Institute for Name-Studies

Key to English Place-Names

The Institute for Name-Studies (INS) has just launched Key to English Place-Names, an online resource which gives the history of the place-names of more than 16,000 cities, towns and villages across England. 

The University's Web Technologies team, who developed the web-based Key is also responsible for the smartphone app, which uses GPS to find out the origins of the place names closest to your current position.

Arranged by county, the Key takes the form of a map which users can click on to find the historical origins of their chosen place-name. A brief moment spent exploring the site reveals for example, that Kirkby Stephen in Westmorland is a village with a church (from Old Norse kirkju-býr) dedicated to St Stephen. Or that Godmanchester in Huntingdonshire means ‘Godmund’s Roman site’, probably referring to the Roman fortification south of the Ouse.

The site breaks down each place-name into the languages of which it’s made. For instance, Coppingford, in Huntingdonshire, is a mixture of Old Norse (kaup-maðr ‘a merchant, a trader’) and Old English ford to  translate as ‘merchants’ ford’. Other languages featured on the site include Old, Middle and Modern English, Latin, Old French, Old Norse and Celtic.

“Place is a major part of identity,” said Dr Jayne Carroll. “There are very few people who are not interested in what the name of their home town or village might mean. Place-names are a fascinating and unusual way to learn more about your area’s history.

“The names of villages and towns frequently refer to particular peoples, social and administrative activities, landscape, birds and animals, crops and vegetation, and most of them are well over a thousand years old. In other words, they can tell us something important about the history of those places, and how they were perceived, which would otherwise be unknown.”

Download the smartphone app through iTunes.

Posted on Tuesday 15th December 2015

School of English

The University of Nottingham
Nottingham NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5919
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 7526