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List of generic forms in British place names
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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 relative to British place names please refer to British toponymy.

This list gives a number of common generic forms found in British place names. It is not uncommon to find a number of these in combinative compounds. An interesting example of place naming is Torpenhow Hill, in Cumbria; the name seems to have grown by waves of new inhabitants using the name given by the previous occupants, and adding to it: the three syllables, tor, pen, how, each mean "hill" in a different language. Moreover, there are a number of ambiguities, corruptions in spelling over the year, changes in meaning, etc. to further complicate the issue.

In places where the Danelaw prevailed and there is uncertainty over the origin of a place name, it is common sense to prefer the Viking meaning to the Anglo-Saxon, often, however, the two are coterminous. Taking Askrigg in Yorkshire, for example, "a place where ash trees grew", while the spelling of asc is indubitably Nordic, had the place been further south it could easily have represented a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon ash.

Unlike e.g. Anglo-Saxon place names, Cornish place names are resolved in reverse order, e.g. Tregonebris is Tre + Conebris i.e. "the settlement of Cunebris"

The terms Old English language and Anglo-Saxon language are fundamentally equivalent in meaning and represent the hybrid Germanic non-Celtic, non-Nordic, language between the Roman abandonment of Britain, and up to about 100 years after the Norman invasion in 1066.

See also: List of British place names and their meanings, English Place-Name Society

Key to languages: L - Latin/Roman; OE - Old English; V - Viking/Norse; W - Welsh; SG - Scots Gaelic; P - Pictish; K - Cornish

British Place Names
Term Origin Meaning Example Position Comments
aber W,P,K mouth of (a river), confluence, a meeting of waters Aberystwyth, Aberdyfi, Aberdeen prefix  
ac, acc OE acorn alt. association with oak Accrington, Acomb    
afon W,SG,K river Aberafon   afon is pronounced "AA von". A number of UK rivers are named "Avon"
ay (also ey) V island Ramsay, Lundy, Orkney Islands suffix (usually)  
axe, exe OE from isca, meaning water Exeter, River Axe, River Exe, River Usk, Axminster, Axmouth, etc    
beck V stream Holbeck, Beckinsale, Costa Beck, Cod Beck    
Bex OE box, the tree Bexley, Kent Bexhill-on-Sea (the OE name of Bexhill-on-Sea was Bexelei, a glade where box grew.    
bourne OE brook, stream Bournemouth, Sittingbourne    
bre OE hill Bredon prefix  
bury OE stronghold, fort Aylesbury, Banbury suffix  
by V settlement, village Grimsby suffix  
canter L sung, from cantare Canterbury prefix  
carden P thicket Kincardine, Cardenden suffix  
caster, cester, chester, caer L, W camp, fortification Lancaster, Doncaster, Gloucester, Caister, Caerdydd, Caerleon, Manchester suffix Also can be corrupted e.g. Uttoxeter
Chipping, Cheap- OE Market Chipping Norton, Chipping Campden, Chippenham   Also as part of a street name eg Cheapside
cwm W valley Cwmbran prefix  
King OE Cyning King, tribal leader King's Norton, Kingston, Kingston Bagpuize    
dale V valley Airedale, the valley of the river Aire suffix Used in Yorkshire
deanas OE valley Croydon, Dean Village suffix The geography is often the only indicator as to the original root word (cf. don, a hill)
don OE hill Bredon suffix  
fax OE, V fair, pale Halifax    
Fin P Hill (?) Findochty prefix Possibly related to Pen
glen SG Valley Rutherglen    
ham OE settlement, town Oldham suffix Often confused by hamm, an enclosure
hurst OE wooded hill Dewhurst    
ing OE: ingas descendants or followers of Reading i.e. the subjects of Reada suffix sometimes survives in an apparent plural form e.g. Hastings
Inver SG mouth of (a river), confluence, a meeting of waters Inverness prefix  
Kin SG Head Kincardine prefix  
Lan, Lhan, Llan K, P, W church, church-site Llanteglos, Cornwall, Lhanbryde, Moray Llanfair PG prefix  
Law OE from hlaw, a rounded hill Charlaw Warden Law (usually) standalone often a hill with a barrow or hillocks on its summit
lea, ley OE derived from leah, a woodland clearing Wembley (usually) suffix  
Mon P ? Moniave prefix  
nan, nans K valley Nancledra, Cornwall prefix  
nant W stream Nantgarw prefix  
pen K, W, OE hill Penzance, Cornwall prefix  
pit P farm Pitlochry, Perthshire prefix  
pol K pool or lake Polperro, Cornwall prefix  
pont L, K, W bridge Pontypridd prefix Can also be found in its unmutated form "bont", e.g Pen-Y-Bont (Bridgend); originally from Latin pons
shaw V a wood; is a corruption of howe (cf.) Penshaw Standalone or suffix  
Stoke OE stoc Dependent farmstead, settlement Stoke-on-Trent, Stoke Damerell (Usually) standalone  
Strath P Valley Strathmore, Angus prefix  
thorp, thorpe V village, settlement Cleethorpes, Thorpeness    
thwaite V thveit a forest clearing with a dwelling Huthwaite suffix  
tre K settlement Trevose Head prefix  
Tilly SG hill Tillicoultry, Tillydrone prefix  
tun, ton V, OE: tun enclosure, farmstead, manor, estate Tunstead, Tonbridge i.e. the bridge of the estate; Charlton (AS: ceorla-tun, "farmstead of the churls")    

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