Glos, Hants). Limen (Kent), now the East Rother. Linnet (Suff). Lovat or Ouzel (Bucks). Lowman, Loman (Devon). Low (N’thum). Lumburn (Devon). Lune (Cumbria). Lymm (Ches). Lymn (Lincs). Lyn (Devon), Lym 1330. Lynher (Corn). Lyvennet (Cumbria). G. lìomh ‘polish, gloss, colour (fire)’, lìomhaid ‘glittering, bright’, lainnir ‘brightness, brilliance’, loinnear ‘light, Scots lowe ‘blaze’, E. flame, gleam, glint. A ‘fire’ word with variable m/n. Laver (Essex settlement name) was Lagefare c.1010 and shows equivalence between the LM/LN form and an LG form (see also Lea). Also Lime (Ches district name), Lyme (Ches, Staffs, old district and forest). In Scotland, Leven (Dunbarton, Kinross, Fife), Livingston (W Lothian) and Lomond (Dunbarton, Kinross).
Lea (Essex): Laindon there was Ligeandune c.1000. Lea (G Lon): Leyton there was Lugetune c.1050. Lea (Beds): Luton there was Lygetun 792. Lea (Herts). Leach (Glos). G. leig ‘fire’ or lighe ‘water’.
Leadon (Glos, H&W). Perhaps G. liath ‘grey (smoke)’ + don ‘water’.
Leire (Essex), Legra 1086. Legre (Notts). Lerryn (Corn). Lickle (Cumbria). As the Fr. Loire, adj. Ligerien. G. leig ‘fire’ or lighe ‘water’ + ar ‘place’. See also Lea.
Lodden (Dorset). Loddon (Hants). Lodon (H&W). Loders (Devon), now Asker. Loud (Lancs). Loudwater (Bucks), Lude 1241. Lowther (Cumbria), Lauder c.1175. Lud (Lincs): Louth was Lude 1086. Ludwell (Wilts). Lutter (Leic), now Swift. Lydden (Dorset). Lyd (Devon, Somer). G. lodair ‘lad (hunter)’, lothar ‘assembly (of hunters)’. The root is probably lot ‘allotment, portion of settlement land’, as in Lothian. Lauder and Lowther also occur in Scotland.
Lugg (H&W). G. leig ‘fire’ or logaidh ‘tribal settlement’. See Lea.
Lune (Cumbria), Lon 1086. Lyne (Cumbria, N’thum). G. loinnear ‘light, gleam of light, flash of light’ or G. lìon ‘gin, snare’, lòn ‘food, provisions’ or lon ‘elk, bison (stag)’. See Lavant.
Marden (Wilts). Marron (Cumbria). Mere (Devon). Maur (Notts). AG. mar ‘hunt’.
Marthall (Ches). Mardle (Devon). G. mart ‘animal killed for food’ + ilidh ‘place’.
Maun (Notts): Mansfield was Mamesfelde 1086. Mimram (Herts). ?
Mease (Derby). Meese (Shrops). G. maos ‘goat (deer)’.
Meavy (Devon), Mewi 1086. Miavag (Lewis) is G. Miabhaig. G. miabhail ‘profusion, plenty’, referring to a hunting area. St Meva is found in Corn at Mevagissy.
Meden (Notts). G. meadhon ‘middle (meeting place)’.
Medina (IoW). G. meadhon ‘middle (meeting, assembly)’ + ing ‘place’.
Medway (Kent). G. meadhon ‘middle (meeting)’ + second element as Wey.
Mel (Cambs). Meole Brook (Shrops). Mole (Devon, Surrey). G. mol ‘assembly, gathering’.
Meon (Hants). AG. me ‘to gather’ + an ‘place’.
Mersey (Lancs). AG. mar ‘hunt’.
Micheldever (Hants), Mycendefr 862.
Mint (Cumbria). Perhaps with Neen, showing m/n confusion.
Mite (Cumbria). Mude (Dorset). AG. meadh ‘to meet, muster’.
Mor Brook (Shrops): Morville was Membrefelde 1086.
Nadder (Wilts). G. nith ‘to hunt’. G. nathair ‘serpent, snake, knowledge (of hunting)’, a common symbol.
Nar (Norf). Obscure. O.N nar ‘corpse’ is alleged by Chambers, which would suit.
Neen (Shrops), now the Rea: Newen(tone) 1086. Nene (Cambs, N’hnts-Lincs), Nyn 948. Nent (Cumbria). Nymet (Devon), now the Yeo. Okement (Devon), Ochenemitona 1086. G. neimhidh ‘sacred land (deer forest, deer preserve)’ or naomh ‘sacred’. The nemet was sacred in the sense of being set aside for hunting.
Neet (Corn). Nidd (N Yks), Nith 1086. G. nith ‘slaughter, battle (hunting)’. As the Nith (Dumfries).
Noe (Derby). Glen Noe (Argyll) is G. Nodha, apparently nòdh ‘knowledge’ but probably G. nith ‘to hunt’. See Nadder, Neet.
Ock (Oxon). Og (Wilts). G. agh ‘heifer, hind; young fawn; rarely ox, cow, bull’.
Okement (Devon). ‘Deer preserve’. For first element see Ock and for second see Neen.
Onny (Shrops). G. àin ‘fire’.
Ore (Suff). G. or or àr ‘battle, slaughter (hunting)’.
Orwell (Suff), Arewan 11c, Orewell 1341. G. àr ‘battle, slaughter (hunting)’ + fionn or baile ‘enclosure’.
Otter (Devon). Ottery (Corn). G. aodh ‘fire’ + airidh ‘area, land’. G. oitir ‘low promontory’ has the same sense; a fire was kindled at such places to call the ferry.
Ouse (Yks). G. uisge ‘water’.
Pang (Berks). Penk (Staffs). G. fang ‘enclosure (trap)’, as Sc. fank, E. fang.
Parrett (Somer), Pedret 1086. Petteril (Cumbria). Piddle Brook (H&W). Piddle or Trent (Dorset), Pidrie 1086. Pedley (Ches). The same element is found in Scottish place-names as fother or fodder, in foederati and in Anglo-Irish pother, E. bother. It refers to rounding-up or gathering animals or hunting.
Peover (Ches). An old form of AG. féibh ‘fire’. See Waver.
Perry (Shrops). G. peireadh ‘rage, fury’, from AG. peir ‘fire’.
Pever (Derby), now the Par: Parwich was Pevrewic 1086. AG. ‘bright, fire’. As E. fever. Peffer (East Lothian x 2) and Peffery (Easter Ross).
Piddle (H&W): see Parrett.
Plym (Devon). A ‘fire’ word, like E. flame. Plym belongs with Lim, Lymm etc (see under Lavant).
Pont (N’thum).
Pool (Cumbria). Poulter (Derby). As G. pulaidh ‘champion, hero (hunter)’.
Purwell (Herts). AG. pur ‘fire’ + baile ‘enclosure’.
Quarme (Somer). A form of G. farbhas ‘destruction (hunting)’. As Wharfe.
Quin (Herts). A form of AG. fionn ‘fire’.
Rase (Lincs). G. réis ‘race, chase (hunt)’.
Rawthey (Cumbria, Lancs). G. ruadh ‘deer’.
Ray (Oxon, Wilts). Rea (H&W, W Mids). Rhee (Herts). Rhee or Cam (Cambs). As Rhiw (Powys). G. réim ‘calling out, order, troop, band (of hunters)’.
Rede (N’thum). As G. ràth ‘cleared spot’. See Roden. Or as Sc. rede ‘enclosure’.
Rib (Herts). Ribble (Lancs). Riveline (S Yks). G. reubail ‘tear, mangle (kill, butcher)’.
Riccal (N Yks). G. righ ‘king, ruler (hunt master, tribal chief)’.
Rinde (Glos). G. rinndeal ‘boundaries, territory’.
Roach (Essex). Roch (G Man). G. rocan ‘fray (hunt)’ or ‘thicket (deer trap)’.
Roden (Shrops), Rodene 1242. Roding (Essex). Rothay (Cumbria). Rother (Derby, Sussex, S Yks). G. ràth ‘cleared spot’. See Rede.
Rom (G Lon). Romney (Kent), Rumenea 11c. G. rùm ‘space, place’, roinn ‘share, portion’.
Rye (N Yks). G. ruig ‘border’.
Salwarpe (H&W). G. sùil ‘eye (beacon)’ + G. farbhas ‘destruction (hunting)’. See Wharfe.
Sankey (Ches), Sonchic c.1180. Sence (Leic). AG. san ‘together’ + cuith ‘pen’.
Sem (Wilts). AG. sam ‘together’. See Seph, Seven, Severn.
Semnet (Wilts), the stream at Semington, Semneton 13c. Simene (Dorset). Smite (Notts). AG. samh ‘together’ with AG. nemet ‘deer forest’.
Seph (N Yks). Sheaf (S Yks). AG. samh ‘to gather’. See Sem, Seven, Severn.
Sett (Derby). Sid (Devon). G. sith ‘fairy (hunter)’.
Seven (N Yks): Sinnington was Siuenintun 1086. AG. samh ‘together’ + a locative.
Severn (Shrops, Somer), Sabrina 2c. Savernake (Wilts) probably refers to another river Severn. AG. samh ‘together’ + earrann ‘portion’. See Sem, Seph, Seven.
Silver (Somer), Selvere 1086.
Skerne (Durham). G. sgeir ‘cliff (deer drop)’ + locative suffix.
Skirfare (W Yks). G. sgòr ‘rocky outcrop’ + faire ‘to keep watch’.
Slea (Lincs): see Ise.
Snail (Cambs). G. snàgail ‘creeping, slow’. An exceptional descriptive.
Soar (Leic). Swere (Oxon). AG so ‘to gather’ + ar ‘land’. cf Kyre.
Solent (Hants), Soluente 731. AG. sùil ‘signal beacon’ + fionn ‘light’. cf Suilven, a prominent mountain in Sutherland.
Somer (Avon). Sow (Somer, Staffs). Sowe (W Mids). AG. samh ‘to gather’ with àr ‘land’.
Stor (Sussex). Stort (Essex). Stour (Dorset, Essex, H&W, Kent, Staffs, Warw, Wilts). G. stòr ‘treasure (game)’, stair ‘tumult, strife’, E. store and Scand. stor ‘great, (many gathered together)’ all point to hunting. E. star, a source of light, Lat. aestuarius ‘estuary’, from aestus ‘fire’, and G. tòir ‘pursuit, chase’ are also related. An estuary was evidently marked by beacons. The Point of Stoer is a notable coastal promontory in Assynt.
Strine (Shrops). Perhaps as Stor.
Swale (Kent, N Yks). G. sùil ‘eye (of a beacon)’ or suail ‘small’.
Tale (Devon). G. tall ‘theft (hunting)’.
Tamar (Deven-Corn). G. tám ‘death (hunting) + ar ‘land’.
Tamar (Deven-Corn): see Tame.
Tame (Staffs-Warw, N Yks, W Yks-Ches). Tavy (Devon). Taw (Devon). Team (Durham). Teme (Shrops-H&W). Thame (Bucks). Thames (Glos-London). Tiffey (Norf). G. tám ‘death (hunting).
Tarrant (Dorset). G. tòir ‘pursuit, chase, hunting’.
Tarvin (Ches). G. tòir ‘pursuit, chase, hunting’ + AG. fionn ‘fire’.
Tas (Norf). See Tees.
Tawd (Lancs). As Tiddy or as Tame.
Tean (Staffs). Teign (Devon). Thanet (Kent). Tyne (Cumbria, Tyne & Wear). G. teine ‘fire’.
Tees (Durham). Teise (Kent). Twiss (N Yks). Tuesis (NE Scotland, 150 AD). AG. tu ‘together’ + iss ‘deer’.
Teme (Shrops-H&W): see Tame.
Ter (Essex). Tern (Shrops). G. tìr ‘land’ or tòir ‘deer forest’ (prob. same word) with locative suffix in latter case.
Test (Hants). G. teist ‘drop (deer drop)’. But Testwood (Hants) was Terstewode c.1185, and Teston (Kent) was Terstan 10c, which is G. trosdan ‘trap’. The Gaelic place-name Castran (Perthshire) sounds ‘Carstran’.
Thame (Oxon): see Tame.
Thames (Glos-London): see Tame.
Thet (Norf). AG. tu ‘to gather’ + aodh ‘fire’. As the Teith (Perthshire).
Thrushel (Devon). Trysull (Staffs), Treslei 1086. G. trus ‘gather’ + ilidh ‘place’ or sùil ‘beacon’.
Thurne (Norf). G. tòir ‘to hunt’ + locative. See Trent.
Tiddy (Corn). Tud (Norf). Tutt (N Yks). G. diod ‘spark’ suggests a local fire signal. As Duddon. [dad or dod, small piece; dòid ‘croft, pendicle (= tooth)’; mite (small coin, probably cut) G. deud ‘tooth’. Pendicles like teeth, small square allotments.
Til (Beds). Till (Lincs, N’thum, Wilts). G. tilg ‘cast, throw, fling’, later ‘shoot a gun’. As sealg ‘hunt’.
Toller (Dorset), now the Hooke. G. toladh ‘destruction (hunting)’ and tòlair ‘beagle, foxhound’ suggest a hunting place. cg Til.
Tone (Somer). Tyne (Cumbria, Tyne & Wear). Perhaps G. tuine ‘alarm, confusion (as during a deer drive)’ or G. dùn ‘enclosure (deer trap)’. But Tyneham (Dorset, settlement) was Tigeham 1086.
Torne (Humber). G. tòir + locative.
Torridge (Devon). G. tòir ‘pursuit, chase’.
Tove (N’hnts). G. tobhach ‘compelling, inducing (catching, trapping)’.
Trent (Notts, Staffs). Trent or Piddle (Dorset). Trym (Avon). G. tòir ‘to hunt’ + eang ‘small portion’. See Thurn, Torne, Troney.
Troney (Devon). Probably the same as Torne, Trent.
Tweed (N’thum-Berwick), Tuede 1208-10. G. tuath ‘people’.
Twiss (N Yks). As Tees. A river Tuesis, thought to be the Spey, is shown by Ptolemy in NE Scotland 150 AD.6
Umber (Devon): see Amber, Humber. Umber is a rich yellow or brown pigment.
Ure (N Yks). G. ur ‘fire’. See Wear. In Scotland Ure and Urie.
Valency (Corn). G. baile ‘enclosure, paddock (fire-place)’.
Ver (Herts). AG. ‘fire’.
Wandle (London). G. bann ‘death (hunting)’ or AG. bàn ‘fire’ + ilidh ‘place’. See Bain.
Wantsum (Kent). Wensum (Norf). AG. fionn ‘fire’ + samh ‘to gather’.
Warren (N’thum). G. fearann ‘tribal lands, portion’.
Waveney (Norf-Suff). G. uamh ‘savage (hunter)’, uamhanach ‘terrible, dreadful’ referring to some aspect of hunting, perhaps ‘wild country’.
Waver (Cumbria). Wavre (Warw): the second element in Churchover. Weaver (Ches). AG. féibh ‘fire’ found in G. famhair ‘giant, champion (beacon)’, E. fume, Fr. fumer ‘smoke’, Lat. febris ‘fever’ and fovere ‘to warm’ and as G. éibh ‘fire’. See also Peover.
Wear (Durham): Wearmouth was Uuiremutha c,730, Wermuth 1291. Were (Wilts). Wyre (H&W). G. ur ‘fire’.
Weaver (Ches): see Waver.
Welland (Lincs), Weolud 921. Wellow (Avon), Weleuue 1084. cf G. beò-luath ‘glowing embers’, beoll ‘fire’ and beol ‘robber (hunter)’. The sense is of a tribal deer forest. It is found as Woluwe in Belgium.
Wellow (Avon): see Welland.
Wendover (Bucks), Wændofran c.970. AG. fionn ‘fire, light’ + dobhair ‘deer portion, tribal hunting forest’.
Wenning (N Yks). AG. fionn ‘fire, light’ + locative ing ‘place’.
Went (W Yks). AG. fionn ‘fire, light’.
Were (Wilts): see Wear.
Wey (Dorset, Kent, Surrey). Wye (Bucks). G. aodh ‘fire’ or fuath ‘spectre, ghost (beacon fire)’. Ben Wyvis (Ross & Cromarty) pron. ‘ooash’ is perhaps fuathais ‘beacon site’.
Wharfe (N Yks). Worf (Wilts), Wervetone 1086. Worfe (Shrops). G. farbhas ‘destruction (hunting)’, lit. ‘fire-death’. See Worm.
Wheelock (Ches), Hoiloch 1086. Willett (Somer). Wylye (Wilts), Wilig 901, Wili 1086. G. cùil ‘stone nook (deer trap)’ with dim. affix.
Whimple (Devon), Winple 1086. AG. fionn ‘fire, light’ with locative suffix.
Whipling (Notts). G. cuibh ‘pen (trap)’ + locative suffix. cf Hipper. Or as Whimple.
Wid (Essex). G. cuidh ‘enclosure’.
Willett (Somer): see Wheelock.
Wim or Win (Dorset). AG. fionn ‘fire, light’.
Wincale (Somer): see Cale.
Windrush (Glos), Wenric 1086. G. fionn ‘white (fire, light)’ + trosdan ‘trap’ or trost ‘pillar (beacon site)’.
Winford (Avon), Wunfrod c.1000. Winniford (Dorset). AG. fionn ‘fire, light’ + G. frith ‘deer park’. Winfrith (Dorset settlement) was Winfrode 1086.
Winster (Cumbria). AG. fionn ‘fire, light’ + an STR ‘beacon’ word akin to E. star. cf Winster (Derby), Winsterne 1086.
Wiske (N Yks). Wissey (Norf). G. uisge ‘water’.
Wissey (Norf, Cambs): see Wiske.
Witham (Lincs). G. cuithe ‘enclosure’ or aodh ‘fire’.
Wolf (Devon). As Wharfe.
Worm (H&W), Werme 1207. A worm like a dragon was a source of fire. The word is cognate with E. warm. The Stoorworm of the Scottish tale was a volcanic island, probably off Iceland. For a possible etymology see Wharfe.
Wreake (Leic). G. breac ‘dappled (deer)’. See Brock.
Writtle (Essex): see Greta.
Wye (Bucks, Derby, Glos, H&W): see Wey.
Wylye (Wilts): see Wheelock.
Wyre (H&W): see Wear.
Yar (IoW). Yare (Norf). G aire ‘to watch’. See Aire.
Yarm (N Yks) was Iarun 1086. G. earrann ‘portion (fire-land)’. See also Cerne.
Yarrow (Lancs). Probably as Yar, Yare.
Yarty (Devon), Erce 10c.
Yealm (Devon): see Alham.
Yeo (Devon, Somer-Avon), Ioweford 1242. G. aodh ‘fire’.

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