Definition of place name noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary


place name

BrE BrE//ˈpleɪs neɪm//
; NAmE NAmE//ˈpleɪs neɪm//
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a name of a town or other place an expert on the origin of place names Cultureplace namesBritain and the US have a rich variety of place names. Some names are derived from a feature of the countryside. Others are named after a church or fort. Some honour famous people, while others have been brought from abroad.Many names reflect the history of an area and of the people who once lived there. Some of the oldest place names in Wales and Scotland date back to the time of the Celts. Some towns in Southern England have Latin names dating from Roman times. Other names are of Anglo-Saxon or Viking origin and date from the period when these peoples invaded Britain. Later, the Normans introduced some French names.In the US many place names are derived from Native American words: Chicago, for example, means 'place of the onion' in the Algonquian language, Seattle is named after a chief, and Natchez after a tribe. Sometimes the names were translated, sometimes not: the Black Warrior River in Alabama runs through the city of Tuscaloosa, which was named after a Native American whose name means 'Black Warrior'. Names of Spanish origin are found mainly in the South-Western US. They include San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. A few names are of French origin, e.g. Baton Rouge and La Crosse. Some names are derived from more than one culture: Anaheim combines the Spanish name 'Ana' with the German 'heim' (= home).Many British towns take their name from a river. In Wales and Scotland many towns have names beginning with Aber-, which means 'river mouth', e.g. Aberystwyth, Aberdeen. In England towns close to a river mouth often end with -mouth, e.g. Weymouth. The name of the river forms the rest of the name. Names ending in -ford (Oxford) suggest a place where a river is shallow enough to cross. A town beside a lake may, in Scotland, contain loch- or, in England, -mere, e.g. Lochinver, Windermere.In Scotland, there are several place names beginning with Dun-, meaning 'hill', e.g. Dunbar. Any place whose name ends with -don (Swindon), -hurst (Sandhurst), -head (Gateshead) or, in Wales, begins with pen- (Penarth), probably stands on or near a hill. Towns near passes may end in -gate, e.g. Harrogate, or, in Scotland, begin with Glen-, e.g. Glencoe. Names ending with -coumbe or -combe (Ilfracombe) or -dale (Rochdale), or, in Wales, beginning with cwm- (Cwmbran) suggest that the town is in a valley.American place names based on natural features are easier to recognize. Examples include Two Rivers, River Edge, Mirror Lake, Ocean City, Gulf Breeze, Seven Hills, Shady Valley, Twentynine Palms, Lookout, Little Rock, Round Rock, White Rock and Slippery Rock. French names include La Fontaine and Eau Claire. Some place names describe a product, e.g. Bean City, Copper City.Many British towns developed around an early fort or castle. This may be indicated by a name ending in -burgh (Edinburgh), -bury (Salisbury), -caster or -cester (Doncaster, Gloucester) or -chester (Dorchester), or beginning or ending with castle (Newcastle). A Welsh variant is Caer- (Caernarfon).Names that include church-, kirk- or, in Wales llan- refer to a church (Offchurch, Kirkby, Llandaff). Towns where there was a monastery may have names ending in -minster (Kidderminster).Names ending with -ham (Evesham), -hampton (Southampton), -ington (Workington), -stock or -stoke (Woodstock, Basingstoke), -thorpe (Scunthorpe), -wich or -wick (Norwich, Warwick) mean that there was a village or farm there.In the US place names that refer to buildings include House, Brick Church and High Bridge. Atlanta, Georgia is named after a railway/​railroad.Some British place names refer to ancient tribes. The elements -ing and -ingham at the end of a name mean 'people of' and 'home of the people of', as in Reading ('Read's people') and Birmingham ('home of Beorma's people'). Places with names ending in -by were the homes of Viking invaders, e.g. Grimsby ('Grim's village').Some towns take their name from Christian saints, particularly if they had local connections. These include St Albans, St Andrews and St David's. Towns named after people who lived in more recent times are rare in Britain. They include Nelson, named after Lord Nelson and the new town Telford, named after the engineer Thomas Telford.By contrast, many towns in the US honour famous Americans, especially presidents. Abraham Lincoln is honoured in towns named Lincoln, Lincolnville, Lincolnwood, etc., Andrew Jackson at Jackson and Jacksonville and Thomas Jefferson at Jefferson, Jeffersonville and Jefferson City.Other towns named after famous Americans include Houston, Texas, named after Sam Houston; Cody, Wyoming, after Buffalo Bill; Boone, Tennessee, after Daniel Boone; and Custer, Montana, after General George Custer. Often the person is now little heard of, e.g. H M Shreve, a 19th century boat captain on the Mississippi River, whose name was used for Shreveport, Louisiana. A few towns are named after companies, e.g. Hershey, Pennsylvania.Many American towns are named after a place in Britain or another country from which settlers in the US originally came. British names are found especially in New England. They include Boston, Cambridge, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-sea, and Stafford. British names used in other parts of the US include the cities of New York and Birmingham, and Glasgow, a small town in Montana. Like New York (New Amsterdam), Brooklyn (Breukelyn) was originally named by Dutch settlers.Names from other countries include New Orleans, Moscow, Athens, Paris, Naples and New Holland.Americans enjoy creating unusual or humorous names, such as Tombstone in Arizona. Truth or Consequences in New Mexico is named after a radio quiz show. Other names include Cannon Ball, Pie Town, Smackover, Humble City, High Lonesome, Cut and Shoot, and Monkey's Eyebrow.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: place name