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.