Monday, 24 December 2012

What's in a name?

Having recently read THE NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL I became aware of the fact that names – and especially place names – often have meanings or origins that are 'lost in the mists of time'. This can sometimes lead to locals ‘imagining’ the reasons why a place has a certain name … and it usually involves a former king or queen.

When I was growing up I lived in what started off as being part of Essex and ended up as part of Greater London. It was called Corbets Tey … and I was told – on great authority – that it was given its name by Queen Elizabeth I who was supposed to have had a somewhat lively horse called Corbet. On her way to Tilbury in 1588 she had passed through the hitherto unnamed hamlet. The horse had tried to throw her off and she is reputed to have called out ‘Corbet, stay’, thus giving the hamlet a name.

What a load of old rubbish!

Tey (or Tye) is an old Anglo-Saxon word for a meadow, and Corbets Tey is simply the name of a piece of meadow land once owned by someone named Corbet.

(Corbets Tey now forms the southernmost part of Upminster, a place name that is often used within certain parts of the British Establishment to denote something that is absolutely stupid or mad … because Upminster is several stops past Barking on the District Line of the London Underground.)

Sometimes a place name can strike one as being more like a person’s name than the name for a locality. For example, on the London Underground map there are two tube stations that sound more like 1930s British B-movie stars than places. They are Willesden Green and Dollis Hill … and I can somehow imagine those names appearing on a film poster, with an ageing Willesden Green trying to carry off a role that he is at least ten years too old for and a young up-and-coming blond starlet named Dollis Hill portraying some poor-but-honest shop-girl who is tempted into petty crime.

16 comments:

Arthur said...

Hi

Been around to the back for the old brandy, have you?

Merry merry

Regards

Pat G said...

Merry Xmas Bob.

Canada is apparently named after the Huron word for "that village over there" misunderstood by a Frenchman to mean the whole country.

Steven Page said...

The US southeast is full of Cherokee and Creek Indian names. One of my favorites is "Wetumpka", which means "hog thief". Another is Eastaboga, which leads me to believe that somewhere there is a Westaboga, and a Boga....
Merry Christmas, Bob,
-Steve

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Arthur,

Stone-cold sober I am afraid to say ... and likely to remain thus for some time to come.

Doesn't stop me being silly though!

Have a great Christmas!

All the best,

Bob

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Pat G,

I heard a similar sort of story about the naming of the kangaroo. It is said that Captain Cook asked one of the Aboriginal Australians what the strange creature was ... and he replied 'Kangaroo! ... which the story says means 'I don't know!' It is probably not true ... but it is a great little story!

Have a great Christmas!

All the best,

Bob

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Steven Page,

A great tale!

If you ever find Boga, please send me a photograph!

Have a great Christmas!

All the best,

Bob

Arthur said...

Ah, silly never, Goonish yes.. and that's a compliment

Happy hols.

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Arthur,

Goonish! What an excellent description ... and how very appropriate!

All the best,

Bob

arthur1815 said...

Bob, several of my pupils have believed that Copse Hill in Raynes Park is so named because a police station must have once stood there.
Arthur

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Arthur1815,

It sounds plausible to me as well. (Mind you, I once persuaded a class that trousers came in pairs because they were invented by a pair of Italian twin brothers, the Trouserini brothers.)

Have a great Christmas.

All the best,

Bob

Arquinsiel said...

Imaginary etymology is a fun passtime/pub conversation topic. "Disgruntled" is probably the best place to start that I've found so far. It helps to have internet access handy just in case though....

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Arquinsiel,

I had never thought of it like that ... but it is isn't it!

As someone who always tries to be gruntled (but for whom life and age have give a natural propensity to be disgruntled), such games can bring endless hours of fun ... as can trying to think up names for characters that appear in my wargames. (My favourite wargames unit was named by an old wargaming companion, Ian Drury, who fielded Kampfgruppe Artur Daley - a rag-bag collection of obsolete armoured vehicles - in a wargame set in World War II Yugoslavia.)

Have a great Christmas.

Bob

Archduke Piccolo said...

The thing with the word gruntled, is that it doesn't sound a whole lot more cheerful than disgruntled. I have wondered if maybe it's someting like those other two 'opposites' with the same meaning as 'flammable' and 'inflammable'.

But about Corbets Tey - I was wondering whether perhaps Corbet in this context might have derived from 'corbie', meaning crow.

In New Zealand, the name for the North Island is 'Te Ika a Maui' - the fish of Maui, who hauled it out of the ocean. It seems logical to suppose the South Island would be called 'Te Waka a Maui' - the canoe of Maui; and it often is these days. But the old Atlases used to show 'Te Wai Pounamu' - an allusion to 'greenstone', a form of jade.

It seems as though the former name is being superseded.

It is interesting sometimes to see how names, words and even phrases change pronunciation and meaning over time.

Cheers,
Ion

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Archduke Piccolo (Ion),

I suspect that disgruntled is on of those words - like disturbed - that is not derived by adding 'dis' to the front of an existing word to create an opposite. That said, gruntled sounds good (but should mean something negative) and turbed also sounds as if it should have some sort of meaning that is mildly negative.

Your suggestion regarding the derivation of Corbet is as equally valid as mine that it is someone's name, especially as I can remember the large number of crows that used to nest in the nearby trees.

The derivation of names - and they way they change over years - is very interesting, and can often tell you a lot about social and political changes that have taken place.

All the best,

Bob

Kaptain Kobold said...

"If you ever find Boga, please send me a photograph!"

We have a Bega in NSW. They make cheese there.

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Kaptain Kobold,

Stone me, but Bega Cheese even has its own website!

What will turn up next? A Wikipedia entry for the actors Willesden Green and Dollis Hill?

All the best,

Bob