Dorset Place-Names

Dorset Place-Names

Place-names of Celtic origin are rare in Dorset, as everywhere where Welsh gave way early to English and upland settlements to valley villages. All those recognised, and some doubtfuls, are on the map, and their meanings are as follows:

Chideock woody (coediog)

Creech hill or barrow (cruc) ,

Crichel cruc plus English ‘hill’

Dewlish black stream (elsewhere Dawlish)

Dorchester Roman—British Dumovaria (? dorn gweir, ‘place of the fist-play’) plus English ‘chester’, meaning a walled town.

Iwerne either Celtic ‘yew river’ or English ‘yew wood’

Lytchett grey wood (elsewhere Roman-British Letocetum)

Mayne stone (maen) probably referring to local megaliths

Pentridge hill-top (pen cruc) (elsewhere Roman-British Penno-crucium)

Pimperne five trees (pimp pren)

Most of the river—names remain Celtic, and originally described the river:

Trent, Tarrant liable to flood; .

Frome briskly flowing; Bride gushing;

Stour powerful; Char, Ceme (earlier Chern) stony;

Divelish (and corruption ‘Devil’s Brook’) black stream;

Toller deep valley;

Axe (compare Exe, Esk, Usk) simply means water.

Dorset was settled too late to have any names derived from pagan English gods or holy places, and only one (Gillingham) has the ‘-ingaham’ element which shows early group settlement. A few contain names of pre—Conquest lords: Gillingham commemorates Gylla, Osmington Osmund, Tolpuddle Tola (wife of Orc, founder of Abbotsbury Abbey), Bexington Beorhtsige, and Askerswell Osgar.

Names ending in -ton or -ham, meaning village or homestead, are common, and so are those containing ‘don’ (hill), ‘mor’ (mere or pond), ‘combe’ (valley), and ‘borne’ (stream). Others refer to local man made features.

The meanings of most of those shown on the map follow:

Ashmore pond with ash trees

Beer (Bere) grove or pasture

Blandord gudgeon ford (a)

Buckland ‘bookland’ – land held by charter

Burton (formerly Brideton) — settlement on the Bride – ‘

Chaldon calves’ hill

Compton settlement in valley

Corfe gap in hills (also in Coryates, Corton)

Corscombe valley of the pass or ‘corfe’

Gussage stream from spring

Haselbury hazel grove

Hilton hill settlement

Langton long village

Mappowder maple tree

Melbury mill by the hill

Morden hill fen

Motcombe valley where moots were held

Mullen (and‘Mel, Mil) — mill

Okeford ford with oak-trees

Pilsdon Peofel’s? hill Poole pool (probably the harbour)

Sherborne clear stream

Stickland steep lane

Sutton southern settlement

Swanage village of the swans (or herdsmen)

Thorncombe thorny valley

Wareham settlement by the weir

Whitchurch church of St Wite

Wimborne meadow by the stream

Winterbome stream flowing only or mainly in winter

Woolcombe well or stream in the valley

Dorset is particularly rich in double-barrelled place-names. These generally consist of an original Saxon name with an added ‘surname’ showing either post-Conquest ownership, the church dedication, or some local characteristic. Many villages took their first name from the river on which they stood, and an addition was needed to tell one from another. Personal names of French origin are exceptionally common, and may often be traced to actual families or individuals who were at some time lords of the manor. Latin suffixes showing royal or Church ownership also occur frequently: regis (king’s), abbas (abbot), fratrum: (friars, or brothers’), and canonicorum (canons’) while Toller Porcorum is a latin version of the original Swine’s Teller. Burton Bradstock was a possession of Bradenstoke Abbey. Sometimes the English form prevails, as in Abbotsbury, Monkton, and Friar Mayne. Monastic ownership was also responsible for the curious name ‘Sixpenny Handley’: its two elements were once separate Hundreds which became united because they both belonged to Shaftesbury Abbey, and Sixpenny is apparently Anglo—Celtic for ‘knife hill’.

Names may change with time and to find the original meaning one must look for the earliest known form. This has been done in Ekwall’s Dictionary of English Place-Names, and for Dorset in particular in Fagersten’s Place-Names of Dorset, where details will be found of all those which there is no room to mention here.