Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Britain's Funniest Place Names I

Anyone who has traveled through the British countryside may have noticed some rather unusual sounding place names.  The origin of these names has always fascinated me, as most seem to be meaningless in modern English.  There are some, however, which really stand out as funny or just plain rude!  I've put together a list of some of my favourites.  All the places in this list are real places, strange as they sound!



Catbrain, Bristol.
A suburban village just to the north of Bristol, Catbrain is made up of housing estates rather than intelligent felines.  The name comes from the Old English ‘cattes brazen’, which rather lifelessly refers to the area’s soil.

Brown Willy, Cornwall.
Despite what it sounds like, ‘Brown Willy’ actually refers to a hill in Cornwall.  Reaching a height of around 420 meters, this wild moorland is the highest point in the county.  The name is an anglicized version of the hill’s original Cornish language name ‘Bronn Wennili’ meaning ‘Swallow’s Hill’.  Cornish is a Celtic language, its closest relative being Welsh.  There have been calls from some to change the name to something which sounds more pleasant, but the locals are reluctant as it has become en-grained in the area’s history.

Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­an­tysilio­gogo­goch, Isle of Anglesey.
Wow, what a mouthful! The small village with the not-so-small name. Llanfair PG as it is known to the locals, is Britain’s longest place name, and according to some sources the second longest in the world. It is primarily a Welsh speaking area – this is certainly reflected in the place names. Its English translation reads ‘Church of Saint Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool and the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave’. I remember taking Welsh language lessons in school and the teacher asking me to stand up and say this to the class, it took weeks of practice! Llanfair PG was deliberately named something ridiculously long in order to attract tourists to the area in the 1860s.

Westward Ho!, Devon.
Famous as the only place in the country to include an exclamation mark in its name. Like Llanfair PG, the name of Westward Ho! was assigned in the 1800s to draw tourists to the area.  It comes from the title of a novel written by author Charles Kingsley in 1855 which was set in this area.  The village today is a pretty seaside resort, popular with surfers wishing to ride the Atlantic waves.

Rest and be Thankful, Argyll and Bute.
A rather fitting name for a Scottish mountain pass.  'Rest and be Thankful' refers to the viewpoint at the summit of the pass, which gives excellent views over the valley of Glen Croe.  The viewpoint was named by soldiers, who built the steep road in 1753.

Bell End, Worcestershire.
Referring to a rural village in northern Worcestershire, about 10 miles from Birmingham.  In reality, this conspicuous sounding village is rather boring – just a small cluster of houses. 

Giggleswick, Yorkshire.
The name of this jolly sounding village brought a smile to my face.  It actually comes from the Old English (via Scandinavian influence) meaning 'Gikel's farm'.  A pretty English village in the Yorkshire Dales.

Wetwang, Yorkshire.
This peculiar sounding name refers to a small village in East Yorkshire.  Its origin is uncertain, but it is thought to be derived from Old English Origin via Scandinavian influence.

Twatt, Northern Isles.
I've left this one to last as this one makes me laugh the most!  This is actually a real place!  In fact, there are two villages in Scotland with this seemingly rather vulgar name – one in the Orkney Isles and one in Shetland.  Its original meaning is no way as amusing as its modern day connotations, ‘Twatt’ as a place name originates from the old Scandinavian languages brought to Scotland by the Vikings, and meant simply ‘small patch of land’.


Britain’s funny place names are the result of its colourful history, with each settlers bringing new linguistics with them.  Many names stretch back hundreds, even thousands of years into history and have been changed and lost their meaning over the years as the language constantly evolves.  These are just a few examples I have come across, but there are countless examples out there - see the next lot in the new post 'Britain's Funniest Placenames II'!  If you have come across any funny, rude, or just plain odd place names whilst travelling in the UK or anywhere else, let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading,

Elis Griffiths. x