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List of generic forms in British place names

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Title: List of generic forms in British place names  
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Subject: Danelaw, The Meaning of Liff, Toponymy, Toponymical list of counties of the United Kingdom, List of places in England, Middleton, Greater Manchester, List of places in Scotland, Lists of places in Wales, Pyll, Royton
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List of generic forms in British place names

The study of place names is called toponymy; for a more detailed examination of this subject in relation to British place names, refer to Toponymy in Great Britain. This article lists a number of common generic forms found in place names in Great Britain and Ireland, their meanings and some examples of their use.


Key to languages: Bry. Brythonic; C - Cumbric; K - Cornish; I - Irish; L - Latin; ME - Middle English; NF - Norman French; OE - Old English; ON - Old Norse; P - Pictish; SG - Scots Gaelic; W - Welsh

Term Origin Meaning Example Position Comments
aber[1] C, W, P, K mouth (of a river), confluence, a meeting of waters Aberystwyth, Aberdyfi, Aberdeen, Abergavenny, Aberuthven prefix
ac, acc, ock OE acorn, or oak tree Accrington,[2] Acomb, Acton, Matlock[3]
afon, avon[1] W, SG, K, I river River Avon, Glanyrafon W afon is pronounced "AH-von"; several English rivers are named Avon. In Irish the word, spelled "abhann", is mainly (though not exclusively) pronounced OW-en
ar, ard[4] I, SG high, height Armagh, Ardglass
ash OE ash tree Ashton-under-Lyne, Ashton-in-Makerfield [5]
ast OE east Aston, Astley [6] prefix
auch(en)-, ach-[4] I, SG field Auchendinny, Auchenshuggle, Achnasheen prefix anglicised from achadh. Ach- is generally the Highland form, and Auch- the lowland. Auchen- "means field of the X" (Achadh nan X)
auchter-[4] I, SG height, top of something Auchtermuchty, Auchterarder prefix anglicised from Uachdar
axe, exe, usk Bry. from isca, meaning water Exeter, River Axe (Devon), River Exe, River Usk, Axminster.
ay, y, ey[7] OE/ON island Ramsay, Westray, Lundy,[8] Orkney suffix (usually)
bal, balla, bally, ball[4] SG, I farm, homestead Ballachulish, Balerno, Ballymena, Ballinamallard, Ballater, Balmoral prefix anglicised from baile
beck[7] OE,ON stream Holbeck,[9] Beckinsale, Troutbeck, Beckton, Tooting Bec cf. ger. Bach
ben, beinn, beann SG mountain Ben Nevis, Ben Cruachan Prob related to P & W Pen
berg, berry[7] OE/ON hill (cf. 'iceberg') Roseberry Topping In Farnborough (OE Fernaberga),[10] berg has converged toward borough
bex OE box, the tree Bexley, Bexhill-on-Sea[11] The OE name of Bexhill-on-Sea was Bexelei, a glade where box grew.[11]
blen, blaen C, W fell, hill, upland Blencathra, Blencogo, Blaenau Ffestiniog
bost[7] ON farm Leurbost suffix cf. ster, (bol)staðr; this form is usually found in the Outer Hebrides
bourne, burn OE brook, stream Bournemouth, Bourne, Eastbourne,[12] Ashbourne, Blackburn, Bannockburn
Further information: Bourne (disambiguation)
cf. ger. -born as in Herborn
brad OE broad Bradford[13] prefix
bre[1] C, W, K hill Bredon, Carn Brea prefix
bury, borough, brough, burgh OE fortified enclosure Aylesbury, Canterbury, Dewsbury, Bury, Pendlebury, Shrewsbury, Tewkesbury, Glastonbury[14] Middlesbrough,[15] Edinburgh, Bamburgh, Peterborough, Knaresborough, Scarborough, Jedburgh, Aldeburgh (usually) suffix See Borough for further information and other uses. Burgh is primarily Northumbrian and Scots. Cf. nl. and ger. Burg
by[7] ON settlement, village Grimsby,[16] Tenby, Derby, Whitby, Selby, Crosby, Formby, Kirkby, Rugby, Helsby, Corby, Wetherby usually suffix but compare Bicker (the town marsh) also survives in bylaw and by-election
carden P thicket Kincardine, Cardenden suffix
caer, car[1] C, W ( camp, fortification Caerdydd, Caerleon, Carlisle,[17] Caerfyrddin prefix Brythonic caer from Latin castrum; cf Chester (OE)
Further information: Caer
caster, chester, cester, ceter OE ( camp, fortification (of Roman origin) Lancaster,[18] Doncaster, Gloucester, Caister, Manchester, Worcester, Chester, Exeter, Cirencester, Colchester, Tadcaster, Leicester, Towcester suffix
cheap, chipping OE market Chipping Norton,[19] Chipping Campden, Chepstow also as part of a street name, e.g. Cheapside. 'Chippenham' is from a personal name.
combe, coombe, cwm Bry valley Barcombe ("Valley of the Britons"), Farncombe, Ilfracombe, Cwmbrân ("Brân's Valley"), Coombe Country Park,[20] usually pronounced 'coo-m' or 'cum', cognate with cwm
coed[1] W wood, forest Betws-y-coed
cot, cott OE,W cottage, small building or derived from Bry/W Coed or Coet meaning a wood Ascot, Draycott in the Clay, Swadlincote[21] suffix
cul C narrow Culcheth[22] prefix
cwm, cum[1] W, C valley Cwmaman, Cumdivock, Cwmann, Cwmbran, Cwm Head prefix Borrowed into old English as suffix "coombe". 'Cwm' in Welsh and 'Cum', in Cumbric.
cum L with Salcott-cum-Virley, Cockshutt-cum-Petton, Chorlton-cum-Hardy hyphenated between two other names Used where two parishes were combined into one. Unrelated to Cumbric cum.
dal[4] SG, I meadow, low lying area by river Dalry, Dalmellington prefix Cognate with and probably influenced by P Dol
dale[7] OE/ON valley OE, allotment OE Airedale i.e. valley of the River Aire, Rochdale, Saxondale suffix Cognate with Tal (Ger.), dalr (ON)
dean, den, don OE - denu valley (dene) Croydon,[23] Dean Village, Horndean, Todmorden[24] suffix the geography is often the only indicator as to the original root word (cf. don, a hill)
din, dinas[1] W fort Dinas Powys prefix homologous to 'dun'; see below
don, den Bry via OE hill, down Abingdon,[25] Bredon, Willesden suffix
drum[4] SG, I ridge, back Drumchapel, Drumnacanvy, Drumnadrochit prefix anglicised from druim
dubh[4], dow, dhu, duff SG, I black Eilean Dubh, Eas Dubh suffix, occasionally suffix anglicised from dubh
dun, dum, don, doune[4] SG, I fort Dundee, Dumbarton, Dungannon, Dumfries, Donegal prefix derived from dùn.
Further information: Dun
Eglos, Eglews, Eccles W( Church Egloskerry, Ecclefechan from Latin ecclesia, thus cognate to French église and G. eaglais
Eilean I, SG Island Eilean Donan, Eilean Sùbhainn Sometimes anglicised to "island" as a prefix e.g. Island Davaar
ey, ea, e.g., eig OE eg island Romsey,[26] Athelney, Ely cf. Low German -oog as in Langeoog
ey OE haeg enclosure Hornsey,[27] Hay (-on-Wye) separate meaning to -ey 'island' - see above
field OE open land, a forest clearing Sheffield,[28] Huddersfield, Wakefield, Mansfield, Macclesfield, Mirfield, Chesterfield, Murrayfield, Whitefield, Lichfield, Driffield suffix cf. ger. Feld
fin SG white, holy Findochty prefix anglicised from 'fionn'
firth OE wood or woodland Holmfirth, Chapel-en-le-Frith[29] suffix
firth[7] ON fjord, inlet Burrafirth, Firth of Forth from Norse fjorðr
ford, forth OE ford, crossing Bradford, Ampleforth, Watford, Salford, Castleford, Guildford, Stafford, Chelmsford, Dartford, Bideford, Knutsford, Burford, Sleaford cf. ger. -furt as in Frankfurt am Main
fos, foss L, OE ditch River Foss, Fangfoss[30] Separate from ON 'foss, force' - see below
foss, force[7] ON waterfall Aira Force, High Force. Hardraw Force Separate from L/OE 'fos, foss' - see above
gate ON road Gate Helmsley,[31] Harrogate
garth[7] ON enclosure Aysgarth cf. ger. -gart as in Stuttgart
gill, ghyll[7] ON ravine, narrow gully Gillamoor, Garrigill, Dungeon Ghyll
glen[4] SG, I narrow valley, dale Rutherglen, Glenarm, Corby Glen anglicised from gleann
gowt[32][33] Water outfall, sluice, drain Guthram Gowt, Anton's Gowt First ref gives the word as the local pronunciation of go out; Second as 'A water-pipe under the ground. A sewer. A flood-gate, through which the marsh-water runs from the reens into the sea.'. Reen is a Somerset word, not used in the Fens. Gout appears to be cognate with the French égout, sewer. Though the modern mind associates the word 'sewer' with foul water, it was not always necessarily so.[34]
ham OE farm, homestead, [settlement] Rotherham,[35] Newham, Nottingham, Tottenham, Oldham, Newsham, Faversham, West Ham, Birmingham, Lewisham, Gillingham, Chatham, Chippenham, Cheltenham, Buckingham, Evesham, Wrexham, Dereham, Altrincham, Durham, Billingham, Hexham [36] suffix often confused by hamm, an enclosure; cf. nl. hem and ger. Heim
hithe, hythe OE wharf, place for landing boats Rotherhithe,[37] Hythe, Erith
holm OE island Holmfirth, Hempholme[38]
hope OE valley, enclosed area Woolhope, Glossop[39] cf. ger. Hof
howe ON haugr mound, hill, knoll, Howe, Norfolk, Howe, North Yorkshire[40]
hurst OE (wooded) hill Dewhurst, Woodhurst, Lyndhurst[41] cf. ger. Horst
inch I, SG Island, dry area in marsh. Inchmarnock, Insch, Keith Inch cf. W. ynys
ing OE ingas people of Reading,[42] the people (followers) of Reada, Spalding, the people of Spald, Wapping, Kettering, Worthing, Dorking, Barking, Epping[43] Woking, Pickering suffix sometimes survives in an apparent plural form e.g. Hastings;[44] also, often combined with 'ham' or 'ton'; 'homestead of the people of' (e.g. Birmingham, Bridlington); cf. nl. and ger. -ing(en) as in Groningen, Göttingen, or Straubing
ing OE place, small stream Lockinge[45] suffix difficult to distinguish from -ingas without examination of early place-name forms.
inver, inner[4] SG mouth of (a river), confluence, a meeting of waters Inverness, Inveraray, Innerleithen prefix cf. aber.
keld ON spring Keld, Threlkeld[46]
keth, cheth C wood Penketh, Culcheth[22] suffix cf. W. 'coed'
kil[4] SG, I monastic cell, old church Kilmarnock, Killead, Kilkenny prefix anglicised from Cill
kin[4] SG, I head Kincardine, Kinallen prefix anglicised from Ceann
king OE/ON king, tribal leader King's Norton, King's Lynn,[47] Kingston, Kingston Bagpuize, Coningsby[48]
kirk[7] ON church Kirkwall, Ormskirk, Colkirk, Falkirk
Further information: Kirk (placename element)
cf. ger -kirch as in Altkirch
knock I, SG hill Knockhill, Knock, County Clare, Knock, Isle of Lewis, Knockentiber
Further information: Kirk (placename element)
anglicised from cnoc
kyle, kyles[4] SG narrows Kyle of Lochalsh, Kyles of Bute prefix anglicised from Caol and caolas
lan, lhan, llan[1] C, K, P, W church, churchyard, village with church, parish Lanteglos (Cornwall), Lhanbryde (Moray), Lanercost, Llanbedr Pont Steffan, Llanybydder, Llandudno, Llanelli, Llangefni, Llangollen prefix,
Further information: Llan (placename element)
lang OE long Langdale,[49] Great Langton, Kings Langley prefix cf. ger. -langen as in Erlangen
law, low OE from hlaw, a rounded hill Charlaw, Tow Law, Lewes, Ludlow[50] often standalone often a hill with a barrow or hillocks on its summit
le NF? from archaic French lès,[51] in the vicinity of, near to Chester-le-Street interfix Hartlepool appears to contain le by folk etymology; older spellings show no such element.
lea, ley, leigh OE from leah, a woodland clearing Barnsley,[52] Hadleigh, Leigh, Beverley (usually) suffix cf. nl. -loo as in Waterloo, ger. -loh as in Gütersloh
lin, llyn[1] C, W lake (or simply water) Lindow, Lindefferon, Llyn Brianne, Pen Llyn usually prefix
ling, lyng OE heather Lingmell
magna L great Appleby Magna, Chew Magna, Wigston Magna Primarily a medieval affectation
mere OE lake, pool Windermere,[53] Grasmere, Cromer,[54] Tranmere
minster OE large church, monastery Westminster, Wimborne Minster, Leominster, Kidderminster, Minster Lovell, Ilminster[55] cf. ger. Münster
more I, SG large, great Dunmore, Lismore, Strathmore Anglicised from Mòr
moss OE Swamp, bog Mossley, Lindow Moss, Moss Side[56] cf. ger. Moos
mouth ME Mouth (of a river), bay Plymouth, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Monmouth, Sidmouth, Weymouth suffix cf. ger. Münden or Gemünd
mynydd[1] W mountain Mynydd Moel prefix
nan, nans K valley Nancledra (Cornwall) prefix
nant[1] C, W ravine or the stream in it Nantgarw, Nantwich prefix same origin as nan, nans above
ness[7] OE, ON promontory, headland (literally 'nose') Sheerness, Skegness, Furness suffix
nor OE north Norton, Norbury, Norwich[57] prefix
pant[1] W a hollow Pant Glas, Pant (Merthyr Tydfil), Pant (Shropshire)
parva L little Appleby Parva, Wigston Parva, Ruston Parva, Glen Parva, Thornham Parva
pen[1] C, K, W head (headland or hill) Penzance, Pendle, Penrith, Penarth, Pencoed, Penmaen, Pengam prefix also Pedn in W. Cornwall
pit P portion, share, farm Pitlochry (Perthshire), Pitmedden prefix homologous with K peath
pol C, K pool or lake Polperro, Polruan, Polzeath prefix
pont[1] L, K, W bridge Pontypridd, Pontypool prefix can also be found in its mutated form bont, e.g., Pen-y-bont (Bridgend); originally from Latin pons
pool harbour Liverpool, Blackpool, Hartlepool, Welshpool[58] suffix
porth[1] K, W harbour Porthcawl, Porthgain, Porthaethwy prefix
port ME port, harbour Davenport, Southport, Stockport, Bridport, Newport, Maryport, Ellesmere Port suffix
shaw OE a wood Penshaw, Openshaw, Wythenshawe, Shaw[59] standalone or suffix a fringe of woodland
shep, ship OE sheep Shepshed, Shepton Mallet, Shipton, Shipley prefix
stan OE stone, stony Stanmore, Stamford,[60] Stanlow prefix cf. ger. Stein
stead OE place, enclosed pasture Hampstead, Berkhamsted, Hemel Hempstead[61] suffix cf. ger. Stadt or -stätt as in Eichstätt
ster[7] ON farm Lybster, Scrabster suffix cf. -bost from (bol)staðr
stoke OE stoc dependent farmstead, secondary settlement Stoke-on-Trent,[62] Stoke Damerel, Basingstoke, Stoke Mandeville (usually) standalone
stow OE (holy) place (of assembly) Stow-on-the-Wold,[63] Padstow, Bristol,[64] Stowmarket
strath[4] SG wide valley, vale Strathmore (Angus) prefix derived from srath (but conflated with Brythonic "Ystrad")
streat, street L, OE road (Roman) Spital-in-the-Street, Chester-le-Street, Streatham derived from strata, L. 'paved road'
sud, sut OE south Sudbury,[65] Sutton prefix
swin OE pigs, swine Swindon, Swinford, Swinton[66]
tarn ON lake Tarnock In modern English, usually a glacial lake in a coombe.
thorp, thorpe ON secondary settlement Cleethorpes,[67] Thorpeness, Scunthorpe, Armthorpe, Bishopthorpe, Mablethorpe an outlier of an earlier settlement.
Further information: Thorp
cf. ger. Dorf
thwaite, twatt[7] ON thveit a forest clearing with a dwelling, or parcel of land Huthwaite, Twatt, Slaithwaite, Thornthwaite, Braithwaite suffix
tre[1] C, K, W settlement Trevose Head, Tregaron, Trenear, Treorchy, Treherbert, Trealaw, Treharris, Trehafod, Tredegar prefix
tilly[4] SG hillock Tillicoultry, Tillydrone prefix
toft[7] ON homestead Lowestoft, Fishtoft, Langtoft (Lincs), Langtoft (ER of Yorks), Wigtoft usually suffix
treath K beach Tywardreath
tun, ton OE tun enclosure, estate, homestead Tunstead, Warrington, Brighton,[68] Coniston, Clacton, Everton, Broughton, Luton, Merton, Bolton, Workington, Preston, Bridlington, Stockton-on-Tees, Taunton, Boston, Kensington, Paddington, Crediton, Honiton, Northampton, Southampton, Paignton, Tiverton, Helston, Wolverhampton, Buxton, Congleton, Darlington, Northallerton OE pronunciation 'toon'. Compare en. town, nl. tuin (garden) and ger. Zaun (fence); all derived from Germanic root 'tun
upon ME by/"upon" a river Newcastle upon Tyne, Stratford-upon-Avon, Burton upon Trent, Berwick-upon-Tweed interfix
weald, wold OE high woodland Wealdstone, Stow-on-the-Wold,[63] Southwold, Easingwold, Methwold, Cuxwold, Hockwold cf. ger. Wald
wick, wich, wych, wyke L, OE place, settlement Ipswich, Norwich, Alnwick, West Bromwich, Nantwich, Prestwich, Northwich, Woolwich, Horwich, Middlewich, Harwich, Bloxwich, Hammerwich, Sandwich, Aldwych, Gippeswyk, Heckmondwike suffix related to Latin 'vicus' (place), cf. nl. 'wijk'
wick[7] ON vik bay Warwick, Wick, Lerwick, Winwick, Barnoldswick, Keswick, Prestwick, North Berwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Goodwick, Glodwick, Ardwick, Beswick, Walberswick suffix cf. Jorvik (modern York)
whel C mine or cave Wheldrake
win Bry (unknown) Winchester, Wimborne (earlier Winborne) prefix "uenta-" attested in Roman period.
worth, worthy, wardine OE enclosure Tamworth,[69] Farnworth, Rickmansworth, Nailsworth, Kenilworth, Lutterworth, Bedworth, Letchworth, Halesworth, Wirksworth, Whitworth, Cudworth, Haworth, Holsworthy, Bredwardine usually suffix
ynys[1] W Island Ynys Mon (Anglesey)

See also


External links

  • The Scottish Place-Name Society
  • An Index to the Historical Place Names of Cornwall
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