Celtic toponymy

Celtic toponymy is the study of place names wholly or partially of Celtic origin. These names are found throughout continental Europe, the British Isles, Anatolia and, latterly, through various other parts of the globe not originally occupied by Celts.

Celtic languages

Main article: Proto-Celtic language

The Proto-Indo-European language developed into various daughter languages, including the Proto-Celtic language. In Proto-Celtic ("PC"), the Proto-Indo-European ("PIE") sound *p disappeared, perhaps through an intermediate *ɸ. After that, languages derived from Proto-Celtic changed PC *kw into either *p or *k (see: P-Celtic and Q-Celtic languages). In P-Celtic languages, PC *kw changed into *p. In Q-Celtic dialects it developed into /k/. Modern Celticists believe these changes happened after the split between Insular Celtic languages and the Continental Celtic languages.

P-Celtic languages include the Continental Gaulish language and the Brittonic branch of Insular Celtic. Common Brittonic is the ancestor of Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

Ancient Q-Celtic languages include the Continental Celtiberian and the Goidelic branch of Insular Celtic. Goidelic is the ancestor of the Gaelic languages Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.

Frequent elements

Continental Celtic


From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

From Celtic *windo- 'white' (Welsh gwyn) + *bona 'base, foundation' (Welsh bôn 'base, bottom, stump')


From divine name Arduinna, from Celtic *ardu- 'high' (Irish ard) + Latin silva 'forest'


Most of the main cities in France have a Celtic name (the original Gaulish one or the name of the Gaulish tribe); however, in Provence, there are sometimes Greek or Latin names, and in the Basque Country there are Basque names.

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

From Celtic *diwo- 'god, holy, divine' (Scottish Gaelic dia 'god') + *dūro- 'fort'

From Celtic *lug- 'Lugus' (divine name) or perhaps 'light' + *dūnon 'fortress'

First element from Celtic *lemo- 'elm'.

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

"Bridge on the [river] Somme". River name Samara + Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'.

Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'.


From Celtic alisa, s.f., 'alder'. (Compare the modern German Erlenbach) and Old High German (OHG) aha, s.n., 'flowing water'.

Perhaps from Celtic ambara, 'channel, river'. Compare Indo-European *amer-, 'channel, river' > Greek ἀμάρη (amárē), 'channel'. Or, from Celtic amara, 'spelt, a type of grain'.

From Celtic *onno-, 'ash tree' plus an OHG bach, 'small river'.

First element is Celtic *Boio-, tribal name (Boii), possibly 'cattle-owner' (cf. Irish 'cow') or 'warrior'. Second element is Celtic *dūro- 'fort'.

From Celtic *bona 'base, foundation' (Welsh bôn 'base, bottom, stump')

From Gaulish Boudobriga, "hill of victory". Containing the elements *boudo- 'victory' (Welsh budd 'gain, benefit') + *briga, 'hill'.

From Celtic *dūro- 'fort'

From Celtic *(φ)erkunos 'oak' or divine name Perkwunos + Latin silva 'forest'

Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

From Celtic *mogunt-, 'mighty, great, powerful', used as a divine name (see Mogons)

From Celtic *mago-, 'plain, field'

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

Second element is from Celtic *magos 'field, plain'

Some have seen this toponym as a hybrid form comprising a Celtic form and a Germanic suffix -ingen.[5] This may be so, since between the 2nd and 4th centuries, the area around the present day German university town of Tübingen was settled by a Celtic tribe with Germanic tribal elements mixed in. The element tub- in Tübingen could possibly arise from a Celtic dubo-, s.m., 'dark, black; sad; wild'. As found in the Anglo-Irish placenames of Dublin, Devlin, Dowling, Doolin and Ballindoolin. Perhaps the reference is to the darkness of the river waters that flow near the town; if so, then the name can be compared to the English Tubney, Tubbanford, Tub Mead and Tub Hole in England. Compare the late Vulgar Latin tubeta 'morass', from Gaulish. The root is found in Old Irish dub > Irish dubh, Old Welsh dub > Welsh du, Old Cornish duw > Middle Cornish du, Breton du Gaulish dubo-, dubis, all meaning 'black; dark'

Second element from Celtic *magos, 'plain, field'


From Celtic *(φ)erkunos 'oak' or divine name Perkwunos + Latin jugum 'summit'


Further information: List of Celtic place names in Italy and List of Celtic Urban Toponymy in Italy

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

Perhaps from Celtic *genu- 'mouth [of a river]'. (However, this Ligurian place-name, as well as that of Genava (modern Geneva), probably derive the Proto-Indo-European root *ĝenu- 'knee', see Pokorny, IEW .)

Unclear. First element looks like Latin medius 'middle'. Second element may be Celtic *landā 'land, place' (Welsh llan); or, *plan- > *lan-, a Celtic cognate of Latin plānus 'plain', with typical Celtic loss of /p/.

From Celtic *Bhel- 'bright' and *dūnon 'fortress'.

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

From Celtic *briga- 'rocky height or outcrop'.

From Celtic *bona 'base, foundation' (Welsh bôn 'base, bottom, stump')


From Celtic *lug- 'Lugus' (divine name) or perhaps 'light' + *dūnon 'fortress'

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'


Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'


From Celtic *bracari- after the Bracari Celts.

From Celtic *brigant- 'divine name, Brigantia'.

three Portuguese provinces: Beira-Baixa, Beira-Alta and Beira-Litoral

From Celtic *briga- 'rocky height or outcrop'.

From Celtic *ebora- 'plural genitive of the word eburos (trees)'.

From Celtic *Lacobriga- 'Lake of Briga'.



Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'


Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'


Asturias and Cantabria

From Celtic *diwā- 'goddess; holy, divine'



From Celtic *ok-ro- 'acute; promontory'[7] and Celtic *brigs 'hill'.


Switzerland, especially the Swiss Plateau, has many Celtic (Gaulish) toponyms. This old layer of names was overlaid with Latin names in the Gallo-Roman period,[10] and, from the medieval period, with Alemannic German[11] and Romance[12] names.

For some names, there is uncertainty as to whether they are Gaulish or Latin in origin. In some rare cases, such as Frick, Switzerland, there have even been competing suggestions of Gaulish, Latin and Alemannic etymologies.[13]

Examples of toponyms with established Gaulish etymology:

Insular Celtic



The vast majority of placenames in Ireland are anglicized Irish language names.


Main article: Scottish toponymy

The majority of placenames in the Highlands of Scotland (part of the United Kingdom) are either Scottish Gaelic or anglicized Scottish Gaelic. Gaelic-derived placenames are very common in the rest of mainland Scotland also. Pictish-derived placenames can be found in the northeast, while Brythonic-derived placenames can be found in the south.

Isle of Man

The majority of placenames on the Isle of Man (a Crown dependency) are Manx or anglicized Manx.


England (excluding Cornwall)

Linguistic evidence for Celtic place-names in present-day England can be found in names such as Leatherhead or Litchfield. In addition, evidence of Celtic populations can be found from those place-names including the Old English element wealh "foreigner, stranger, Briton". Such names are a minority, but are widespread across England. For example, a smattering of villages around the Fenland town of Wisbech hint at this: West Walton, Walsoken, and the Walpoles indicate the continued presence of an indigenous population, and Wisbech, King's Lynn and Chatteris retain Celtic topographical elements.

Some villages that exhibit "Tydd" in their name, e.g. Tydd St Giles, may obtain that element from the Britonnic word for "small holding". Compare the Welsh tyddyn.

From Celtic *ardu- 'high' (Irish ard)

From Brythonic *abona 'river' (Welsh afon)

From Celtic *iska 'water' (Irish uisce)

First element from Celtic *briga 'hill'

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

Derived from Welsh bryn, 'hill', which in turn is derived from Brythonic briga-, which is of the same meaning

From *kamulos 'Camulus' (divine name) + Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

First element from Brythonic *crüg 'hill'[15]

From tribal name Dumnonii or Dumnones, from Celtic *dumno- 'deep', 'world'

From Celtic *dubr- 'water', *dubrās 'waters' (Welsh dwfr)

First element is possibly dun, ' hill fort' (Welsh ddin, 'fort').

First element from Celtic *dūro- 'fort'; in Dūrobrīvae, Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'

Possibly derived from Brythonic *iska, 'water, fish' and *leith, 'damp, wet'.

From Celtic *iska 'water' (Irish uisce); second element in Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) is a tribal name (see Devon)

From Brythonic *lēd- [from Celtic *leito-] + *rïd- [from Celtic *(φ)ritu-] = "Grey Ford"[15]

From Celtic *lindo- 'pool' + Latin colonia 'colony'

From Celtic *mamm- 'breast' (referring to the shape of a hill)

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill, top, head, chief' (Welsh pen) + possibly *kelli 'to stand' (Welsh gelli)

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill, top, head, chief' (Welsh pen) + *koid- 'wood' (Welsh coed), or *cēd- 'wood'[15]

First element from Brythonic *penn- 'hill, top, head, chief' (Welsh pen 'head, end, chief, supreme') = Irish ceann 'head', from Proto-Celtic *kwenno-

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill' (Welsh pen)

From English lower + Brythonic *penn- 'hill'

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill' and possibly p-Celtic *carr 'rocks'. This matches the earliest attestation from c. 1190, Pencher.

Old Sarum, Wiltshire, Latin Sorviodūnum Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

First element conjectured to be Celtic for 'victorious', 'strength' or 'dry' (theories). Second element is Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'.

From Celtic *seno- 'old' + *dūnon 'fortress'

Possibly from Celtic *tames- 'dark' (cf. Celtic *temeslos > Welsh tywyll 'darkness'). Other theories.

'Of the Trinovantes', a tribal name, perhaps 'very energetic people' from Celtic *tri- (intensive) + *now- 'energetic', related to *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd)

From Brittonic *weru- 'broad' + *lam- 'hand' [from Celtic *(φ)lāmā] (Welsh llaw, Irish láimh)

First element from Celtic *windo- 'white' (Welsh gwyn); in Vindolanda, Celtic *landā 'land, place' (Welsh llan). In Vindomora, second element could be 'sea' (Welsh môr, Irish muir).


Main article: Welsh toponymy

The vast majority of placenames in Wales (part of the United Kingdom) are either Welsh or anglicized Welsh.


The vast majority of placenames in Cornwall (part of England) are either Cornish or anglicized Cornish. For examples, see List of places in Cornwall.


The vast majority of placenames in the west of Brittany (part of France) are either Breton or derived from Breton. For examples, see Category:Populated places in Brittany.

See also


  1. Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, éditions errance 2003.
  2. See Noviomagus and Lexovii.
  3. Archetype that exists everywhere in France, for example Ruan (Rothomago 1233 / Rotomagus 5th century), Rom.
  4. DELAMARRE 261-262.
  5. Bahlow, Hans. 1955. Namenforschung als Wissenschaft. Deutschlands Ortsnamen als Denkmäler keltischer Vorzeit. Frankfurt am Main.
  6. Prósper, Blanca María (2002). Lenguas y Religiones Prerromanas del Occidente de la Península Ibérica. Universidad de Salamanca. p. 375. ISBN 978-84-7800-818-6.
  7. Matasovic, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Brill. p. 28. ISBN 90-04-17336-6.
  8. Matasovic, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Brill. pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-90-04-17336-1.
  9. Ptolemy II 6.21.
  10. such as Basle, Latin Basilea, from the personal name Basilius, ultimately of Greek origin,
  11. such as Berne, founded 1191
  12. such as Neuchâtel, founded 1011
  13. Frick has been derived from (a) a Celtic word for "confluence", cognate with fork, (b) an Alemannic personal name Fricco and (c) Latin ferra ricia "iron mine, ironworks".
  14. Bernhard Maier, Kleines Lexikon der Namen und Wörter keltischen Ursprungs, 2010, p. 51. Julius Pokorny, IEW (1959:325), s.v. "ē̆reb(h)-, ō̆rob(h)- 'dark reddish-brown colour'": "alb.-ligur.-kelt.-germ. eburo- 'rowan, mountain ash, yew, evergreen tree with poisonous needles'."
  15. 1 2 3 Mills, AD. Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Oxford University Press, 1991.
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