Sunday, 27 January 2013

Dorset Place Names

A couple of years ago my Dorset Place Names was published. With talks coming up in the county on the subject of the origins of place names, here is a taster.


Nationally better known for the chalk figure here, it is often overlooked that there is a settlement of this name here. Domesday gives this as simply Cernel, yet by 1288 this is seen as Cerne Abbatis. The two elements have quite different origins, the addition is clearly a reference to this being held by the local abbey, while the main name comes from a Celtic river name. Here is the name of the River Cerne, itself taken from a Celtic term carn meaning 'cairn, heap of stones'. Now even today a cairn is a marker and it is easy to see this as the same thing historically, although whether this was a marker for this place or if it was a route marker is unclear.

Local names include Acerman Street, telling of the 'place of the farm workers', and Andrews Lane which was home to the family of Samuel Andrews.

The local pub is the Cerne Giant, the chalk figure has been the subject of much debate in recent times as to its age. Generally thought to be at least Saxon and even pre-Roman, there is no mention of this figure before the 17th century. By cutting trenches a foot wide and one foot deep a figure of a naked man has been created, standing 180 feet high and 157 feet wide. In 1996 archaeologists discovered his left hand had once held a cloak and there had been a disembodied head at its feet. No conclusion was reached as to the age of the figure, or of who or what it represents. Doubtless the arguments will continue for some time to come.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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