Norman toponymy

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Place-names in Normandy have a variety of origins. Some belong to the common heritage of the Langue d'oïl extension zone in northern France and Belgium; this is called "Pre-Normanic". Others contain Old Norse and Old English male names and toponymic appellatives. They intermingle with romance male names and place-name elements to create a very specific substratum, typical of Normandy within the extension zone of the Langue d'oïl. These are sometimes called "Normanic".[1]

Normandy's main cities. Only 4 have Normanic names: Dieppe, Cherbourg, Honfleur and Barfleur. Harfleur, which was an important port before le Havre's foundation, can be added.

Pre-Normanic place-names[edit]

There are still a significant number of Celtic (Gaulish) names, as there are throughout France and western Europe. These names, partly mixed with Latin elements, follow the Late Latin phonetic changes that lead to Langue d'oïl.

Traditional large cities[edit]

Almost all the main cities kept a Romanized Celtic name, that produced the modern toponym.

BC era[edit]

  • Rouen: from the Roman Rotomagus,[2] in turn from the Gaulish Ratumacos (sometimes Ratómagos, on the coins of the Veliocassi tribe). The first part of the name might refer to roto-, the word for "wheel" or "race", cf. Old Irish roth or Welsh rhod ("wheel" or "race"). The meaning of the second part, Magos, is much clearer: "field", "plain", or later "market" cf. Old Irish mag (gen. maige), meaning "field" or "plain"; Old Breton ma, meaning "place". Taken together, the whole could mean "hippodrome", "racecourse", or "wheel market".[3]
  • Caen: originally Catumagus, from the Old Celtic catu-, meaning "battle", "fight", or "combat"; or the Old Irish cath (gen. catho), meaning "combat", "battalion", or "troop"; the Breton -kad /-gad and the Welsh cad, both meaning "combat" or "troop". As a whole, the name could mean "battlefield".
  • Vernon: originally Vernomagus,[5] meaning "plain of the alder-trees", derived from uernā, meaning "alder-tree"; or, in Old Irish, fern; and in Breton and Welsh, gwern.

AD era[edit]

In the following examples, a Gaulish toponym was replaced by the name of the local tribe, according to a process well known in the later Roman Empire:

  • Bayeux: rooted in the civitas named Bajocassensis; which was formerly known as Augustodurum, meaning "forum dedicated to Augustus".
  • Evreux: rooted in the civitas named Eburovicensis, formerly known as Mediolanum.
  • Lisieux: rooted in the civitas named Lexoviensis, formerly known as Noviomagus,[6] meaning "new market", from the Old Celtic noviios, meaning "new".
  • Avranches: rooted in the civitas named Abrincatii; formerly known as Ingena or Legedia.

There were exceptions to this practice, such as:

  • Lillebonne: derived from Juliobona, where Julio meant "dedicated to Julius", and bona, from the Old Celtic, meant "foundation" or "spring". (Also see Ratisbona or Vindobona).

Some of these would disappear later, replaced by Normanic names; thus Coriovallum became Cherbourg and Caracotinum became Harfleur. Such changes indicate that the older inhabitants who used the earlier name were displaced by newcomers, either leaving completely or becoming a small minority.

Some cities' Pre-Normanic names are not known, such as Honfleur or Dieppe.

Common northern French archetypes[edit]

The most common suffix in northern France is -acum (written -acum, -acus or -aco in early Medieval Latin documents, but pronounced in vulgar Latin -acu), that means "place of" or "property". Its origin is the Celtic -āko(n). Originally, it was used to as the location of either a god or a people. Examples include Anualonacu, meaning "sanctuary of Anualō [a god]" and nautae Parisiaci, meaning "sailors of the Parisii [tribe]".[7]

In northern France and Belgium, –acum became -ay, -ai, -ey, -é or -y. All of these variations are found in Normandy. Places with this suffix include Gournay, Bernay, Cernay, and Andilly.

Another, generally later, variation is composed of masuline names that can be either Gaulish or Latin, for example: Massy from Gaulish Mascius; Marcilly from Roman Marcellus; Fleury from Roman Florius; and Montigny from Roman Montanius.

However, the latest -acum formations are combined with a Christian or a Germanic masculine name, such as Repentigny, from the Christian name Repentinius. The most common -acum place-name in Normandy is Glatigny, of which more than 40 exist.

Romance place-name elements[edit]

These come from the Vulgar Latin, but began only about 100 years after the fall of the Roman Empire, in the 6th century AD. In this province, it is sometimes difficult to know if these formations (-ville, -val, -mont, -mesnil, etc.) are Pre-Normanic or Normanic, due to similarities between the two.

The main romance appellatives are the following:

  • -ville or Ville-, meaning "farm", and later "village"
  • -court, Cour-, or Cor-, meaning "farm with a courtyard"
  • -val or Val-, meaning "small valley"
  • -mont or Mont-, meaning "hill"
  • -mesnil, -menil or Mesnil-, meaning "property"

General description[edit]

In France, including Normandy, the extension of -court, -ville, and -mesnil (including its variant spellings -maisnil and -ménil) corresponds generally to Frankish and other Germanic settlements. This is the most likely reason why the common word order is also from the Germanic: determinative (adjective, appellative or owner's name) plus determined (romance element). Examples include: Neuville, meaning "new village"; Bourville (Bodardi villa, 8th century) meaning "Bodard's farm"; Harcourt (Herolcurt, 11th century) meaning "Herulf's farm"; and Attemesnil (Ademesnil, 13th century) meaning "Adda's property".[8] Less than one-third of France, the north, makes use of the Germanic ordering.

In Vulgar Latin, as in Celtic, the opposite word order prevailed: determined (Romance appellative) plus determinative (adjective). This order dominates in Occitan toponymy, as well as in western France.[9] Instead of Neuville, in the south we find Villeneuve, derived either from Occitan, Vielanova, or from a more modern name.

Similarly, northern Neuchâtel, Neufchâtel,[10] or Neufchâteau, meaning "new castle", corresponding to southern Châteauneuf or Châtelneuf, a translation of Castelnau in Occitan.

The local specificity[edit]

In the Norman toponymy, the most widespread appellative is -ville or Ville-, with an estimated 20% of the communities in Normandy containing this appellative. The oldest recorded instance is Bourville in 715. This is in contrast to the much less frequently used -court.

The most widely used -ville toponyms are combined with either a male name or an adjective: Amfreville (Asfridr′s farm), Auzouville (Asulfr′s farm), Beuzeville (Bosi′s farm), Colleville (Koli′s farm), Épreville (Sprot′s farm), Sotteville (Soti′s farm), Tocqueville (Toki′s farm), Touffreville (Thorfridr′s farm), Tourville (Thori′s farm), Trouville (Thorold′s farm), Grainville (Grimr′s farm), Bretteville (Briton's farm) and Englesqueville or Anglesqueville (English farm). These toponyms do not exist in France outside of Normandy.

The -court appellative is usually combined with either a Germanic masculine name, as in Hébécourt, from Herbert, or a Norman surname, as in Sébécourt, from Sébert. It almost never appears as a suffix in the western part of Normandy, but as a prefix (Cour-, Gour-, Col-, Coul-): Gourfaleur from falor, the name of a people; Coulvain, meaning "Laipwin's court"; and Coulimer, meaning "Lietmar's court". François de Beaurepaire observed that -court and Cour- were never used with an Anglo-Scandinavian male's name or element.

Another common appellative is -mesnil or Mesnil- (written as ménil in the Orne département). They are mainly combined with masculine anthroponyms, much like the -ville place-names, and are always built according to Latin and Celtic order, for example Mesnil-Hermant and Mesnil-Esnard.

The appellative -bosc or Bosc- (pronounced [bo:] or [bɔk]), meaning "wood", corresponds to the French word bois, and is specific to this Province. In Normandy, it is usually combined with a masculine name: Auberbosc and Colbosc, when following the Germanic order; while the Latin or Celtic order gives numerous examples, such as Bosc-Roger, Bosc-Renoult, and Bosc-Robert.

Similar to -bosc are the appellatives -val and -mont. The first element must be a personal name, like Martin in Martinvast, Sotte in Sottevast (Sotewast, 12th century), and Tolle in Tollevast (Tolerwas or Tolewast, 12th century). Véraval, now often misspelled as Ver-à-Val, became a -val place-name by popular etymology. First recorded as Warelwast in 1024 (see William de Warelwast), utilizing the former appellative, -wast (meaning "bad land", or "unfertile or uncultivated land"), which is now spelled -vast in the north and ga(s)t(te) in the south.

Normanic place names[edit]


Old Norse and Old English settlement names began with the Norse settlement at the end of the ninth century, expanding in the tenth century with the creation of the Duchy of Normandy by Rollo in 911. Since the speakers of Old Norse were linguistically assimilated into Francophone society within a few generations, these settlement names most likely date prior to 11th century. Most of these settlers were most likely Danish, Norwegian, or Anglo-Saxon. These languages were quite similar to each other, making it difficult to distinguish the origin of the appellatives and accompanying adjective or male name.[citation needed]

Old Norse and Old English appellatives[edit]

  • Bec- or -bec, derived from beck, meaning "stream" or "brook". It can also be found alone as in, le Bec. Examples of its combination with an adjective would be: Houlbec, meaning "hollow beck"; Foulbec, meaning "dirty beck"; and Caudebec 'cold beck' (Caldebec, 11th century), etc.
  • -beuf or Boos, from Old Norse bóð or Old English bōth, meaning "booth". Examples are: Elbeuf-sur-Andelle, Elbeuf, Criquebeuf-en-Caux, Lindebeuf, and Boos. Two cases at least are doubtful: Criquebeuf-la-Campagne and Carquebut, which probably derive not from -beuf but from the Old Norse . Sometimes -beuf has been misspelled -bœuf, meaning "ox" in French, as in Cricquebœuf and Quillebœuf. Other -bœuf place-names throughout France refer to "ox", and clearly allude to slaughterhouses, such as Écorchebœuf ("flay-ox"), Tubœuf ("kill-ox") or Tombebœuf ("fall-ox"). The -beuf element corresponds to -by in Great Britain. It explains the existence of parallel formations on both sides of the English Channel:
Normandy Great Britain
Elbeuf (Welleboth) Welby
Criquebeuf (Kirkeboth) Kirkby
Daubeuf (Dalboth) Dalby
  • -cher or -quier, from the Old Norse kjarr meaning "marsh" or "swamp", which can be found in Villequier (combined with the Old English wiliġ, meaning "willow") and Orcher (Alrecher, 11th century, combined with the Old English alri, meaning "alders").
  • Dalle-, -dalle, -dal, or Dau-, from the Old Norse dalr, meaning "valley", or the Old English dæl, meaning "dale". It can be seen on its own with a romance article as in la Dalle or Le Dallet; or in combination with an adjective, as in Dieppedalle (with the Old Norse djupr or Old English dēop, meaning "deep"), Croixdalle (with the Old English crāwe, meaning "crow"), and Oudalle (from the Norman ouf, meaning "wolf").
  • Escalle or -écal-, from either the Old Norse skali or Old English scale, meaning "shelter". Examples would be Touffrécal, Brecquécal, Écalles-Alix (Escales, 12th century), and Villers-Écalles (Escalis, 12th century).
  • Étain-, Étan- or Étenne-, from the Old Norse steinn or Old English stān, meaning "stone". Examples would be: Grestain (combined with the Old English grēat, meaning "big"), Étainhus (Stone house), Étaintot, Étheintot, Étalondes, and Étangval (Stone valley).
  • -gard, from the Old Norse garðr, meaning "yard" or "garden", found in the names: Auppegard (Appelgart, combined with æppel, meaning "apple") and Figard (combined with fiskr, meaning "fish").
  • -gate or -gathe, meaing "way", as in Houlgate, la Houlgate, Hôrgate (meaning "hollow way"), Hiégathe Castle, and Holegate.
  • Hague, -hague, from the Old Norse or Old English haga, meaning "enclosure". Examples are: la Hague, le Tohague, Étauhague, and le Haguedic (combined with the Anglo-Norse dik).
  • Houlme, Hom(me) or -homme, from the Old Norse word holmr, meaning "islet". The appellative, homme, is identical to the French word meaning, "man", but is pronounced differently: French [ɔm] (l'homme) versus Norman [χɔm] or [hɔm] (le homme). It is found in place-names such as Le Houlme, Robehomme, Saint-Quentin-sur-le-Homme, and les Échommes.
  • -hus or -hurs from the Old Norse hús or Old English hūs, meaning "house". As found in: Sahurs ("house of the sallow"), Salhus, and Étainhus.
  • Londe, -lon or -ron, from the Old Norman londe, meaning "forest" or "wood". There are over 45 municipalities named La Londe in Normandy, as well as several Les Londes (plural). It is also used in combination with other adjectives, such as Bouquelon (combined with bók(i), meaning "beech tree"), Yquelon (combined with eik(i), meaning "oak tree"), and Scakerlonde (combined with the Old English sċeaċere, meaning "thief" or "brigand").
  • Thuit- or -tuit, from the Old Norse thveit, meaning "dial". Several le Thuit exist, as well as other combined examples, such as Bracquetuit, Vautuit, and Bliquetuit.
  • Torp, Torps, Tourp, Tourps, -tourp or -tour, from the Old Norse torp or the Old English thorp, meaning "settlement". There are several stand alone towns named either Torps or le Torp. Other examples are: le Torp-Mesnil, Clitourps, Saussetour, Sauxtour, Saustrup (Saxtorppe, 15th century, meaning "the Saxon settlement").
  • Tot- or -tot, meaning "property", is the most common suffix of Old Norse origin, with more than 300 locations ending with -tot in Normandy. It is derived from the Old Norse topt (similar to the Old English toft, and Old Danish -toft[e]), meaning "site of a house". In later usages of the 11th century, it can also be found alone as in, le Tot. It can be combined with a male name, as in Yvetot, Routot, Martintot or Létantot, (respectively Yvo (Germanic), Hrolfr (Norse), Martin (Romance) and Lestan (Anglo-Saxon)); or a tree-name, as in Bouquetot (from boki, meaning "beech-tree"), and Ectot or Ecquetot (from eski, meaning "ash-tree"); or with another appellative or adjective, examples of which would be Martot (from marr or mere, meaning "pond"), Életot (from sletta, meaning "flat land"), and Hautot, Hottot or Hotot (from the Old English hōh, meaning "slope" or "incline").

Old English appellatives[edit]

Old Norse and Old English masculine names[edit]

Old Norse -i names[edit]

The names in parentheses are the earlier forms of the place-names, with the century in which they appeared.

Old Norse simple and combined names[edit]

Anglo-Saxon -a names[edit]

Anglo-Saxon simple and combined names[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ French normanique cf. RENAUD Jean, La toponymie normanique: Reflet d'une colonisation in FLAMBARD HÉRICHER Anne-Marie, La progression des Vikings, des raids à la colonisation, Publications de l'Université de Rouen, 2003.
  2. ^ Archetype that exists everywhere in France, for example Ruan (Rothomago 1233 / Rotomagus 5th century), Rom.
  3. ^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, éditions errance 2003, p. 261 - 262.
  4. ^ Idem Charenton, etc.
  5. ^ There are other Vernon in France, but they come from Vernō 'place of the alder-trees'.
  6. ^ See Noviomagus and Lexovii.
  7. ^ Pierre-Yves Lambert, La Langue gauloise, édition errance 1994, p.39.
  8. ^ François de Beaurepaire, Les noms des communes et anciennes paroisses de l'Eure, éditions Picard 1981.
  9. ^ François de Beaurepaire, Op. mentioned.
  10. ^ Neufchâtel-en-Bray is a former Neufcastel 13th century → 15th century, with the Old Norman spelling of the word "castle": castel, that gave birth to the Mod. Norman câtel (sometimes written catel). For instance: Old Norman Castel, Guernsey, known in Modern Norman as Sainte-Marie-du-Câtel (Guernsey), le Câtel (Jersey), Manoir du Catel (Pays de Caux), Radicatel (Pays de Caux), etc. corresponding to French château. There are many derived words such as Le Catelier, etc.
  11. ^ Jean Adigard des Gautries & Fernand Lechanteur, « Les noms de communes de Normandie », in Annales de Normandie XIX (juin 1969), § 715.
  12. ^ Nordic Names: Amundi
  13. ^ Nordic Names: Aghi
  14. ^ Nordic Names: Aki
  15. ^ Nordic Names: Api

External links[edit]


  • François de Beaurepaire, Les noms des communes et anciennes paroisses de la Seine-Maritime, éditions Picard 1979.
  • François de Beaurepaire, Les noms des communes et anciennes paroisses de l'Eure, éditions Picard 1981.
  • François de Beaurepaire, Les noms des communes et anciennes paroisses de la Manche, éditions Picard 1986.
  • Albert Dauzat and Charles Rostaing, Dictionnaire étymologique des noms de lieu en France, Librairie Guénégaud, Paris, 1979.
  • Albert Hugh Smith, English Place-names Elements, 2 volumes, Cambridge, 1972.
  • Eilert Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary Of English Place-names, Oxford, 1947.
  • Åse Kari H. Wagner, Les noms de lieux issus de l'implantation scandinave en Normandie: le cas des noms en -tuit, in Les fondations scandinaves en occident et les débuts du duché de Normandie, actes publiés sous la direction de Pierre Bauduin.
  • W. Laur, Historisches Ortsnamenlexikon von Schleswig-Holstein, Karl Wachholtz Verlag, 1992.
  • L'Héritage maritime des Vikings en Europe de l'ouest, Colloque international de la Hague, sous la direction d'Elisabeth Ridel, Presses Universitaires de Caen, 2002.
  • René Lepelley, Dictionnaire étymologique des noms de communes de Normandie, Charles Corlet éditions / Presses universitaires de Caen 1994.
  • Jean Renaud, les Vikings et la Normandie, éditions Ouest-France Université 1989.
  • Jean Renaud, Vikings et noms de lieux de Normandie, OREP éditions 2009.
  • Georges Bernage, Vikings en Normandie, Éditions Copernic, 1979.
  • Jean Adigard des Gautries, Les noms de personnes scandinaves en Normandie de 911 à 1066, C. Bloms Boktryckeri, Lund, 1954.
  • Marie-Thérèse Morlet, Les noms de personnes sur le territoire de l’ancienne Gaule du VIe au XIIe siècle, Paris, CNRS, t. III (les noms de personnes contenus dans les noms de lieux), 1985.
  • Dominique Fournier, Dictionnaire des noms de rues et noms de lieux de Honfleur, éditions de la Lieutenance, Honfleur 2006.
  • Louis Guinet, Les Emprunts gallo-romans au germanique: du Ier à la fin du Ve siècle, éditions Klincksieck, 1982.
  • T. F. Hoad, English Etymology, Oxford University Press, 1993.