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July 05, 2007

What's in a name?

I recently commented that the River Avon which joins the Severn at Tewkesbury is one of four Avons in England. The question is why are there four? After all, it can't be that the "explorers" got confused, they are fairly obviously different rivers!

The simple answer is that it is all the fault of the Roman invaders. In typical fashion (one that British explorers at the height of Empire emulated) they would march up to a local and demand, probably in Latin, "What do you call this river?" The local, quite possibly deliberately misinterpretting the question would reply - "Its called a River. Don't you have them where you come from?" To really appreciate the joke I suppose you also have to know that the word for "River" in Brythic, the language spoken by the Brits before 43 AD, is "Affon".

The superior Roman cartographer would then dutifully note that the river he was looking at was the "River Affon" and move on, probably to ask the next local "What do you call that hill?" - only to get a similar reply.

You don't want to know how many "Hill" Hills there are around here ..........

Posted by The Gray Monk at July 5, 2007 11:25 AM

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There's also the fact to consider that Brits have had a tendency to call things as they see them. Two examples that come to mind are a place in Guyana from which a friend of mine hails that is called "Blackbush", named after dominant local flora and my own neighborhood of birth in New York, Forest Hills, which was originally named "White Pot" as the Indians sold it to the British for three white clay pots.

For all we know, those folks in the double digit years might have been supplying the true proper names of the rivers and hills, LOL.

Posted by: Seth at July 5, 2007 08:17 AM