Norman Place Names in England

Norman Place Names in England

The Normans wanted to impress their leadership over England and Wales after their success in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings.

A particular way of showing how powerful the Normans were over the English was by putting names of their own on places with English names or Celt variations. The Normans decided to change a number of place names purely for not liking the name which they felt was unpleasant. Additionally, other places were named because of being beautiful.

Much of the north of France was raided and colonised by the Vikings, but they are mainly linked to the area of Normandy. Although years later the rulers of Normandy did not plan to simply use a language within their conquered territories which belonged to someone else. Since the Normans conquered England, their plan was to mark their place on the country and introduce a new language. The Normans appeared to have trouble with pronouncing some place names, therefore their solution was not to bother and transformed them into names they could easily say.

Nottingham Council house by Peter Tarleton
Nottingham Council house by Peter Tarleton

Nottingham was known as ‘Snotingaham’ – ‘the settlement of Snot’ for many years, but the letter ‘s’ was left out to produce its new name.

Cambridge was known as ‘Grantebrige’ prior to the Normans arriving, and Dunholm changed from Durelme to Dureaume to Durham.

It has also been suggested of the Normans that they just did not like some place names within the territory they had recently conquered, so transformed them into more acceptable names. Fulepet (Filthy Hole) in Essex became Beaumont (Fair Hill) and Merdegrave in Leicester was thereafter known as Belgrave.

The Normans used this trend of giving a place name the prefixes of ‘Beau’ and ‘Bel’ - perhaps just a way of showing appreciation of the place’s scenery. For example, Beachy Head in East Sussex means ‘fine headland’, Beaulieu in Hampshire means ‘fair or fine place’ and Belvoir in Leicestershire means ‘fine view’.

Significant Normandy monasteries names were also used for changing English place names.

The Normans feudal service also created place names which represented the most dominant family in a certain area. Adopting the surname was also a way of emphasising the manorial rights of your family over the area. Loyal families to William I who fought well on his behalf were remembered when England was divided as a reward for the families.

Local place names could have still had elements of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic or Roman in them, but people who received manorial rights also added their name which secured their place within England’s society.

MLA Citation/Reference

"Norman Place Names in England". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.