(In which I investigate the etymology of place names generated by a neural net. Pt 1 here.)

Let’s talk bodies of water.

-mer, -mere, -mar, -mare

In British place names this can refer to lakes (Windermere), or the sea (Weston-super-mare) though not exclusively, a mere can also be a boundary as in Mersey or Marple (as a kid I could never work out why the 4 mile run around my town was know as the Mere when there wasn’t a lake for miles). Note: I’m going be a bit interchangeable about which one I use, if these were on a map it would probably be clearer which one it meant. Let’s see what we’ve got.

Mare-unby, this could work. -by is a fairly common ending meaning farm or settlement. Un is a bit trickier, it doesn’t crop up a huge amount in British place names as far as I know. The best I can find is Unsworth near Manchester which comes from a personal name (Hunds became Uns). Or it could be ‘un’ as in to oppose. So this could be the Lake by Un’s Farm, or maybe the Settlement opposite the Lake.

Mareby Cole. It’s our friend -by again, so Mareby could be the farm or settlement by the lake, sea or boundary. Cole could mean a lot of things but before we get into them I like that the net has generated this name extension. Settlement by the sea is so generic that the town would need a qualifier to distinguish it from the other towns by the sea. Back to Cole:

  • The River Cole, not far from me, comes from a word for Hazel, so this could be The Lake Town by the Hazel Trees.
  • Col is a Norman French word for hill so we could be talking – on the Hill
  • The least plausible (but my favourite!) comes from the Irish word cúil which means corner or nook, I like to picture the town nestling in a little bend in the coastline, but the mash up of Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic is probably a bit iffy.
  • It could be a personal name appended to the original town name when a family took ownership of the land (this fits the convention of Norman lords appending their names to town names e.g. Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Layer de la Haye, but Cole isn’t a particularly French name AFAIK; it’s German if anything)
  • Or it could literally come from coal, perhaps it’s a port that moved a lot of charcoal

Mareland is fairly clean (and no doubt famous for it’s quality kitchenware). Marenton could’ve once been Marine-town, or Ocean Town. Mares End, I like as an island or coast town: Sea’s End. Or it could be a farm at the top of a lake. Maresfoot on the other hand would be at the bottom of the lake (again, not in a Lancelot du Lac way).

Marcomb introduces another generic form in -comb. This is equivalent to Welsh cwm and means valley so Marcomb is Lake-Valley. Marcott is Sea Cottage.

Mar Hemby St Andentharo. Now we’re talking. We know what Mar is, what about Hemby. The Hem could be equivalent to -ham (a beast we’ll tackle in full another day) which means settlement, or homestead,  so Hemby could be Home Farm. So we have Home Farm by the Lake, St Andentharo. Who is St Andentharo? What language do we even start in? I think the best I can do is a South American saint I just invented named after a lighthouse atop an agricultural terrace (Anden-faro? Apologies to everyone who speaks Spanish), no doubt the patron saint of pre-Colombian soil aeration and flotsam.

Buttfield Marthor *chuckles*. Buttfield is actually a perfectly valid place name, a butt can be a strip of arable land that’s not quite a furlong, a plot of land that abuts another, or could refer to archery butts so Buttfield would be a little field or maybe archery field. As for Marthor, aside from being Thor’s mum’s name, this could be a contraction of Marthorp which refers to a secondary town, so this would be the Lake Town with or by the Small Field.

Boy howdy there are a lot of place names! Next up we might look at moors and marshes.