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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Naming elements in place names

When I place my characters into a landscape, I usually give them fictional surroundings, based on local names, but made up of [usually Saxon/Old English] naming elements.

I use the same system to give peers names since most are going to be Lord [Somewhere]. 

If I have a definite county in mind, I look at a map to see if there are any peculiarities about naming, such as using -hithe, a good place for a harbour in East Anglia, and Hasel- in rural Wiltshire, as well as the obvious tre-, pol- and pen- in Cornwall.  I haven't gone into the peculiarities of the Cornish dialect, though I have made up the name Penroselly for one of my short stories.  Thorpe tends to be north-eastern. Glen tends to be Scots.  Devon feels right with Otter- [the most famous fictional example being Ottery St Catchpole, home of the Weasley, Diggory and Lovegood families]

As many surnames are locative there is nothing wrong with using these elements for surnames, whether to use as people named after a village, or as a more immediate location, like the surname Attwood, someone who lives at the wood; Nokes, from Attenokes, he who lives by the oak trees, etc.

Following are lists of naming elements with their meanings, for mixing and matching as seems appropriate. Unless appended as ON [old Norse] Lat. [Latin] or Celt [Celtic] they are Saxon in origin.

land an area of land
acre, aker, iker,ager an area of land, an acre is a measure of land.
hurst, hersh, nersh field
field, feld field
wix, wis[ce], -wisse marshy meadow
lea, ley, meadow
hale, heale, hele nook
hop[e] remote enclosed space
brick, brig top, slope
dun [Celt] hill
linch, link bank, hedge
lyth, lith, lither [ON]  slope
thwaite clearing, meadow, paddock
dale or comb valley
den[e] valley or weedy place
-dish pasture
wynn [celt] pasture
ham settlement or hamm land hemmed by water
ton town
wic[h] town anglicised from Lat. vicus
burgh fortified settlement
cester [Lat] town

to which one may also add mud, sand/samp, ston/stain/stan, chesil/ching/chilles gravel to add a component of what it may be made of as well.

Watery words
-ea river
-ea or -ey island or land raised above marsh
beck, brook, brok, burn, bourne, lak[e] stream
keld [ON] stream
fleot, fleet estuary, stream that goes inland
rith/reth small stream sometimes -ry and -ready
mere, mire, marsh, mersh, fen[n] a marshy area
font, spring, well spring
flode, flood, wash an area prone to flooding
strode, stroth, car[r], boggy marginal regions overgrown with brush and water-loving trees like alder
staith [ON]  a place to tie up boats, usually only found in eastern counties.
vath/wath [ON] ford
wade, ford ford
brig, bridge bridge

Concerned with woods and vegetation
den woodland pasture
wood, holt wood
wold uncultivated land, overun with vegetation weald, wald the Kentish version
with [ON] uncultivated land
chet, chat [Celt] wood, forest
grove, grave, beer, bere, barrow thicket or grove
hay, hey woodland enclosure
hangar sloping wood
hurst wooded hill
lound, lund, shaw, skew, seue small wood, shaw implies single species of tree and can be teamed with same
frith fir, scrubland
brake, brak, brex, brec brake,furzy bracken

ac, ake, oc, oak, oke, noke, roke  oak
As, ask, ash, esk ash
boc, box, beech, bex beech
ew yew
berk, bar, birch, birk birch
holen, holm[e] holly
alor, alr, alder alder
appel apple
piri pear
hazel, hasle, hasel hazel
withy, withi[a], weli- weel, win, sall, saul, willow
hather, thorn, thearne, thyrne hawthorn
elm, alm, el elm
lyne, lind lime
asp, esp aspen
red reed

plus rush, sedge, grass, heath, nut

ox ox
gos goose
hurt, hart stag
wul, wool wolf
bag badger
beever beaver
tad toad
il hedgehog

al eel
pik pike

cran, hern heron
eld, swan swan
fin woodpecker
fowl, ful fowl
gled kite
craw, crow crow
are eagle

find also fish, fox, frog, raven, cat etc

brad, braid broad
durn, darn, dern hidden
dip, dep deep
scal shallow
ful foul
lang, long long
sher[e] bright

so here are some to get you going: Bradwath, Braxstrode, Withymere, Litherthwaite, Okedene.   Have fun!


  1. This is fascinating! Of course, England, Angle-land, is full of different languages, due to all those settlers from different countries moving in over the centuries, so it is totally logical to choose your place names according to the language of that part of England.
    Dragonfly Song: An Interview With Wendy Orr"

  2. Thank you, Sue!Indeed even Old English/Saxon varies from place to place which is why some places you find the letter eth transliterated to 'd' and some places to 'th'; and yoch can be hard and become 'g' or softer 'y' or even left out of the pronunciation altogether. the differences can lead to slight variations on the more modern versions of the names

  3. Another wonderful post, as usual, Sarah. This reminds me that Georgette Heyer would often name her aristocratic heroes after British place names.

  4. Thanks Cheryl! Yes,and she used the best names which is why I came up with using fictitious ones ...

  5. Thank you so much for this. I was having a hard time finding a decent list.

  6. Jules, I'm so glad it's useful to you! thanks for the feedback.