Friday, 7 December 2007

What's in a name - part 2

Thinking of the funny names people sometimes have - and I forgot the chap who is rather wonderfully called 'Friend Wood' - also made me think of place names.

I remember being delighted as a child when we passed a signpost pointing one way to Ham Sandwich, while Pea Green was in the other direction. We also lived near the delightfully named Wyre Piddle, Grafton Flyford, Libbery and Upton Snodsbury. The thing is, I never thought they were funny when I lived near them. Now, living in Wales, I think they are hilarious.

That part of Worcestershire has some lovely names. My primary school was in Himbleton, a lovely bimbling sort of a name, pleasant in the mouth, rather like Ombersley which isn't all that far away. Imagine a Grundy saying those on the Archers (and we are talking Archers country here) and you know why the rural Worcestershire accent sounds like it does!

Many of the names pop up in David Mitchell's wonderful book 'Black Swan Green' which is an evocative tale of a Worcestershire childhood. Here the author uses the village names as names for people, such as a Mr Ockeridge. It's a really good read anyway, but knowledge of that particular part of the world turns the book into an absolute joy.

Now I live in an area with names almost incomprehensible to the non-Welsh, such as Mynachlogddu and Eglwyswrw. I was once told by the manager (yes, we had got that far) when I rang the AA for insurance that my house name couldn't possibly exist. It isn't a word, apparently. What a cheek!

At least, in Welsh, the place names mean something. Maenclochog, for example, means stone (Maen), ringing (clochog). A lovely little cottage nearby is called 'Travel' which has evolved from 'Ty'r Efail'. In England it would be called 'The Smithy'.

And that is another bugbear. People do move into the area, which is fine. But when they then immediately change their house name from something Welsh, such as 'Felin', into the English 'Mill', they don't exactly win friends or endear themselves to the local people. A delivery driver called round last week with a parcel. He then was looking for somewhere in the village called 'Little Stream'. He had no idea. He then worked out that what he was looking for was 'Fynnon Bach'. Ah ha! He's non-Welsh speaking too, but speaks 'place name Welsh'.

I do feel a little sorry for friends and relatives, though, particularly at this Christmas card-writing time of year. They do their best. Poor old Grandad Bob, for example, sends his letters to a mish-mash of our address, ending in 'Penbrookshire'. Close enough. Most try to make English sense out of the Welsh by adding a vowel or two, here and there, to make it more acceptable to the English palate. Our postman manages to find us, although sometimes we get letters with blue biro notes on saying things like: "NOT Carmarthenshire" or "near Maenclochog".

I once did a news story about a letter which was delivered to a woman in Fishguard. It had come all the way from Germany, if memory serves me correctly. The front of the envelope included a head and shoulders photograph of the woman, and the words: This Lady, Fishguard, Wales. It took only a day or so to reach her. Clever old Postie!


  1. I have to say that Welsh place names totally defeat me! But then, I would never move there and change a Welsh name. Some of them sound so lyrical and run like a stream out of Welsh-speakers mouths, but I just manage a mouthful of consonants. I love old village names - Dorset's got some great ones - the best one near here is 'Six Mile Bottom'. Glad I don't live there.

  2. What a clever postman - I wonder what the lady thought when she received the letter.

  3. Clever postman and a lovely blog!

  4. Hello from very urban New York to you Preseli M.

    Just dipping into this blog refreshes me. I so love place names, and all sorts of words. I once told a Parisian lady with whom I tried to resussitate my expiring French, that sometimes I just guessed at proper French endings of nouns and verbs, chosing what sounded better.

    She concurred with my decision, which was based on the notion that we do need to speak to each other. And whatever the language, what comes easiest may be the choice that history records.

    (Verbal version of what Casdok may have been getting at when her recent blog explored the notion of weeds.)

    If the ever sinking dollar ever gets any levitation, I so want to travel again across the Atlantic, and finally, get to Wales and ... to Ireland. Told you I like the sound of words.


  5. What a great post! Chopper is a postie, I think he'd enjoy reading this too, will point him this way later.

  6. Like SM, I have to admit to be very poor at Welsh place names, my middle one is great as she is dyslectic and used to do Toe by Toe, which is a phonic reading system, most of the words in it are like Welsh words

  7. I really identified with this as I am taking great pleasure with my fledgling welsh in just starting to be able to translate welsh place names. I have always loved the names of England too "Pity me" in County Durham, "Zeal Monachorum" near my parents in Devon.

  8. I had a friend who lived on the Isles of Scilly and who received a letter with nothing more than a drawing of the island and a cross marking the spot where the house stood! xx

  9. E's aunt lives at Wyre Piddle! But one of the dodgiest, which I cannot spell for the life of me, but I'm talking about requiring most careful pronounciation, and that's Maccyncleth (where the alternative centre for techology is)!

  10. and, d'oh! have just got Jenny Taylor. And Teresa Green. Deary me. So slow.


I am sorry to have to add word verification thing again but I keep getting spammed.