Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Names of Moorlands Rivers



There was a documentary on BBC4 the other week on the River Trent. Writer Tom Fort took his punt down the river as far as he could before the Trent flowed into the Humber estuary. The river is 180 miles in length, is the third longest river in Britain and cuts through several Midland counties beginning, of course, as a “pathetic trickle” on Biddulph Moor. Fort also spent a little time at Knypersley before a section on how brutalised the Trent had become forced through debris strewn concrete culverts in Stoke  before emerging at Trentham as a proper waterway again.  

It is believed that the name Trent is formed from two Celtic words – ʻtrosʼ (over) and ʻhyntʼ (way) producing ʻtroshyntʼ (over-way). This is because of the river’s propensity to flood and alter its course, this has been interpreted as meaning ʻstrong floodingʼ or more directly the trespasser or wanderer.

Another possible meaning is ʻa river that is easily fordedʼ. The name ʻTrisantona Fu (Trisantona River) for the Trent first appears in ʻThe Annals’ of the Roman writer Tacitus. It has also been suggested the name is derived from the Celtic— ʻTrisantanoʼ which has been given the interpretation of ʻgreat feminine thoroughfareʼ. It might be named for a Celtic River Goddess. It was a big enough barrier to delay the Roman Legions .

 River names are among the oldest names in Britain. The first settlements in Britain were on the banks of rivers, which were easy of access by land and by water and provided drinking water and, in times of emergency, fish to eat There is a predominance of names of Celtic origins in the Moorlands although they might follow even earlier names given to rivers by Palaeolithic hunters. Locally the rivers have strong associations with these early names. The Churnet that flows through Leek origins are unknown although it is first called that in the 13th century. The Hamps is close to a Welsh word Hamphest which translates as “summer dry” and is an accurate description of a river that disappears into the limestone during those months.


The Dane has nothing to do with Vikings, but is related, it is thought, to the Welsh “dafnu” to trickle or flow. It first appears as Daan in documents from the 15th century. Incidentally the Danube comes from the same root.

 The Dove is derived from the Celtic word “Dubo” meaning black or dark which incidentally where the origins of the place name “Dublin” or black pool stems. It has also been suggested that it might be linked to an early word for “deer” The Dove has been traced back under this name to the Saxon period. A tributary of the Dove the Tean which rises near Dilhorne is called after the Brythonic word “taen” a sprinkling

Turning to the Manifold this is unusual as it simply means a river with many folds or bends and is derived from the Middle English. Perhaps the most charming is the Blithe which is so named after the Saxon word for “gentle” or “merry” a word still used in everyday language.