Anglo-Saxon Place Names

Anglo-Saxon Place Names
Anglo-Saxon Place Names
The first Anglo-Saxons settled in the 5th century AD. As the Anglo-Saxons settled, they
pushed further and further inland and as they settled in more places they began to make an
impact on place names. To begin with, many Anglo-Saxon settlements took on the name of
the most important man within that settlement. These settlements frequently ended with
'ingas'. For example, the followers of Haesta settled in what is now Hastings in East Sussex
but their settlement centuries ago was known as Haestingas - the settlement of the
followers of Haesta. Worthing in West Sussex was Wurthingas - 'Wurth's people'. Over
the years the 's' at the end has been dropped.
Another Anglo-Saxon development was the addition of 'ham' at the end of a place name meaning homestead or settlement. This tended to replace the personal element within a
name. Billingham, for example, would have meant the settlement of the people of Billa;
Nottingham would have meant settlement of the people of Snot (the 's' has been lost on the
modern Nottingham). Birmingham meant the homestead of Beorma's people.
The Anglo-Saxons also gave place names to Woking, Wokingham and Wokefield.
All three refer to a man called Wocc and mean 'Wocc's people', 'the settlement of the
people of Wocc' and 'Wocc's open land' respectively.
The Saxons also named areas after the pagan religion their followed. Some places were
named in honour of the gods Woden (Wednesbury in Staffs)), Tiw (Tysoe in Warwickshire)
and Thunor (Thursley in Surrey). Others were given names after the supernatural Shuckburgh in Warwickshire came from 'demon's hill' while Pook's Hill in Sussex meant 'hill
haunted by a goblin'.
The Saxons also gave a name to many current county towns:
Hereford probably means 'army ford' to indicate a river crossing large enough to manage an
Stafford means 'ford by a landing place'
Oxford means 'ford for oxen'
Bedford means 'Beda's ford'
Hertford mean ' stag ford'
Buckingham mean 'ground by a river that belongs to Bucca's people
Cambridge developed from 'Grantacaestir' and 'Granebrycg' both of which meant 'bridge
over the River Granta'.
Warwick probably means 'premises (the 'wic' in Warwick) of the dwellers by the weir'
In fact the word 'wic' can be found in many town names and was frequently used with
directions - Northwich, Southwick, Eastwick and Westwick. It was also used with a prefix
referring to trees - for example Hazelwick and Ashwick. 'Wic' could also be used with
plants (as in Rushwick) and farms such as Woolwich, Saltwick (salt farming) and Butterwick.
The Anglo-Saxons also used the termination 'worth' with frequency, meaning enclosure. The
meanings of Littleworth and Highworth are clear but some are less obvious:
Hinxworth means 'horse enclosure'.
Turnworth means enclosure by the thorn trees.
Lindworth means enclosure by the lime trees.
Many towns have a termination of 'worthy', which is a simple variant of 'worth'
(Fernworthy, Highworthy and Smallworthy).
Many place names have 'tun' at the end of them meaning enclosure, farmstead or village.
Tonbridge (Kent) is one of the few places where it comes as a prefix as opposed to a
termination (though it has been thought that the town was named after Tunna). Names with
'tun' or a derivative and a direction in front of it are common - Norton, Sutton, Weston and
Eston, for example. Some place names refer to nearby natural features such as Brockton
and Brotton, which are both references to local brooks. Marston and Merston refer to a
nearby marsh while Wotton and Wootton refer to a nearby wood.
A combination of 'ham' and 'ton' can be found in such places as Northampton, Littlehampton
annd Oakhampton.
The Anglo-Saxons also used tree names along with 'ley' (meaning wood or clearing in a
wood). Oakley, Ashley, Thornley and Elmley are self-explanatory. Lindley refers to lime
trees, Uley to yew trees and Willey to willow trees.
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