Sunday, 27 April 2014

Le pub, El pub, Der pub, O pub, Bu pub, Il pub……

….. or simply Pub (the last is Polish) are all clear references to the English pub. Whilst thinking of how English pub names have a language all their own, it did occur to me there are a number of pub names in England which are not English. Undoubtedly the most common is the Fleur de Lys, most likely an heraldic reference to France and traced to at least the time of Edward III who did declare himself King of France – the name translating as ‘flower of the lily’. Yet there are others, more than I ever thought likely. The following are just a few examples.

Another comparatively common example is the German origin of Bierkeller, easily seen as meaning ‘beer cellar’ and probably not a true pub name in the traditional sense.

The same lack of tradition is probably true of the Bodega which is simply the Spanish for ‘tavern’.

Another Spanish name is the Posada, again it is probably stretching the point to see this as a traditional pub name as it simply means ‘lodging’.

De Hems is from Dutch but does not have any real meaning, other than it being taken from the surname of a former landlord.

Rai d’Or does qualify as a true foreign language pub name for this is the French for ‘ray of gold’.

Tir na nOg is an Irish name, one translating as ‘land of the young’.

Bibendum is from the Latin phrase Nunc est Bibendum meaning 'Now is the time to drink (also celebrate)'.

Having noted some of the unimaginative naming and renaming of pubs in recent years, perhaps the answer lies in using other languages as a source.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Unsuitable Surnames

Talking about place names I am often asked to give my thoughts on the origins of surnames, particularly those derived from place names. A few days ago a lady asked me to define her married name. I could do so but, without giving details of the name, she commented on how unsuitable this was considering both she and her husband had met at the school where they were both teachers. This started me thinking about the teachers at my schools and whether their names were appropriate for their chosen subjects or character.

Beasley – undoubtedly a place name, however unless I know which example it represents it is difficult to know the true origin. Most describe ‘the woodland clearing where bees are found’, ie describing a source of honey. As a primary school teacher he was a generalist so had no specialist subject that I knew off. He was certainly not honey sweet, but may be seen to have had a sting for he had a habit of throwing the chalk to get a pupil’s attention or, if he really didn’t like you, the blackboard eraser. How times have changed.

Chapman – as an English teacher it is probably appropriate to give the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of this name as (i) a man whose business is buying and selling (ii) an itinerant dealer, hawker or peddler (iii) an agent in commercial transaction (iv) a purchaser or customer. I have nothing to add really, save for pointing out these two syllables both refer to a man, and Chapman was female.

Deavin – a name introduced to Britain by the Normans, who initially used it as a nickname. It is ultimately associated to the Latin ‘divinus’ or god-like. A specialist subject of mathematics may be seen as divine or pure by some, yet doesn’t really seem appropriate for a teacher could never negotiate ‘double maths’ without at least one cigarette break.

Drinkwater – originated as a Saxon nickname, but not exactly what it seems. Humour changes over the centuries, things which will have caused our ancestors to proverbially wet themselves leave us cold. This seems to be such a name, for it was used ironically for one who never did (drink water) or perhaps for a landlord or inn-keeper whose ale meant the customer might as well (drink water). A geography teacher and thus includes climate, so perhaps the name can be seen as appropriate in the modern sense, if not in the original sense.

Dyke – an English teacher and certainly a place name or topographical feature. Whilst I can see no connection with the name and the male teacher, the origin of the word and/or feature is of interest. The word began as Old English dic and originally referred to the ditch/dyke feature in its entirety, ie the soil removed to create the dyke also forming the ditch. In the south of England the predominantly Saxon communities brought about the pronunciation ‘ditch’ with the obvious meaning, while the northern Scandinavian pronunciation was harder as ‘dyke’ and came to mean the earthen mound formed by the spoil from the ditch.

Fulton – a clear place name but unless we know which example it is difficult to be certain this is ful tun or ‘the foul or muddy farmstead’. I must admit I never knew what this man’s speciality was, he came as headmaster and I never knew him as anything else. Having said that, and noting he was never the most approachable or likeable of individuals, ‘foul or muddy’ does not seem particularly appropriate.

Harrison – a chemistry teacher whose name means ‘son of Harry or Henry’ and I can see no connection whatsoever.

Henderson – oddly this is the Scottish version of the previous name, here ‘the son of Hendry’ rather than Henry. Further parallels in the sciences, for Mr Henderson taught biology, although maybe here we could see a connection in the form of heredity.

Herlihy – an Irish name beginning as a byname for a feudal overlord. Not at all appropriate as she taught French and nothing else.

Howlett – originally Germanic and ‘the son of Hugo’ but brought to our shores by the Normans and thus ‘the son of Hugh’. Neither work here as this was a daughter who taught Latin.

Jenkins – a British surname, a diminutive of ‘John’. As with the name of Fulton he was also the headmaster and I never knew his chosen subject but, unlike his successor, was an affable and approachable man despite also being a strict disciplinarian.

McGregor – clearly a Scottish surname and one meaning ‘son of Gregory’ (the Christian name means ‘watchful’). This primary school teacher was no son but a daughter, although she was certainly watchful – as I found out to my cost for two consecutive years during which time she loathed me every single day (yes, including weekends and holidays).

Mills – whilst not a miller it does refer to milling and the mill, which require the large grinding stones or querns to grind the corn. This is relevant for the subject was geology.

Preece – depends on the origin and language as to whether this is Welsh ‘the son of Rhys’ or Norman French pris quite literally ‘price’. Neither language nor meaning is appropriate for an English teacher.

Richmond – certainly a place name, unusually for an English place name one of Old French derivation and meaning ‘strong hill’. This definition fits neither the person nor the music teacher.

Saunders – for many years this was said to be from Alexander, yet there have been some surnames traced to Sanderstead in Surrey, a name meaning ‘the sandy homestead’ – no link to a teacher of mathematics.

Shuttleworth – an obvious place name and one meaning ‘the barred enclosure’. No link to any individual and not an art teacher.

Wallbank – a name from a minor topographical feature meaning exactly what it says, a wall with a bank. If this is seen as something from history then it is appropriate for a history teacher.

Young – means exactly what it says, a nickname for ‘the young one’. A teacher of English who was certainly in the last years of his career.

The exercise was really only to look at the origin of a selection of surnames. To choose former teachers was solely to reduce the options to a manageable number (albeit taking the opportunity to have a little dig back at one or two).

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A River By Any Other Name

On the Isle of Wight is the district name of Medina. Taken from the River Medina, which itself comes from Old English medune and refers to 'the middle one' and a name first found as Medine in 1196.

As a river the Medina looks quite unusual on a map, appearing almost to be splitting the island in two. Indeed today the wide mouth of the river is considered a ria, a valley flooded by the sea. Prior to the rise in sea levels at the end of the last ice age, when the Solent was not an arm of the ocean but a freshwater river, the Medina was one of its tributaries.

Yet it is its name which is even more intriguing for, from its source to the estuary, it has very different qualities. This is true of any river, where the rainwater run-off and natural springs join to form the small streams which grow to meander across the lowlands, before becoming tidal as the near the sea. In the case of the Medina there is no middle age to the river. Its tributaries, Luckley Brook and Merston Stream, are both examples of back-formation – ie named from the place names through which each flows – yet logically they cannot have been known as such before these places were settled by the Saxons and Jutes and thus cannot be their original names.

Earlier river names would be British or Celtic and always described the river. Names referring to the young river as ‘loud’ or ‘bright’ were common, as were names describing ‘the dark one’ or simply as ‘the river’ when it had grown. While the Medina is but ten miles long it would still have had more than one name. On the mainland of Britain, where it is highly unlikely whether alternative names for the same river elsewhere along its course were known, it is reasonable to assume the river in its different facets would be described differently and thus have several names.

This begs the question as to how any river ends up with just one name. To answer this we need look no further than the cartographer. When producing the map he would have labelled the river having asked the question in just one place. Hence the name of the river became fixed purely by chance, the name depending entirely upon where the question was asked.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Atmospheric Railway

The idea of an atmospheric railway is not unique to South Devon. Trial routes were tried out in Dublin and in London but the most famous is Brunel’s which it was hoped would take passengers the twenty miles from Exeter to Newton Abbot at up to 70mph.

The idea is ridiculously simple. Rather than have the pump on the rails, which is effectively what a steam engine is, position several large pumps along the length of track to evacuate the air from in front of the piston in the pipe, drawing the piston along the pipe and the carriage, which is attached to the piston, is pulled along.

Two advantages over the traditional locomotive were evident to everyone. Firstly travel on the atmospheric railway is almost silent by comparison, while the lack of clouds of smoke, except at the pumping stations, would have made a refreshing change. A third advantage was not so apparent but probably even more important for these trains could not collide despite there being no on-board driver. That the air refilled the vacuum behind each carriage reduced potential motive power to a degree where it was insufficient to move it until the previous carriage had passed the next pumping station. Practical problems beset the project which could not be overcome with the technologies of the day and Brunel abandoned the idea in 1848 after only a year.

Little remains of the route today, save for a pumping station near Torquay and the more obvious building at Starcross. The latter stands alongside the modern railway and is now home to the local yacht club. On the opposite side of the road we find the pub named the Atmospheric Railway. Here the sign-painter has produced an image which some may liken to a GWR King class locomotive or similar. Clearly this individual never took the slightest trouble to ascertain just what the atmospheric railway was.