June 17, 2016

What's in a name?

"That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Well actually there can be quite a lot in a name, if we only know what we're reading. In Juliet's case being a Capulet prevented her from loving a member of the rival Montagues because of the history between their families. And when it comes to other names they often contain much more history than first glance would suggest.

This week, to join in with Amy's Five on Friday at Love Made My Home, I'm looking at street names and the kind of stories they often hold.

Two weeks ago we looked at William Wilberforce and noted that Hull has named a street after him as a memorial to his achievements. Many such streets exist around the country (and probably the world) and often the memory of what the person did is long forgotten. But the fact that it represents a person is usually obvious. Other names are less clear. Let's have a look at a few.


This one's in Castle Donington, Leicestershire, and although you can't see it easily in the photo the street is called Moat. It's one of the last remaining signs, other than the village name itself, that a castle ever stood in Donington. There are other strange street names in Donington that might be assumed to be castle references, for example The Biggin, which just translates from Middle English as "the building". But one never knows.

The Mutton Shut

This one's in Much Wenlock, Shropshire. The word 'shut' refers to a shortcut and is one of many such terms used to describe this kind of narrow alley. Depending on where you live in the UK you might know such a way as a snicket, a ginnel, a jennel, a jitty. Often the words describe the narrow walkway leading to the rear of a street or house.  In Hull, for example, where we have spent the last two weeks of Five on Friday, it's called a tenfoot. Other places call it entry, jigger, pend or ennog.  In Much Wenlock's case the Shuts give you a clue to what you'll find at the other end. Often they are named after pubs! The Mutton Shut connects up with George and Dragon Shut, if anybody fancies a pint.

Bashful Alley

This one is fun. In spite of being a very old (and narrow) street in Lancaster, the name is relatively new. Its previous moniker Swap Cunt Alley, was much more open about what went on there. It was renowned as the place to find a prostitute - useful information for a sailor newly disembarked from a long voyage.

Coprolite Street

And while we're on seedy subjects here's a lovely illustration of the phrase "where there's muck there's money". A coprolite is fossilised animal dung. It translates from the Greek and basically means 'shit stone'. Coprolites have been known as a potentially rich source of minerals for many centuries and garden product manufacturer Fisons exploited the local source around Ipswich in Suffolk for its phosphate content. Near the docks, where part of Fisons factory once stood you can still find Coprolite Street - though that's not what the students at nearby University Campus Suffolk (UCS) call it!

That's novel

And now let's go back to Hull. This is probably one of the oddest names you'll ever find. Writer Winifred Holtby (South Riding) used it as the title of one of her novels, but it pre-dates her as a street name. A blue plaque nearby says its origin "remains a mystery".  Fun though, isn't it?

Now take yourself off to Love Made My Home to see what other fives are on offer this Friday.


  1. Such a great post, I certainly learnt a few things today. I am hoping you will be able to help identify some of the bobbins that I have posted about today. Have a great weekend.

  2. Fascinating post. I often wonder about street names. I love the ones in Lancaster. They don't beet about the bush in that part of the country do they! B x

  3. Fancy that! There are some very unusual Street names there with hints of their past. There's a Great Knollys Street in Reading which I just took for granted until I found out it was named after Robert Dudley's father in law. :-)

  4. Interesting! "What's in a name," can be a lot! I live in the town of Boring, Oregon, and dreaded admitting it, anticipating the push back I would get when others discovered it. The town was named after a local successful businessman whose last name was..."Boring." In recent years you might have heard that Boring, Oregon, and Dull, Scotland are now paired in their lackluster misery!
    In answer to the question you left on my last post, "Yes," it counts that you have watched the Little House TV series, but the books are delightful to me, and worth reading...and rereading!

  5. I love this post, so interesting. I can see why they renamed bashful alley. Great history.

  6. Such a fascinating post indeed. "Coprolite Street" wouldn't be my favourite address, but "Land of Green Ginger" sounds lovely.
    Thank you very much for sharing!

  7. Well you learn something new every day in blog land, you've chosen 5 great street news to share with us this week! Up North where I was born and raised we called it a ginnel too.

  8. Love this. I did not know about the term shut at all. Love learning about new words and language, brilliant thanks

  9. It is incredible how different names are used in different regions. Where I grew up a ginnel was a passageway between two houses and a snicket was a narrow passage between two hedges. I'd love to live in Land of Green Ginger - I wonder if fairies live there?

  10. Great post! I love knowing why places are named as they are. One of my fondest school memories was a history class I took (History and English were my favourites)where we learned about the area around our school. Each 'estate' in town was named after an old house that used to be there. I was from the area known as Stoke Park which was actually a place. Several of the streets were named after the owners of those houses. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Loved this. We're clamoring for more.

  12. It's very interesting to recherche, what means the local names, I like this here with us too. So many storis behind the names...
    Have a sunny weekend

  13. How amazing! It isn't something you really think about it is, but it is so interesting to read more about where the names come from. Thank you for joining Five On Friday, hope you have a great weekend! xx

  14. Loved your post today, my husband and I both had a good laugh.

  15. Very interesting! I am familiar with Wilberforce and have read a few books about him and we stood and read his epitaph at Westminster Abbey several years ago.

  16. I loved this post, a fascinating insight to the origins behind some of our country's strange street names. There is one in York that intrigues me - it is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, I wonder where on earth that came from? xx

  17. Fascinating. I love the origins of names - a wonderful insight into our history including, of course, the racial origins of the people whose names came to predominate and whose genes we share. To add to your wonderful list of alley-type names, ever come across 'twitten'? It's from Sussex, I believe - though where I live now it's 'ginnel' that I hear most often.


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