Fun with place name patterns
September 5, 2021 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Peer into the Europe's past by looking at place names, for example to see the range of Roman conquest of Britain or the historical borders of Poland and Silesia.
posted by hat_eater (33 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not all Roman towns had caster/chester/cester in. There were also little places like Londinium, Eboracum, Verulamium and Aquae Sulis, for example.
posted by Phanx at 8:02 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Tube map of Roman Britain.
posted by Phanx at 8:05 AM on September 5 [7 favorites]


Pretty handy. Here's all the places in the UK ending in -by, which maps closely with the Danelaw and other Norse settlements. Here's the same for Western Europe as a whole. Too bad it doesn't include Scandinavia.
posted by Acey at 8:15 AM on September 5 [5 favorites]


The line from Blatobulgium to Rerigonium looks like it jumped straight out of Asterix. (And I picked -caster etc because forts tend to be denser at the border).
posted by hat_eater at 8:16 AM on September 5


There's an episode of Map Men that is relevant to this, particularly the map shown at 3:20. In fact that whole series is chock full of stuff like this and probably deserves a post of its own at this point.
posted by Acey at 8:24 AM on September 5 [8 favorites]


-thorpe is very like -by but -dale is much more western. I conjecture that to be because the former were used by Danes, the latter by Norgs (?). But surprising given the ‘Yorkshire dales’?
posted by Phanx at 9:10 AM on September 5


A map of little streams: bach/beck/beek (only three fields, so no space for 'bæk').
posted by Talkie Toaster at 9:12 AM on September 5


Enter Shikari have a light history tune about Verulamium / St Albans / Saint Alban (They're from St Albans): All Eyes On The Saint, lyrics.

Saint Alban (the person) is the first recorded British Christian martyr, circa 209 AD (maybe).
posted by glonous keming at 9:58 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Nice! Unsurprisingly, all the Ballys [Baile "town" ]and most of the Clons [Cluain "meadow"] in Europe are in Ireland. The smallest civil division in Ireland is the Townland of which there are ~60,000. O'Hara and Zimmermann did a recent analysis of their names to document past agricultural practice. The presence of Muileann [Mill] and Bron [Quernstone] and Gort [tilled field] is more suggestive of corn than cattle, for example.
posted by BobTheScientist at 10:24 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


Everything I know about Roman place names I learned from Asterix.
posted by splitpeasoup at 10:51 AM on September 5


Not all Roman towns had caster/chester/cester in.

Indeed none of them did, which I think is where the really interesting aspect of these suffixes comes in. They are all variants of the Old English "ceaster": "(Roman) fort", which is derived from the Latin word "castrum": "fortified place".

"Castrum" itself was hardly used in Roman British placenames, and I don't think it was used at all for a place that now has a "ceaster" derived name. Hence the suffixes "chester/cester/cetter/...", while frequently pre-Norman in attested origin, aren't elements of Roman placenames. Rather, they tend to have been used, by post-Roman occupation inhabitants, in names of settlements sited on the location of old forts, typically Roman forts. Hence what they reflect is not just the history of the place, but also the history of the understanding of that history. That is to say the information they convey is not just historical but, in a significant sense, historiographical.

Of course, you can't rely on past people's beliefs absolutely. For one thing, some of the "ceaster" names refer to non-Roman prehistoric fortifications. So, while these names are certainly strongly indicative, they're not always reflective of specifically Roman history.
posted by howfar at 11:50 AM on September 5 [13 favorites]


Discomforting to confront how fortified past human settlements have needed to be, whether to repel invaders and marauders, or to protect the invaders themselves.
posted by jamjam at 1:46 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Camulodunon. (stronghold of Camulos) or today, Colchester.
And they have a temple.
posted by clavdivs at 2:55 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Place names retaining existence despite linguistic displacement (of Arabic, in this case).

Thinking of names given by invaders, I'd be fascinated to see this on a world scale with the name 'Victoria'.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:03 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Discomforting to confront how fortified past human settlements have needed to be

It's hard for most people today to appreciate what it was like to live in a sparsely populated country without fast communication. Most law was local; enforcement was strictly local; consequently, the safety of people and their property depended on keeping strangers away except on stringent terms. Hence: walls, curfews, and passports (literally a document entitling the bearer to "enter the gates").

There's probably a survivorship bias in that thick, solid walls are the ones that tend to survive; but I suppose that while a paling fence can mark a border and keep out casual thieves, even a modest stone wall will both resist fire and offer protection against a raid conducted by a bunch of guys with knives.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:23 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]


Being a bit historically careful with '-castrum' and '-cester' names referring to actual fortification; 'castrametation' in the Roman/early medieval sense was both physical fortification of an armed camp, and the ordering of urban settlements along the lines of central rule, i.e. so that anyone could walk in and immediately know where the commander or lord was. There's historical fortification, but the same words also simply refer to seats of power, as opposed to the non-planned non-urban settlements where everyone else lived.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:33 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]


I changed the map to USA and searched "mushroom". Now I know there are two places in the USA - Mushroom Corner and Mushroom Farms. This site probably contains a single table with place names and coordinates - but I would love if it gave more precision than the cell.
posted by rebent at 4:53 PM on September 5


There are two places named "Satan's Kingdom" - both in New England! Ha!
posted by rebent at 4:57 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]


I prefer knowing towns are ~20 miles apart as it's the distance that a person/army can walk in a day. Check it out, why is there podunk towns in the middle of nowhere... they're a reasonable day's travel unless you're marching "double time" and being exhausted with no sleep when you arrive. Forget the names and go all oppressor colonialist and realize that the towns are where they are just because that's where you can march an army to in a day.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:00 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Towns can also be spaced out by, for instance, how far a train can go without needing to load up coal or water. Depends on when they were founded basically.
posted by signal at 7:08 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I tried "\d" on the US map to find places that had numerals in their names and I found a whole lot of interesting quasi-places. Like "Epicenter, 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake", a whole lot of things in Texas with names like "River Oaks Number 2 Colonia" (and many other numbered colonias; what are these?), and then up in New England at least two places just called "1".
posted by wanderingmind at 7:34 PM on September 5


What is it with New England.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:06 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Forget the names and go all oppressor colonialist and realize that the towns are where they are just because that's where you can march an army to in a day.

Interesting. The Saganaw Trail, in Michigan had it's trails from before the white man came. It was used by Tocqueville and the modern road system is set up around these early way-points. Todays Flint, Michigan was named the grand traverse (of the "Flint River" ) in French but the Chippewa called it Muscatawingh meaning ‘the plain burned over’.
rather prescient.
posted by clavdivs at 8:18 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I changed the map to USA and searched "mushroom". Now I know there are two places in the USA - Mushroom Corner and Mushroom Farms.

I know where Mushroom Corner is! I grew up in the area.
posted by emmling at 10:54 PM on September 5


I prefer knowing towns are ~20 miles apart as it's the distance that a person/army can walk in a day.

Wait, are we only allowed to know one or the other? Will there be a test on which one we know? Legally, you have to tell us if there's going to be a test, else it's entrapment.
posted by howfar at 2:09 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]


Spot the Danube River passing through Hungary here.
posted by mdonley at 2:15 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]


What is it with New England.

Being a transplant to NE, I ask this every day….
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:57 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]


Unsurprisingly, all the Ballys [Baile "town" ]and most of the Clons [Cluain "meadow"] in Europe are in Ireland.

A lot of the Kils [Cill "church"] and Raths [Ráth "ring-fort] are Irish too, while Dun [Dún "fort"] is spread a bit more. (Annoyingly, it doesn't pick up Dun Laoighaire, as it is officially Dún?)

The map for "heim" is interesting, mostly in Germany, particularly the southwest, as I would have expected, but one lone Scottish entry.

(Ireland has its own placename database, where you can see things like how often baile turns up in the place names in Irish. (Not all of these will be Ballysomething in English - Dublin is Baile Átha Cliath as Gaeilge for example.) It's also been all linked up to the Dúchas collection of folklore, and has pronunciation of both Irish and English names.)
posted by scorbet at 5:38 AM on September 6


Kilburn in London traditionally has a large Irish population, and I’ve wondered whether the name sounding sort of Irish had anything to do with that.
posted by Phanx at 7:03 AM on September 6


@Phanx apparently 'dale' doesn't have a simple etymology:
The word dale comes from the Old English word dael, from which the word "dell" is also derived. It is also related to Old Norse word dalr (and the modern Icelandic word dalur), which may perhaps have influenced its survival in northern England.
So it's not as indicative, like '-by' and '-thorpe' of specifically viking-settled areas.
posted by vincebowdren at 9:09 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


This is a bit off topic but in case there are others don't know know about the glorious Hill-hill-hill Hill.
posted by of strange foe at 11:44 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


A whole lot of things in Texas with names like "River Oaks Number 2 Colonia" (and many other numbered colonias; what are these?)

The term "colonia" in Spanish means a community or neighborhood. These residential areas are found with 50 miles of U.S.-Mexico border and they commonly lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing; unemployment rates are commonly several times the state averages.

I just looked this up myself; you found another example of the way border history affects place names, and the way existing borders affect people's lives.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:06 PM on September 6



>Pretty handy. Here's all the places in the UK ending in -by, which maps closely with the Danelaw and other Norse >settlements. Here's the same for Western Europe as a whole. Too bad it doesn't include Scandinavia.

There are ~3500 places called by in Sweden. According to openstreetmap at least, I don't have a quick way to check the official data from SCB.
The link will take a few min to load: https://overpass-turbo.eu/s/1b2K

Just replace "Sweden" with your region of interest and re run the query.
posted by skaggig at 11:59 PM on September 9


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