Sunday 28 February 2010

A Long Address

My interest in place name brought me to the longest place names this week. There can't be many who are not aware of the longest place name in the UK (assuming you are in the UK of course). Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (58 letters), found on the island of Anglesey, it was created to be the longest in the land and is said to mean: "St Mary's Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of St Tysilio with a red cave." Interestingly in Welsh it officially has only 51 letters as 'ch' and 'll' are counted as single letters.

Recently a couple of usurpers to the crown have reared their long-winded heads. The village of Llanfynydd were being cited as the possible location for a wind farm (universally hated and I think they look quite good) unofficially began calling themselves by the alternative protest name of Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole which conveys the message in the English transaltion as "a quiet beautiful village; a historic place with rare kite under threat from wretched blades". While a station on the Fairbourne Railway was named Gorsafawddachaidraigodanheddogleddollônpenrhynareurdraethceredigion as a publicity move, which transaltes as "the Mawddach station and its dragon teeth at the Northern Penrhyn Road on the golden beach of Cardigan Bay". Neither attempt has been rejected or in any way as much as acknowledged by the powers that be, hence these record attempts will fall on stony ground - which seems a little unfair as the longest 'official' name came from an equally artificial attempt at creating the longest name in the land.

Until this week I was unaware of the longest place name in the world until I came across this little snippet of information.

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateahaumaitawhitiurehaeaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu (105 letters), which is the name of a hill, has been listed in the Guinness World Records as the longest place name in the world. It is abbreviated to "Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu" (57 letters) in the New Zealand Geographic Placenames Database. The name is translated into English as "The hill of the flute playing by Tamatea, - who was blown hither from afar, had a circumcised penis, grazed his knees climbing mountains, fell on the earth, and encircled the land - to his beloved." I just hope she appreciated this flautist.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Place Names

With the release of Dorset Place Names recently, I was thinking about toponymy (the study of place names) and was wondering about the etymology of the word 'toponymy'. I found that toponymy is the scientific study of place names (toponyms), their origins, meanings, use and typology. The word 'Toponymy' is derived from the Greek words tópos (τόπος) ('place') and ónoma (ὄνομα) ('name'). Toponymy is itself a branch of onomastics, the study of names of all kinds. Toponymy is distinct, though often confused with etymology, which is the study of the history of languages themselves.

In a recent book on Nottinghamshire Place Names, I included the definition of Hutchinson Green in Nottingham - there can be few individuals who have merited a place being named after them more than James Hutchinson. He won no wars, didn't invent anything, wrote no poetry, nor did he leave money for the poor in his will. For 76 years James Hutchinson had been a framework knitter working from his home, for the last 20 years the frame never left his window, nor did his seat move from alongside it. He died in 1813. During his whole lifetime he never ventured more than seven miles from his home in Nottingham. He also had some strange drinking habits. He was fond of proclaiming he had never even tasted tea and, most unusually for a time when water was considered unsafe to drink, drank no ale for the last 20 years of his life. His diet was even stranger. In the same window as he worked were line up 14 vessels, each containing a pennyworth of milk which he had purchased on 14 consecutive days. Each day he would consume the oldest of the milk, the more sour and clotted it was, the more he liked it. During the warmer months the clotted milk in the window would often become too hard to swallow, he referred to this as his 'cheesecake' and would boil it in order to make it liquid, and therefore drinkable once more. Such unusual behaviour did not affect him unduly. He lived until he was 93 years-old, leaving at least thirty descendants.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Oddities of Minor Place Names

While researching origins of various place names this week I found some unusual examples.

I had long known the Butts Lanes of a number of towns and villages have been said to represent where archery was practised, the 'Butt' being the wicker target used when poor Englishmen were forced to hone their skills. However much more common was the unploughed strip of land at the edge of the arable land where the plough team would turn and which would remain untilled. This was also referred to as 'the butt' and is certainly the more common origin for this street name.

One very unusual name was Cabbage Street, here most often associated with the vegetable which was said to have been grown here - or, more correctly, in the area alongside this thoroughfare. This week I found another possible origin for this name, for those who produce gloves, hats, clothing or all kinds had what was often referred to as 'perks', the off-cuts from the cloth after the basic pattern had been cut out. In some areas, I found this to be in the eastern counties around the fenlands, these off-cuts were referred to as 'Cabbage' and there was no doubt the area I had been researching was derived from this 'Cabbage'.

Around the same fenland I found fields referred to as Undertakers and Adventurers. These date from the time when the ditches and drains were dug to drain the fenland. The Adventurers backed the project financially, giving those who did the work, the Undertakers, an income until the work was completed. After the land had been drained it left much fertile land which was allocated to both groups and named for both.

Unusually for me I have given a number of talks in February, thankfully I did not book any in January and so was not prevented from attending by the bad weather we experienced nationwide during the first month of the new year. It is the chance of inclement weather which normally means I have tried not to book dates before March each year. To those who have invited me to speak, and those who have attended, may I extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for making me feel so welcome.

Monday 8 February 2010

Next Book is on Dorset - Out Now!

Ever wondered why our towns and villages are so named? Were they a deliberate creation by our ancestors or did they evolve naturally over time?
What form was taken by the Shapwick Monster? Why did the Victorians change the name of Great Bones, thinking it inappropriate? Why would the name of a quarry be remembered as providing one with a sore posterior? Which street sign shows the name of a prime suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders? And is Five Ways really where six lanes converge?
In these pages we examine the origins of the names with which we are otherwise so familiar. Towns, villages, districts, hills, streams, woods, farms, fi elds, streets and even pubs are examined and explained. Some of the defi nitions give a glimpse of life in the earlier days of the settlement, and for the author there is nothing more satisfying than finding a name which gives such a snapshot. The definitions are supported by anecdotal evidence, bringing to life the individuals
and events which have influenced the places and the way these names have developed.
This is not just a dictionary, but a history too, and will prove invaluable, not only for those who live and work in the county, but also visitors and tourists, historians and former inhabitants, indeed anyone with an interest in Dorset.