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.

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