List of generic forms in British place names

The study of place names is called toponymy; for a more detailed examination of this subject in relation to British place names, please refer to British toponymy. This article lists a number of common generic forms found in British place names, their meanings and some examples of their use.


Key to languages: C - Cumbric; K - Cornish; I - Irish; L - Latin; ME - Middle English; NF - Norman French; OE - Old English; ON - Old Norse; P - Pictish; SG - Scots Gaelic; W - Welsh

Term Origin Meaning Example Position Comments
aber C, W, P, K mouth (of a river), confluence, a meeting of waters Aberystwyth, Aberdyfi, Aberdeen, Aberuthven prefix
ac, acc, ock OE acorn, or oak tree Accrington, Acomb, Acton, Matlock
afon W, SG, K river River Avon, Glanyrafon W afon is pronounced "AH-von"; several English rivers are named Avon
ar,ard I, SG height Armagh, Ardglass
ash OE ash tree Ashton-under-Lyne
ast OE east Aston prefix
auch(en)-, ach- I, SG field Auchendinny, Auchenshuggle, Achnasheen prefix anglicised from achadh. Ach- is generally the Highland form, and Auch- the lowland. Auchen- "means field of the X" (Achadh nan X)
auchter- I, SG height, top of something Auchtermuchty, Auchterarder prefix anglicised from Uachdar
axe, exe, usk Bry. from isca, meaning water Exeter, River Axe (Devon), River Exe, River Usk, Axminster.
ay, y, ey ON island Ramsay, Westray, Lundy, Orkney suffix (usually)
bal, balla, bally, ball SG, I farm, homestead Ballachulish, Balerno, Ballymena, Ballinamallard prefix anglicised from baile
beck OE,ON stream Holbeck, Beckinsale, Troutbeck, Cod Beck
berg, berry OE/ON hill (cf. 'iceberg') Roseberry Topping, In Farnborough (OE Fernaberga) , berg has converged toward borough
bex OE box, the tree Bexley, Bexhill-on-Sea The OE name of Bexhill-on-Sea was Bexelei, a glade where box grew.
blen, blaen C, W fell, hill, upland Blencathra, Blencogo, Blaenau Ffestiniog
bost ON farm Leurbost suffix cf. ster, (bol)staðr; this form is usually found in the Outer Hebrides
bourne, burn OE brook, stream Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Ashbourne, Blackburn see also Bourne (placename)
brad OE broad Bradford prefix
bre C, W, K hill Bredon, Carn Brea prefix
bury, borough, brough, burgh OE fortified enclosure Aylesbury, Dewsbury, Bury, Middlesbrough, Edinburgh, Peterborough (usually) suffix See Borough for further information and other uses. Burgh is primarily Scots.
by ON settlement, village Grimsby, Tenby usually suffix but compare Bicker (the town marsh) also survives in bylaw and by-election
carden P thicket Kincardine, Cardenden suffix
caster, chester, cester, ceter OE ( camp, fortification (of Roman origin) Lancaster, Doncaster, Gloucester, Caister, Manchester, Worcester, Chester, Exeter suffix
caer, car C, W ( camp, fortification Caerdydd, Caerleon, Carlisle prefix derived from Brythonic "caer" cf Chester (OE.)/Castra (L.)
cheap, chipping OE market Chipping Norton, Chipping Campden, Chepstow also as part of a street name, e.g. Cheapside. 'Chippenham' is from a personal name.
combe OE ( valley Woolacombe (Devon), Doccombe, Ilfracombe usually pronounced 'coo-m' or 'cum', cognate with cwm
coed W wood, forest Betws-y-coed
cot, cott OE cottage, small building Ascot, Draycott in the Clay, Swadlincote suffix
cul C narrow Culcheth prefix
cwm, cum W, C valley Cwmaman, Cumdivock prefix Borrowed into old English as suffix "coombe". 'Cwm' in Welsh and 'Cum', in Cumbric.
cum L with Salcott-cum-Virley hyphenized between two other names Used where two parishes were combined into one. Unrelated to Cumbric cum.
dal SG, I meadow, low lying area by river Dalry, Dalmellington prefix Cognate with and probably influenced by P Dol
dale OE/ON valley OE, allotment OE Airedale i.e valley of the River Aire, Rochdale, Saxondale suffix Cognate with thal (Ger.), dalr (ON)
dean, den OE valley (dene) Croydon, Dean Village, Horndean, Todmorden suffix the geography is often the only indicator as to the original root word (cf. don, a hill)
din, dinas W fort Dinas Powys prefix homologous to 'dun'; see below
don, den OE hill Abingdon, Bredon, Willesden suffix
drum SG, I ridge, back Drumchapel, Drumnacanvy, Drumnadrochit prefix anglicised from druim
dun, dum SG, I fort Dundee, Dumbarton, Dungannon prefix derived from dùn
ey, ea, eg, eig OE eg island Romsey, Athelney, Ely
ey OE haeg enclosure Hornsey, Hay (-on-Wye) separate meaning to -ey 'island' - see above
field OE open land, a forest clearing Sheffield, Wakefield, Huddersfield suffix
fin SG white, holy Findochty prefix anglicised from 'fionn'
firth OE wood or woodland Holmfirth, Chapel-en-le-Frith suffix
firth ON fjord, inlet Burrafirth, Firth of Forth from Norse fjorðr
ford, forth OE ford, crossing Bradford, Ampleforth
fos, foss L, OE ditch River Foss, Fangfoss Separate from ON 'foss, force' - see below
foss, force ON waterfall Aira Force, High Force Separate from L/OE 'fos, foss' - see above
gate ON road Gate Helmsley, Holgate
garth ON enclosure Aysgarth
gill, ghyll ON ravine, narrow gully Gillamoor, Garrigill, Dungeon Ghyll
glen SG, I narrow valley, dale Rutherglen, Glenarm anglicised from gleann
ham OE farm, homestead, [settlement] Rotherham, Newham, Nottingham suffix often confused by hamm, an enclosure
hithe, hythe OE wharf, place for landing boats Rotherhithe, Hythe, Erith
holm OE island Holmfirth, Hempholme
hope OE valley, enclosed area Woolhope, Glossop
hurst OE (wooded) hill Dewhurst, Woodhurst
ing OE ingas people of Reading , the people (followers) of Reada, Spalding, the people of Spald suffix sometimes survives in an apparent plural form e.g. Hastings; also, often combined with 'ham' or 'ton'; 'homestead of the people of' (e.g. Birmingham, Bridlington)
inver SG mouth of (a river), confluence, a meeting of waters Inverness prefix cf. 'aber'.
keld ON spring Keld, Threlkeld
keth, cheth C wood Penketh, Culcheth suffix cf. W. 'coed'
kil SG, I monastic cell, old church Kilmarnock, Killead prefix anglicised from Cill
kin SG, I head Kincardine, Kinallen prefix anglicised from Ceann
king OE/ON king, tribal leader King's Norton, King's Lynn, Kingston, Kingston Bagpuize, Coningsby
kirk ON church Kirkwall, Ormskirk, Colkirk
kyle SG narrows Kyle of Lochalsh prefix anglicised from Caol
lan, lhan, llan C, K, P, W church, churchyard, village with church, parish Lanteglos (Cornwall), Lhanbryde (Moray), Lanercost, prefix
lang OE long Langdale, Great Langton, Kings Langley prefix
law, low OE from hlaw, a rounded hill Charlaw, Tow Law, Lewes, Ludlow often standalone often a hill with a barrow or hillocks on its summit
lea, ley, leigh OE from leah, a woodland clearing Barnsley, Hadleigh, Leigh (usually) suffix
lin, llyn C, W lake (or simply water) Lindow, Lindefferon, usually prefix
ling, lyng OE heather Lingmell
magna L great Appleby Magna,Chew Magna, Wigston Magna Primarily a medieval affectation
mere OE lake, pool Windermere, Grasmere, Cromer
minster OE large church, monastery Westminster, Wimborne Minster
moss OE Swamp, bog Mossley, Lindow Moss, Moss Side
mynydd W mountain Mynydd Moel prefix
nan, nans K valley Nancledra (Cornwall) prefix
nant C, W ravine or the stream in it Nantgarw, Nantwich prefix same origin as nan, nans above
ness OE, ON promontory, headland (literally 'nose') Sheerness, Skegness, Inverness, Furness suffix
nor OE north Norton, Norbury, Norwich prefix
pant W a hollow Pantmawr
parva L little Appleby Parva, Wigston Parva
pen C, K, W head (headland or hill) Penzance, Pendle, Penrith prefix also Pedn in W. Cornwall
pit P portion, share, farm Pitlochry (Perthshire), Pitmedden, Pittodrie prefix homologous with K peath
pol C, K pool or lake Polperro (Cornwall), Poltragow prefix
pont L, K, W bridge Pontypridd, Pontheugh prefix can also be found in its mutated form bont, e.g, Pen-y-bont (Bridgend); originally from Latin pons
porth K, W harbour Porthcawl prefix
shaw OE a wood Penshaw, Openshaw standalone or suffix a fringe of woodland
shep, ship OE sheep Shepshed, Shepton Mallet, Shipton, North Yorkshire prefix
stan OE stone, stony Stanmore, Stamford, Stanlow prefix
stead OE place, enclosed pasture Hampstead, Berkhamsted suffix
ster ON farm Lybster, Scrabster suffix cf. -bost from (bol)staðr
stoke OE stoc dependent farmstead, secondary settlement Stoke-on-Trent, Stoke Damerell, Basingstoke (usually) standalone
stow OE (holy) place Stow-on-the-wold, Padstow, Chepstow, Stowmarket
strath SG wide valley, vale Strathmore (Angus) prefix derived from srath (but conflated with Brythonic "Ystrad")
street L, OE road (roman) Spittal-in-the-Street, Chester-le-Street derived from strata, L. 'paved road'
sud, sut OE south Sudbury, Sutton prefix
swin OE pigs, swine Swinton, Swinford (Leicestershire)
tarn ON lake In modern English, usually a glacial lake in a coombe.
thorp, thorpe ON secondary settlement Cleethorpes, Thorpeness an outlier of an earlier settlement
thwaite, twatt ON thveit a forest clearing with a dwelling, or parcel of land Huthwaite, Twatt suffix
tre C, K, W settlement Trevose Head, Tregaron, Trevercraig prefix
tilly SG hillock Tillicoultry, Tillydrone prefix
toft ON homestead Lowestoft usually suffix
treath K beach
tun, ton OE tun enclosure, estate, homestead Tunstead, Brighton, Coniston OE pronunciation 'toon'. Compare en. town, nl. tuin (garden) and ger. Zaun (fence); all derived from Germanic root 'tun
weald, wold OE high woodland Wealdstone, Stow-on-the-Wold Southwold
wick, wich, wych, wyke L, OE place, settlement Norwich, Ipswich, Alnwick suffix related to Latin 'vicus'(place), cf. nl. 'wijk'
wick ON vik bay Runswick, Wick, Lerwick suffix cf. Jorvik (modern York)
whel C mine or cave Wheldrake
worth, worthy, wardine OE enclosure Tamworth, Farnworth, Holsworthy, Bredwardine usually suffix
ynys W Island Ynys Mon (Anglesey)


See also

External links

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