We Do Some Etymological Digging to Discover How Some of Our Local Place Names Originated

Words: Sophie Gargett
Illustrations: Celia Shiels
Thursday 21 December 2023
reading time: min, words

Inherited over centuries from our ancestors to mark the lay of the land, place names give glimmers of the people and communities that occupied our terrain before us. Most often deriving from old English words relating to the landscape, or long gone land-owning families, these names evolve in the local collective consciousness while also becoming often overlooked after a time due to their familiarity. We thought we’d do a little etymological digging to discover how some of our local place names originated, and what they mean today…

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Nottingham: The reason for our fair city’s title goes back to the unfortunate appellation of one Anglo-Saxon tribe leader. Known as ‘Snot’ or ‘Snod’, this chap headed up the Snotingas clan in around 600 AD when they first came to these parts, and consequently called the area ‘Snotengaham’ or ‘Snodengaham’. They dropped the ‘S’ around the twelfth century and gave it to Sneinton, as we shall see. Previous to this the area was known in Brythonic as ‘Tigguo Cobauc’, meaning ‘a place of cave dwellings’.

Beeston: We know what you are thinking - this area of the county was clearly once prolific with pollinating insects, right? Well, in reality Beeston derives from words ‘bēos’ (bent-grass) and ‘tūn’ (farmstead, settlement) and the settlement was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Bestune’. Still, locals have adopted the bee as their emblem, and with its creative vibe and numerous indie businesses, Beeston is considered a ‘hive of industry’.

Ladybay: There is no definitive answer to the etymology of Ladybay, but two possible theories persist. One suggests that Queen Isabella, insurrectionist to the throne with her lover Roger Mortimer, would dock her ships in this part of the Trent when she resided in Nottingham, leading the area to be known as ‘Our lady’s bay’. Another suggests that it was given to the area by a thirteenth century chapel merely to signify the bend in the river.

St Ann's: Back in the days when the land around St Ann’s was part of Sherwood Forest, the area boasted a cold water well named the ‘Oswell’ which was alleged to have powers that could heal all manner of illnesses, apparently due to its extremely low temperatures. During the Middle Ages, the monks of Lenton Priory were having a moment fawning over St Ann (the patron saint of lacemakers, housewives and pregnancy) and after seizing the Oswell built a chapel dedicated to Ann at the site. The area in which the well stood has since had a railway line, a viaduct and a pub car park built over it, and has also been known as Hunger Hill and Peas Hill.

Arnold: We were hoping there was once a top notch bloke called Arnold living in the area, so loveable he won the hearts of his neighbours and they named the town after him, but this is sadly not the case. Arnold was in fact once known as "Ernehale", meaning 'the valley of eagles'. This history is still marked by The Eagles Nest pub and Arnold Eagles F.C., a girls under fourteen football team.

Sneinton: As one of the city’s oldest settlements, The Domesday Book refers to Sneinton as ‘Notintone’, which the Normans found easier to pronounce than the Anglo-Saxon Snotengaham, but it was gradually changed to incorporate the Snots’ ‘S’ between 1086 and 1599. Today the last remnant of the original name is Notintone Place, home to the William Booth Birthplace Museum.

Bunny: Another odd, animal related name, once again you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that Bunny was once overrun by cute furry lagomorphs, or that perhaps the residents of Bunny Hall were known for their rabbit stew. In fact, the name means either 'reed island' or 'island on the river Bune' and was first recorded in the Domesday Book as Bonei, later changing to Buneya.

Gotham: A widely mispronounced eponym, Gotham (Gote-ham) is quite simply Old English for "goat home" - but how this little village went on to inspire the name of Batman’s Gotham is infinitely more interesting. The story goes that in the thirteenth century when King John wanted to travel through the area, residents weren’t happy to hear their taxes would be raised to build a king’s highway. In a brilliant brainwave, they decided to thwart the plan by feigning madness, which was thought to be contagious at the time. When royal officials saw the residents engaging in absurd acts such as drowning fish or trapping birds in roofless cages, they decided it was probably best to leave these mad fools to themselves and divert the route. Several hundred years later, the ‘Wise Men of Gotham’ and their mad ways would inspire American comic book writer Milton "Bill" Finger to use the name for his insanity inflicted Gotham City.

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