Wednesday, 2 June 2010

What's in a Name?

Withypool. Drewsteignton. Morchard Bishop. Chagford. As we walk through Devonshire (and bits of Somerset), we can't help but wonder how these names came about. Many are purely descriptive. Withypool stands for willow pool after the many willows growing along the River Barle and the pool the bend of the river created. Chag, it turns out, means "gorse" and Chagford marks one of the only fords over the Teign River in the district. In a place where people have lived for over 4,000 years, the old names tend to stick.

Drewsteignton is more of a johnny-come-lately as English towns go. Drewe de Teignton, a Norman knight, held the manor under Henry II and his son, Richard the Lionheart, which means sometime after 1154. Morchard Bishop is an even later creation. Morchard or "morchet" is Celtic for great (mor) woods (coed). The Bishop wasn't tacked on, however, until it was sold to the Bishop of Exeter in 1165. The London Inn, where we had dinner, went through many morphs and belonged to the bishopric as the London Hotel until 1908.

Of course, we knew none of this before we arrived. As George Bernard Shaw memorably wrote, the Americans and the English are two peoples separated by a common language. It's fun, however, to speculate on the names and try to puzzle out their meanings. We are most often wrong, but thank heavens, there is always Google.

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