A Children's Guide to Shropshire Place-Names
Place-names that sound funny!
There are lots of funny-sounding place-names. Wulfwynn says you might be surprised when you find out what they really mean! You have probably already seen some on signposts as you travel around the county. Shropshire has lots – take a look at these:
Oh, this sounds like a place that was named after a character from The Simpsons! But Wulfwynn is giggling – she says that in fact it has absolutely nothing to do with the boys’ name
Homer, or with cartoon people: it means ‘the pond in a hollow’. Homer is a name that was originally written down in Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons. So, not quite as exciting as being named after a TV cartoon star, but then medieval people didn’t have TV, and knowing where to find the nearest pond was quite important!
You are probably conjuring up all sorts of images now – I know that I am. Does this name relate to a panting dog, perhaps, Wulfwynn? Or maybe a pair of pants? Wulfwynn says that if you speak Welsh, you may have already guessed what this name means, because pant is the Welsh word for ‘valley’. Ah! So some Shropshire names have Welsh origins!
‘Knock knock.’ … ‘Knock knock.’ … ‘KNOCK KNOCK!’ I keep on knockin’, but there’s no-one there! Yes, I know, that was a terrible joke. But what on earth does Knockin mean, Wulfwynn? Believe it or not, she says, it means ‘the small hill’. It’s from another Welsh word – cnycyn. Are you beginning to get the impression that there are a lot of Welsh words in Shropshire place-names? Well, Wulfwynn says that you’d be right! Why do you think that was?
Now that is a really funny name! I’m sure that right now, all of you have a picture in your head of one of those fancy seventeenth-century powdered wigs. I know I have. Well, apparently, we can forget all about that, because
Wulfwynn says that Wigwig (which is near Homer) has absolutely nothing to do with wigs! Astonishingly, it means ‘Wicga’s dairy-farm’. Wicga must have been the name of an Anglo-Saxon man who owned the farm. And one of the Old English words for farm was wic. So now it is easy to see how Wicga’s wic became Wigwig. Thank you Wulfwynn!
Come on Wulfwynn! There can’t really be a place called Custard in Shropshire, can there? Have you just slipped that in here to see if we’re paying attention? Wulfwynn is shaking her head – no, she hasn’t. Well then, Custard sounds like a place that needs investigating very thoroughly indeed – it’s making me feel very hungry! I wonder if it’s next to a place called Rhubarb..? Uh-oh, Wulfwynn is sighing at me. She says that Custard is in fact the name of a field in Tugford. Originally, it was probably an Old English word – cot-stow – which meant ‘cottage site’. I wonder if they made custard there..?
Ooh, that sounds like it must have been a dangerous place – are you sure you’ve put this in the right section of the book, Wulfwynn? Wouldn’t it be better in the ‘scary-sounding places’ section? No, no – Wulfwynn says that it is a perfectly nice, safe place-name – nothing frightening to see here. Can you see that this name is made up of two words? Each of these words tells us something about this village. The first part of the name, Neen, is a very ancient river-name. It is the old name for the River Rea, that runs through the parish. This part of the name is super-old, and it pre-dates the Anglo-Saxons! The second part of the name, Savage, isn’t scary, but it relates to the name of the medieval family who owned the village just after the Normans arrived in 1066. Before they arrived, the village was simply called Neen! So this name tells us about two different stages in the history of Neen Savage!
What have we learned?
These funny names have taught us quite a lot about Shropshire. We’ve learned quite a bit about medieval Shropshire, and some of the Anglo-Saxons who came here. Some Shropshire place-names use Welsh words, which tells us that people who spoke Welsh also lived in Shropshire in the past. Some of the names tell us about Shropshire’s landscape, and suggest that it was important to the people who lived there. We have learned that river-names are usually very old, and that they were significant enough to survive for many hundreds of years. And we have found out about some of the buildings that we might have expected to see in medieval Shropshire, like cottages and farms, and what they were used for, like the dairy farm at Wigwig. Finally, we have discovered that sometimes names are not fixed, but that they can change, like at Neen Savage. Such a lot of information from just a few names. Shall we go and explore some more?
What shall we look at next?
just click on the links below to go to each chapter!