Celtic toponymy

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Celtic toponymy is the study of place names wholly or partially of Celtic origin. These names are found throughout continental Europe, the British Isles, Anatolia and, latterly, through various other parts of the globe not originally occupied by Celts.

Celtic languages[edit]

Main article: Proto-Celtic language

The Proto-Indo-European language developed into various daughter languages, including the Proto-Celtic language. In Proto-Celtic ("PC"), the Proto-Indo-European ("PIE") sound *p disappeared, perhaps through an intermediate *ɸ. After that, languages derived from Proto-Celtic changed PC *kw into either *p or *k (see: P-Celtic and Q-Celtic languages). In P-Celtic languages, PC *kw changed into *p. In Q-Celtic dialects it developed into /k/. Modern Celticists believe these changes happened after the split between Insular Celtic languages and the Continental Celtic languages.

P-Celtic languages include the Continental Gaulish language and the Brittonic branch of Insular Celtic. Common Brittonic is the ancestor of Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

Ancient Q-Celtic languages include the Continental Celtiberian and the Goidelic branch of Insular Celtic. Goidelic is the ancestor of the Gaelic languages Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.

Frequent elements[edit]

  • Celtic *briga 'hill, high place' > Irish brí 'hill'
  • Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated'; used as a feminine divine name, rendered Brigantia in Latin
  • Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'
  • Celtic *dūnon 'fortress' > Irish dún 'fortress', cf. Welsh dinas 'city'
  • Celtic *dūro- 'fort'
  • Celtic *kwenno- 'head' > Brythonic *penn-, Welsh pen 'head, end, chief, supreme', Irish ceann 'head'
  • Celtic *magos 'field, plain', Irish magh 'plain'
  • Celtic *windo- 'white, fair, blessed' > Welsh gwyn / gwen 'white, blessed', Old Irish find, Irish fionn 'fair'

Continental Celtic[edit]

Austria[edit]

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

From Celtic *windo- 'white' (Welsh gwyn) + *bona 'base, foundation' (Welsh bôn 'base, bottom, stump')

Belgium[edit]

From divine name Arduinna, from Celtic *ardu- 'high' (Irish ard) + Latin silva 'forest'

France[edit]

Most of the main cities in France have a Celtic name (the original Gaulish one or the name of the Gaulish tribe); however, in Provence, there are sometimes Greek or Latin names, and in the Basque Country there are Basque names.

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

From Celtic *diwo- 'god, holy, divine' (Scottish Gaelic dia 'god') + *dūro- 'fort'

From Celtic *lug- 'Lugus' (divine name) or perhaps 'light' + *dūnon 'fortress'

First element from Celtic *lemo- 'elm'.

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

"Bridge on the [river] Somme". River name Samara + Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'.

  • Oissel, Oisseau-le-Petit, several Ussel, etc.
  • Pierremande < Petromantalum < petro-matalo- 'four road' = 'crossing'
  • Paris
  • Rennes
  • Rouen < Rotomagus,[3] sometimes Ratómagos or Ratumacos (on the coins of the Veliocassi tribe). It can be roto-, the word for 'wheel' or 'race', cf. Old Irish roth 'wheel' 'race' or Welsh rhod 'wheel' 'race'. Magos is surer here : 'field', 'plain' or later 'market' cf. Old Irish mag (gen. maige) 'field' 'plain', Old Breton ma 'place'. The whole thing could mean 'hippodrome', 'racecourse' or 'wheel market'.[4]
  • Vandœuvres, Vendeuvre < vindo-briga 'white fortress'
  • Verdun, Latin "Virodunum" or "Verodunum

Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'.

  • Vernon < Vernomagus. There are other Vernons in France, but they come directly from Vernō 'place of the alder-trees'. 'plain of the alder-trees'. uernā 'alder-tree', Old Irish fern, Breton, Welsh gwern, dial. French verne / vergne.
  • Veuves, Voves, Vion

Germany[edit]

From Celtic alisa, s.f., 'alder'. (Compare the modern German Erlenbach) and Old High German (OHG) aha, s.n., 'flowing water'.

Perhaps from Celtic ambara, 'channel, river'. Compare Indo-European *amer-, 'channel, river' > Greek ἀμάρη (amárē), 'channel'. Or, from Celtic amara, 'spelt, a type of grain'.

From Celtic *onno-, 'ash tree' plus an OHG bach, 'small river'.

  • Boiodurum, now Innstadt, Passau, Niederbayern

First element is Celtic *Boio-, tribal name (Boii), possibly 'cattle-owner' (cf. Irish 'cow') or 'warrior'. Second element is Celtic *dūro- 'fort'.

From Celtic *bona 'base, foundation' (Welsh bôn 'base, bottom, stump')

From Gaulish Boudobriga, "hill of victory". Containing the elements *boudo- 'victory' (Welsh budd 'gain, benefit') + *briga, 'hill'.

  • Düren, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Latin Durum

From Celtic *dūro- 'fort'

From Celtic *(φ)erkunos 'oak' or divine name Perkwunos + Latin silva 'forest'

Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

From Celtic *mogunt-, 'mighty, great, powerful', used as a divine name (see Mogons)

From Celtic *mago-, 'plain, field'

  • Neumagen-Dhron, Rheinland-Pfalz, Latin Noviomagus Trevirorum
  • Noviomagus Nemetum (Latin), now Speyer, Rheinland-Pfalz

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

  • Remagen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Latin Rigomagus or Ricomagus

Second element is from Celtic *magos 'field, plain'

Some have seen this toponym as a hybrid form comprising a Celtic form and a Germanic suffix -ingen.[5] This may be so, since between the 2nd and 4th centuries, the area around the present day German university town of Tübingen was settled by a Celtic tribe with Germanic tribal elements mixed in. The element tub- in Tübingen could possibly arise from a Celtic dubo-, s.m., 'dark, black; sad; wild'. As found in the Anglo-Irish placenames of Dublin, Devlin, Dowling, Doolin and Ballindoolin. Perhaps the reference is to the darkness of the river waters that flow near the town; if so, then the name can be compared to the English Tubney, Tubbanford, Tub Mead and Tub Hole in England. Compare the late Vulgar Latin tubeta 'morass', from Gaulish. The root is found in Old Irish dub > Irish dubh, Old Welsh dub > Welsh du, Old Cornish duw > Middle Cornish du, Breton du Gaulish dubo-, dubis, all meaning 'black; dark'

  • Worms, Rheinland-Pfalz, Latin Borbetomagus

Second element from Celtic *magos, 'plain, field'

Hungary[edit]

From Celtic *(φ)erkunos 'oak' or divine name Perkwunos + Latin jugum 'summit'

Italy[edit]

  • Brianza, Lombardy, Latin Brigantia

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

Perhaps from Celtic *genu- 'mouth [of a river]'. (However, this Ligurian place-name, as well as that of Genava (modern Geneva), probably derive the Proto-Indo-European root *ĝenu- 'knee', see Pokorny, IEW [1].)

Unclear. First element looks like Latin medius 'middle'. Second element may be Celtic *landā 'land, place' (Welsh llan); or, *plan- > *lan-, a Celtic cognate of Latin plānus 'plain', with typical Celtic loss of /p/.

Netherlands[edit]

From Celtic *lug- 'Lugus' (divine name) or perhaps 'light' + *dūnon 'fortress'

  • Nijmegen, Gelderland, Latin Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

Poland[edit]

Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

Portugal[edit]

  • Braga, Braga Municipality, Portugal

From Celtic *bracari- after the Bracari Celts.

  • Bragança, Alto Trás-os-Montes, Portugal, Medieval Latin Bregantia 957

From Celtic *brigant- 'divine name, Brigantia'.

From Celtic *briga- 'rocky height or outcrop'.

From Celtic *ebora- 'plural genitive of the word eburos (trees)'.

From Celtic *Lacobriga- 'Lake of Briga'.

Romania[edit]

Serbia[edit]

Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

Slovenia[edit]

  • Celje, Latinized Celeia in turn from *keleia, meaning 'shelter' in Celtic
  • Neviodunum (Latin), now Drnovo

Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

Spain[edit]

Asturias and Cantabria

  • Deva, several rivers in northern Spain, and Ponte Deva, Galicia, Spain.

From Celtic *diwā- 'goddess; holy, divine' (Scottish Gaelic dia 'god'). more probably from dacian Deva or Dava which means town. There was a town in Roman England called Deva.

Castile

From *segu-, conjectured to be Celtic for 'victorious', 'strength' or 'dry' (theories).

Galicia

Possibly from Celtic *tames- 'dark' (cf. Celtic *temeslos > Welsh tywyll 'darkness'). Other theories.

  • O Grove, Galicia, Spain, Medieval Latin Ogrobre 912[6]

From Celtic *ok-ro- 'acute; promontory'[7] and Celtic *brigs 'hill'.

  • Bergantiños (region), Galicia, Spain, Medieval Latin Bregantinos 830

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated', or divine name Brigantia, or from Celtic *brigantīnos 'chief, king'.[8]

  • Dumbría, Galicia, Spain, Medieval Latin Donobria 830

From Celtic *dūnon 'fortress' + Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'.

  • Val do Dubra municipality, and Dubra river, Galicia, Spain

From Celtic *dubr- 'water', *dubrās 'waters' (Welsh dwfr).

  • Lemos (region), Galicia, Spain, Latin Lemavos, after the local tribe of the Lemavi.

From Celtic *lemo- 'elm'.

  • Nendos (region), Galicia, Spain, Medieval Latin Nemitos 830

From Celtic *nemeton 'sanctuary'.

  • Noia, Galicia, Spain, Greek Nouion.[9]

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd).

Switzerland[edit]

Switzerland, especially the Swiss plateau, has many Celtic (Gaulish) toponyms. This old layer of names was overlaid with Latin names in the Gallo-Roman period,[10] and, from the medieval period, with Alemannic German[11] and Romance[12] names.

For some names, there is uncertainty as to whether they are Gaulish or Latin in origin. In some rare cases, such as Frick, there have even been competing suggestions of Gaulish, Latin and Alemannic etymologies.[13]

Examples of toponyms with established Gaulish etymology:

  • Solothurn, from Salodurum. The -durum element means "doors, gates; palisade; town". The etymology of the salo- element is unclear.
  • Thun, Berne: dunum "fort"
  • Windisch, Aargau, Latin Vindonissa: first element from *windo- "white"
  • Winterthur, Zürich, Latin Vitudurum or Vitodurum, from vitu "willow" and durum
  • Yverdon, from Eburodunum, from eburo- "yew" and dunum "fort".[14]
  • Zürich, Latin Turicum, from a Gaulish personal name Tūros
  • Limmat, from Lindomagos "lake-plain", originally the name of the plain formed by the Linth and Lake Zurich.

Insular Celtic[edit]

Goidelic[edit]

Ireland[edit]

The vast majority of placenames in Ireland are anglicized Irish language names.

Scotland[edit]

Main article: Scottish toponymy

The majority of placenames in the Highlands of Scotland (part of the United Kingdom) are either Scottish Gaelic or anglicized Scottish Gaelic. Gaelic-derived placenames are very common in the rest of mainland Scotland also. Pictish-derived placenames can be found in the northeast, while Brythonic-derived placenames can be found in the south.

Isle of Man[edit]

The majority of placenames on the Isle of Man (a Crown dependency) are Manx or anglicized Manx.

Brythonic[edit]

England (excluding Cornwall)[edit]

Linguistic evidence for Celtic place-names in present-day England can be found in names such as Leatherhead or Litchfield. In addition, evidence of Celtic populations can be found from those place-names including the Old English element wealh "foreigner, stranger, Briton". Such names are a minority, but are widespread across England. For example, a smattering of villages around the Fenland town of Wisbech hint at this: West Walton, Walsoken, and the Walpoles indicate the continued presence of an indigenous population, and Wisbech, King's Lynn and Chatteris retain Celtic topographical elements.

Some villages that exhibit Tydd in their name, e.g. Tydd St Giles, may obtain that element from the Britonnic word for "small holding". Compare the Welsh tyddyn.

  • Arden (forest), Warwickshire

From Celtic *ardu- 'high' (Irish ard)

  • Avon (river), Gloucestershire/Wiltshire/Somerset
  • Avon (river), Wiltshire/Hampshire/Dorset
  • Avon (river), Northamptonshire/Warwickshire/Worcestershire
  • Avon or Aune (river), Devon

From Brythonic *abona 'river' (Welsh afon)

From Celtic *iska 'water' (Irish uisce)

First element from Celtic *briga 'hill'

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

From *kamulos 'Camulus' (divine name) + Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

First element from Brythonic *crüg 'hill'[15]

From tribal name Dumnonii or Dumnones, from Celtic *dumno- 'deep', 'world'

  • Dover, Kent, Latin Dubris

From Celtic *dubr- 'water', *dubrās 'waters' (Welsh dwfr)

First element from Celtic *dūro- 'fort'; in Dūrobrīvae, Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'

From Celtic *iska 'water' (Irish uisce); second element in Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) is a tribal name (see Devon)

From Brythonic *lēd- [from Celtic *leito-] + *rïd- [from Celtic *(φ)ritu-] = "Grey Ford"[15]

  • Lincoln, Lincolnshire, Latin Lindum Colonia

From Celtic *lindo- 'pool' + Latin colonia 'colony'

From Celtic *mamm- 'breast' (referring to the shape of a hill)

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

  • Pengethley, Herefordshire

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill, top, head, chief' (Welsh pen) + possibly *kelli 'to stand' (Welsh gelli)

  • Pencoyd, Herefordshire
  • Penge, Greater London
  • Penketh, Cheshire

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill, top, head, chief' (Welsh pen) + *koid- 'wood' (Welsh coed), or *cēd- 'wood'[15]

First element from Brythonic *penn- 'hill, top, head, chief' (Welsh pen 'head, end, chief, supreme') = Irish ceann 'head', from Proto-Celtic *kwenno-

  • Penn, Buckinghamshire
  • Penn, West Midlands

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill' (Welsh pen)

From English lower + Brythonic *penn- 'hill'

Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

First element conjectured to be Celtic for 'victorious', 'strength' or 'dry' (theories). Second element is Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'.

From Celtic *seno- 'old' + *dūnon 'fortress'

  • Taff (river), Welsh Taf, Wales
  • Tamar (river), Devon/Cornwall
  • Tame (river), Greater Manchester
  • Tame (river), North Yorkshire
  • Tame (river), West Midlands
  • Team (river), Tyne and Wear
  • Teme (river), Welsh Tefeidiad, Wales/Shropshire/Worcestershire
  • Thames (river), Latin Tamesis

Possibly from Celtic *tames- 'dark' (cf. Celtic *temeslos > Welsh tywyll 'darkness'). Other theories.

'Of the Trinovantes', a tribal name, perhaps 'very energetic people' from Celtic *tri- (intensive) + *now- 'energetic', related to *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd)

From Brittonic *weru- 'broad' + *lam- 'hand' [from Celtic *(φ)lāmā] (Welsh llaw, Irish láimh)

First element from Celtic *windo- 'white' (Welsh gwyn); in Vindolanda, Celtic *landā 'land, place' (Welsh llan). In Vindomora, second element could be 'sea' (Welsh môr, Irish muir).

  • York, Greek Ebōrakon, Latin Eboracum or Eburacum from Celtic *eburo- 'yew'

Wales[edit]

Main article: Welsh toponymy

The vast majority of placenames in Wales (part of the United Kingdom) are either Welsh or anglicized Welsh.

Cornwall[edit]

The vast majority of placenames in Cornwall (part of England) are either Cornish or anglicized Cornish. For examples, see List of places in Cornwall.

Brittany[edit]

The vast majority of placenames in the west of Brittany (part of France) are either Breton or derived from Breton. For examples, see Category:Towns in Brittany.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, éditions errance 2003.
  2. ^ See Noviomagus and Lexovii.
  3. ^ Archetype that exists everywhere in France, for example Ruan (Rothomago 1233 / Rotomagus 5th century), Rom.
  4. ^ DELAMARRE 261-262.
  5. ^ Bahlow, Hans. 1955. Namenforschung als Wissenschaft. Deutschlands Ortsnamen als Denkmäler keltischer Vorzeit. Frankfurt am Main.
  6. ^ Prósper, Blanca María (2002). Lenguas y Religiones Prerromanas del Occidente de la Península Ibérica. Universidad de Salamanca. p. 375. ISBN 978-84-7800-818-6. 
  7. ^ Matasovic, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Brill. p. 28. ISBN 90-04-17336-6. 
  8. ^ Matasovic, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Brill. pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-90-04-17336-1. 
  9. ^ Ptolemy II 6.21.
  10. ^ such as Basle, Latin Basilea, from the personal name Basilius, ultimately of Greek origin,
  11. ^ such as Berne, founded 1191
  12. ^ such as Neuchâtel, founded 1011
  13. ^ Frick has been derived from (a) a Celtic word for "confluence", cognate with fork, (b) an Alemannic personal name Fricco and (c) Latin ferra ricia "iron mine, ironworks".
  14. ^ Bernhard Maier, Kleines Lexikon der Namen und Wörter keltischen Ursprungs, 2010, p. 51. Julius Pokorny, IEW (1959:325), s.v. "ē̆reb(h)-, ō̆rob(h)- 'dark reddish-brown colour'": "alb.-ligur.-kelt.-germ. eburo- 'rowan, mountain ash, yew, evergreen tree with poisonous needles'."
  15. ^ a b c Mills, AD. Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Oxford University Press, 1991.