Monday, April 10, 2006

What's in a name?

click photo to enlarge
The naming conventions of countries show interesting differences. In the United States small communities sometimes style themselves "City", and avenues and streets are often simply numbered . In France and Italy (and elsewhere) streets can be found that are named after significant dates. These conventions are rarely or never found in Britain, but we too have our peculiarities.

The commonest street names in Britain are High Street (i.e. the main street) and Church Street (for obvious reasons).Towns and villages have regional characteristics dating back to the language of the early settlers of the area. Roman-derived placenames often end in "cester" or "caster" after a Roman fort or castle. So, Lancaster is named after the Roman castle (or fort) next to the River Lune. The modified spelling is a result of corruption over the ages. Saxon settlements can be identified by a number of suffixes including "ton". The town of Skipton in North Yorkshire is literally "sheep town". Ninth century Scandinavian invaders brought their own language, and this was assimilated into the language. The word "kirk", meaning church, is commonly found in Scotland and Northern England. My birthplace, Kirkby Lonsdale, means "church by the valley of the River Lune". Individual areas of cities and towns often pick up their name from a pre-existing ancient name. For example the area known as Anchorsholme in Cleveleys, Lancashire, derives from a family name (nothing to do with a ship's anchor), and a low rise, in the centre of wet land i.e. an island or "holme".

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the massive growth of towns led to planners and developers naming groups of streets after, for example, poets (Chaucer Road), rivers (Severn Street), country houses (Blenheim Street), etc. The photograph above shows an example of insensitive English naming - it is Waterloo Station in London, the starting point in England for the Eurostar trains that travel through the Channel Tunnel to the Gare du Nord in Paris. I don't think it was triumphalism that caused this station to be chosen as the terminus. However, it was that sentiment that named it in the first place. It's probably as well that there are moves afoot to relocate Eurostar to St Pancras. Now there's another story!

This shot shows the part of a railway station that always interests me the most - the roof. But the horizontal bustle of the platform and the sweeping metalwork above combine, I think, to make a picture that neatly summarizes the attraction of stations - not matter what they are called!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen