Some British Place Names and Their Origins


Oct 29, 2014 by British Blog

If you are reading this from Backside Common or Crackpot, chances are you are well aware that Britain has some funny old place names. The associations and use of particular words all change over time, but place names tend to stick.

Therefore, while today, Byker sounds as though it should be occupied by motorcycle fans, probably dressed in leathers and revving a Harley Davidson, back when the Vikings founded it, it had a perfectly sensible name - because a 'kerr' was a marsh and 'by' meant village, so Byker was a village by a marsh.

Byker, of course, is not alone - here are a few more oddly named British places.


Go West

Most of the UK has its fair share of strange place names, but for the very best in odd names, head to the West Country. Somerset is a good place to start - here you can find the villages of Wyke Champflower and Westonzoyland (try saying that after a few flagons of cider), and the exotic-sounding Clapton-in-Gordano. Although Gordano sounds faintly Italian, in fact it is derived from the Old English term describing the triangular shape of the local valley.

Over in Devon, the fun continues with Zeal Monachorum - the name refers to monks' cells, because the local area was once the property of Buckfast Abbey - and Broadwoodwidger, which takes its name from the Wyger family that used to own the local manor.

There are plenty of other striking place names in the West Country, including Catbrain (in South Gloucestershire) and Old Sodbury.


Midlands & North

Lincolnshire is home to Quadring Eaudike and Friskney Eaudike, names so odd that many are apparently still arguing about how to spell and pronounce them. Eaudyke is often written, and there is dispute as to whether the second word should be pronounced 'ow-dike' or 'ee-dike'; the 'ow' suggests that the name is French in origin, whereas many say it is from the Old English and should be pronounced 'eedike'.

Over in Staffordshire is the village of Flash. At 1,500 feet above sea level it is allegedly the highest village in England, and takes its name from the area's history of trade in counterfeit coins (hence 'flash' is also a term applied to anything slightly dodgy).

Leicestershire has Frisby-on-the-Wreake and Nanpantan, the latter taking its name from the Anglo-Saxon for enclosure, which was 'pantain'.

The Greater Manchester area has Bottom Flash and Broadbottom. Bottom Flash is the lowest (bottom) of three lakes or 'flashes' along the River Weaver. Further north, Northumberland has a village called Once Brewed (home to the sardonically-named Twice Brewed pub).

In Scotland you will find the village of Ae, reputedly the shortest place name in the UK (although the Scottish Gaelic word for the island of Iona is a single letter).

There are, of course, many other examples that are fascinating to think about. What does it tell us about Kent that the county has not one, but two, villages called Heart's Delight? Why is there a Christmas Pie in Surrey? Perhaps those can be explored in a future blog post.