Some etymologies of English towns and cities

It’s that time of year when we get together with family, snap at each other, drink heavily etc. and customary to this time is making quizzes. This year I made one using the actual etymologies of English towns and cities and it struck me just how Germanic (and how much cooler) most of our place names are. Here is my list, with answers and explanations.

Deer Village – Derby.  Djúr (Old Norse: animal or beast, later deer) + bȳ (Old Norse for a farmstead or village)

White Village – Whitby. White + bȳ.

Grimr’s Village – Grimsby. Old Norse personal name + bȳ

Open land by the River Sheaf – Sheffield. Self-explanatory.

Open land by the River Maun – Mansfield. Self-explanatory.

Wulfrun’s high town – Wolverhampton. Saxon personal name + hēah (Old English: high) + tūn (Old English: town)

Village of Beorma’s people – Birmingham. Saxon personal name + -ing- (Old English: people of) + hām (Old English: village)

Cofa’s Tree – Coventry. Saxon personal name + trēow (Old English: tree)

Swine Hill – Swindon. Swīn (Old English: swine) + dūn (Old English: hill)

Reada’s People – Reading. Saxon personal name + -ing-

Haesta’s People – Hastings. Saxon personal name + -ing-

Beornmund’s Island – Bermondsey. Saxon personal name + ēg (Anglian: an island)

Broken Bridge – Pontefract. Pons (Latin: bridge) + fractus (Latin: broken)

Stag Pool – Hartlepool. Heorot (Old English: a hart/stag) + pōl (Old English: pool)

Thick Muddy Pool – Liverpool. Lifer (Old English: liver, referring to thick, clotted water) + pōl.

Middlemost Fortication – Middlesborough. Middel (Old English: middle) + burh (Old English: fortification)

Skarthi’s Fortification – Scarborough. Old Norse personal name + burh.

Skeggi’s Headland -Skegness. Old Norse personal name + nes (Old Norse: headland)

So-called for two sandbanks at the mouth of the river, thought to resemble bovines -West and East Cowes

Predictably, we can draw plenty of comparisons from these elements with modern Germanic languages:

Djúr – djur (Swedish) – dier (Dutch) – Tier (German)

Bȳ – by (Swedish)

Heorot – hert (Dutch) – hjort (Swedish)

Burh – Burg (German) – borg (Swedish) – burcht (Dutch)

So there you go, English really shows itself as a Germanic language when you look at our geography. Hope you found this as interesting as I did. Merry Christmas.

(All credit to the University of Nottingham for this fantastic map giving the information.)

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The Condition of the Left in England

'A grotesque mixture of Enlightenment Liberalism, One-Nation Conservatism and Socialism.' Skeptic and linguaphile.

One thought on “Some etymologies of English towns and cities”

  1. You missed out all the ‘thorpe’, ‘thwaite’ and ‘toft’ names which are common throughout the former Danelaw. Stragglethorpe in Notts is my favourite. BTW the etymology of Coventry isn’t clear, it could derive from the convent established by Osburga (and later burned down by the Danes).


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