The USA is certainly a big country! Place names in the USA may appear to lack much of the ancient history which enriches the name of even the smallest village on “the other side of the pond”, but they are perhaps equally as diverse.
Many areas of the USA have English names given by the early settlers and explorers. The original 13 Eastern states were, in fact, British Colonies – New England. Other places have names of Spanish origin as a consequence of early Spanish and later Mexican settlers. Many of these names relate to the natural history of the areas. For example, Alamos (New Mexico) derives its name from the Alamo tree and Colarado is named after the red mud of the river bed. In San Francisco Bay, the simultaneously infamous and popular Island of Alcatraz was named after the large colonies of pelicans (alcatraces) that originally lived there.
USA is a relatively young country and there is a plethora of places with names radiating a novel, feel-good side to them. In Kentucky, you can find Smileyberg and Connecticutt offers us Happyland!
The Big Rock Candy Mountains in Vermont may be famous from musical lyrics, but represent just one of many places with a food related name e.g. Hot Coffee and Good Food are both towns found in Mississippi. Some of the names really are thought provoking. Who named a Texan town Looneyville……..and why?
Embarrassing, informative or mysterious, the labels given to the places we visit are a part of our cultural heritage. More familiar names date back to Roman times. Later information in the Doomsday Book written nearly two years after the Norman invasion of England provides a rich source of information.
The early appearance of a place may be gleaned from its name e.g. Sandwell or Ludwell referring to springs or streams at these locations. Settlements developed at sites where rivers could be crossed. These were fords. For example, at Salford (NW England) or Aylesford (SE England). Salford is recorded as a “river crossing where sallow trees grow” whereas Aylesford is the sight of one of the first bridges over the River Medway.
The cities of Manchester (near Salford) and Rochester (close to the River Medway), like the City of Chester are sights were Roman forts once existed. In Essex, Chesterford dates back to a “ford by a Roman fort”.
Sibford (Oxfordshire) is recorded as the “ford of a man called Sibbs”. Place names may also show early ownership of land (“ham” referring to homestead). Westerham (Kent) refers to a westerly homestead and Birmingham (described by many as England’s second city) was originally the “homestead of a man called Beorma”.
Language changes and cities grow, but what’s in a name remains a link to fascinating history.
The UK has a diverse and sometimes bewildering array of place names. They originate from Celt, Roman, Anglo Saxon, Viking and Norman settlers.
In 1066, the Norman invaders forced the existing Pagans to the periphery of the country. The Normans made only minor impact on UK place names. Even the Romans were largely impotent at affecting place names. (300 terms of Roman origin being commonly used).
The earliest UK place names relate to rivers where settlements originated. The Celts added descriptions to these. Gaelic speaking tribes occupied much of Wales and Ireland. So Aber meant the mouth of a river e.g. Aberarth in mid-Wales. A cair referred to a fortified town e.g. Carlisle in Cumbria and glen, a narrow mountain valley, e.g. Glencoe (Scotland) through which flows the River Coe.
The Anglo Saxons succeeded the Romans. Consequently, Old English terms are found in places where Saxons settled in the central, south and west of UK. Didcott (Oxfordshire) deriving from cot meaning cottage: Swindon from dun meaning hill and Birmingham from ham meaning homestead.
The Vikings too had their influence on the names of places they plundered. Ormskirk derived from kirkja meaning church and Patterdale (Cumbria) from dalr meaning a dale or valley.