Word of the day – toponymy

Toponymy is the study of the origins and meanings of place names (toponyms). It comes from the Greek τόπος (topos) – place, and oνομα (ōnoma) – name. It is a branch onomastics, the study of all kinds of names.

The other day I came across an interesting site containing information about the Welsh, Gaelic, Scandinavian and Scots roots of some British places names. Here are a few Scandinavian elements that appear in some British places names, especially in Orkney and Shetland, parts of mainland Scotland, the north west of England and parts of Wales. Do you know of can you guess their meanings?

Beck, fell, fors, garth, gill, holm, noup, ramna, scord and ting.

The place where I grew up, Silverdale, Lancashire in the north west of England, has a name of Scandinavian origin – the dale part comes from the Norse dalr (valley), but nobody is quite sure of the origin of the Silver part. One theory is that it was named after a Viking chief called something like Silr or Selr. Another theory is that the name comes from the large number of silver birch trees that grow in the area.

This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

8 Responses to Word of the day – toponymy

  1. David says:

    Last year sometime, I found a website> http://www.krysstal.com, that told you the origins of names and lastnames, places and how the meaning of words have changed over the years. But sadly this website does not have these words, so I’ll take a guess. ‘holm’= home??

  2. TJ says:

    Holm more close to “Holz” I guess … which means wood r timber ….. and usually the word “Heim” in germanic languages stand for “home” and sometimes “realm” ……right?

  3. Anders says:

    beck = small river
    fell =
    fors = water that stream fast
    garth = garden, yard
    gill =
    holm = small island
    roup =
    ramna =
    scord =
    ting = where things are decided, like in a court

    I think I got some of them!

  4. Declan says:

    Fell is a hill in the lake country, isn’t it?

    In Ireland most names are translated from Irish, so it is often quite easy.
    For example: “Lisdoonvarna” in Irish, “Lios Duin Bhearna” which translates as Lios Dun Gap where Lios and Dun are types of fort. So Lisdoonvarna is “The gap of the two forts”. Towns around Dublin are not so easy as they are British names originally for obvious reasons.

  5. Simon says:

    Here are the answers:

    beck = stream, brook, burn, from ON bekkr
    fell = rough hill, mountain, from ON fjall
    fors = waterfall, from ON fors
    garth = enclosure, fence, farmyard, from ON garðr
    gill = ravine, narrow gully, from ON gil
    holm = islet, from ON holmr
    noup = peak, from ON gnúpr
    ramna = raven, from ON hrafn
    scord = valley crossing a ridge, from ON skarð
    ting = assembly, meeting place of parliament, from ON þing

    ON = Old Norse

  6. Diarmuid Hayes says:

    They are not all British names here in Dublin believe me!! (What is British anyway?? an old dialect akin to Welsh 😉

    the Latin ones:Marino,Beaumont

    the English ones :Sandyford,Sandymount (probably originally translated from Irish!)

    the Viking ones:Howth,Lambay,Skerries

    the Irish ones:Drumcondra,Dundrum,Rathmines,Ranelagh,Clonturk etc etc!!

  7. Declan says:

    I was thinking more along the lines of the towns like Trim and Slane.

  8. Diarmuid Hayes says:



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