English place names typically have their roots in Old English, Anglian, or Gaelic descriptions of the area itself, or an ancient lord’s name, or the most notable structure around, like a castle, road, church, or disco. The study of place names is called Topononononandonomy, or Toponomastics, or “you know, that thing people do when they study why places are called what they’re called” for short.

The University of Nottingham has a doohickey you can use to look up the root meaning of English place-names. Here is a glossary of place-name elements in the Domesday book, listed by major historical groups.

Medomsley

There are two possibilities for this name. It could from medume+leah, meaning middle wood/clearing (leah can refer to a wood, a clearing, or a meadow), or the “Medom” part could be derived from the name Maethhelm.

Medomsley Road on a typical midsummer’s day. Photo by Robert Graham

Kyo

Kyo was once a contender for the role of Imperial Capital of Japan, but eventually they chose Tokyo for convenience’s sake, which is fair enough; commuting from Japan to County Durham is a bit of a hassle.  The name is derived from Old English cu+hoh, which means cow hill (hoh also meant heel, and it was common for words that described body parts to be used for geographical features as well). Given that most hills in those days would have had cows on them, I wonder how they agreed on who got to call their hill “cow hill”? Was there a lottery? Did they mud wrestle for the honour? Did the cows vote?

Not the original cows. Photo by Oliver Dixon

Iveston

Ifa was a moneyer, a man with permission from the king to mint coins, and -ston is from the Old English stan, meaning stone. In those days, coins were hand made. Did Ifa keep his coins under a big rock? Is that rock still in place, and are the coins still there? How much is an old English coin worth in bitcoin today?

Photo by Christine Johnstone

Whittonstall

This name come from the Old English cwic + tūn-stall. Cwic means quickset hedge, and tūn-stall is a farm. Quicksetting was a common technique of putting Hawthorn or Hazel cuttings straight into the soil, where they would take root. “Quick” in this sense means living, not fast, although both of those plants do grow pretty fast.

Could this be what’s left of the original hedge of Whittonstall? Probably not. Photo by Clive Nicholson

Do you know of an interesting place name around Consett? Let us know in the comments below.


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