Revisiting some problematic British-Celtic place names in Northwest England

From Kelten

Published: 2 November 2020
Revisiting some problematic British-Celtic place names in Northwest England
Tino Oudesluijs
Title (NL): Een herziening van enkele problematische Brits-Keltische plaatsnamen in Noordwest Engeland
Abstract (NL):

De vorm waarin van oorsprong Brits-Keltische plaatsnamen in het Oudengels werden overgenomen, vertelt ons veel over wanneer bepaalde klankveranderingen in het Laat Brits-Keltisch plaats moeten hebben gevonden. Als een Engelse vorm de Brits-Keltische klankverandering bevat, moet deze immers hebben plaatsgevonden vóórdat de plaatsnaam in het Engels werd overgenomen. Met behulp van o.a. dit argument, stelde Jackson (1953) bijvoorbeeld dat de belangrijke klankverandering 'lenitie' al voor de komst van de Germaanse stammen in de vijfde eeuw moet hebben plaatsgevonden. In dit artikel buigt Tino Oudesluijs zich over een zevental problematische plaatsnamen, die stuk voor stuk afwijken van de verwachte vorm. Door de verschillende spellingen van deze plaatsnamen door de tijd heen te verzamelen en te vergelijken met de toen gangbare schrijfwijzen, komt hij tot de conclusie dat we hier waarschijnlijk met een andere klank te maken hebben dan eerder werd aangenomen – en dat het probleem met behulp van alternatieve etymologieën voor deze plaatsnamen kan worden verholpen.

The British-Celtic linguistic phenomenon lenition concerns the change from the consonants /p/, /t/, /k/, /b/, /d/, /g/ and /m/ into /b/, /d/, /g/, /β/, /ð/, /β/ and /β̃/ [1]n. 1 In this article I use /.../ to indicate phonemes and ⟨...⟩ to indicate how they were written. respectively when they occur in certain phonetic environments, such as between two vowels, or between a vowel and a resonant (/m/, /l/, /n/ and /r/).[2]n. 2 This is an updated version of the Dutch article 'Problematische Brits-Keltische plaatsnamen in het noordwesten van Engeland', previously published in Kelten 69 (2016), 13-20. In order to date this particular change to the second half of the fifth century, Jackson (1953) uses four different sources, one of which consists of those British-Celtic place names in England for which we have written evidence dating back to the Anglo-Saxon period (c. 500–1100 AD).[3]n. 3 Jackson (as well as others) saw lenition as a single change that occurred in a short period of time. In more recent contributions (most notably by Peter Wynn Thomas and Patrick Sims Williams), it has been shown that it likely concerned multiple smaller changes occurring over a longer period of time. However, even though he convincingly presents his dating with clear arguments, some British-Celtic place names pose problems as a word-final ⟨th⟩ /θ/ is attested in both Middle English and more modern sources where a ⟨d⟩ is expected (without any evidence from the Anglo-Saxon period), causing Jackson to exclude those place names from his overall argumentation.

Using evidence from British-Celtic place names included in Old English sources, Jackson (1953: 543–561) initially argues that lenition had occurred in the British-Celtic languages by the time the Germanic tribes came to Britain in the fifth century. These place names reveal that when there was originally a *t /t/ between vowels (as based on our current understanding of the etymologies of these place names), they were subsequently included in Old English sources with a /d/ ⟨d⟩. A good example of this is Eden (Cumbria): Eden < Late Proto-British *Idon < Proto-Celtic *Ituna. The adoption of this place name in English was, according to Jackson, only possible when lenition had occurred in Late Proto-British before the name was adopted into Old English. If this had not been the case, the Anglo-Saxons would have used a /t/ ⟨t⟩, which was available in Old English and would have represented the British-Celtic *t /t/ much better.

Seven problematic place names

Despite further evidence supporting Jackson’s dating of British-Celtic lenition, seven place names pose a problem as 1) there are no surviving Old English attestations that we are aware of, and 2) they contain a word-final ⟨th⟩ /θ/ (in both late-medieval and contemporary sources), where – based on our understanding of their etymologies – we would expect /d/ as a result of lenition. These place names are (see also figure 1):

  1. Penrith (Cumbria): W[4]n. 4 In this article I use the following abbreviations: W for Welsh, OE for Old English, PrC for Proto-Celtic, Bret for Breton, MBret for Middle Breton and Corn for Cornish. penn ‘head/top/hill’ + W rhyd ‘ford’.
  2. Culgaith (Cumbria): W cul ‘back/corner/retreat’ + W coed ‘wood’.
  3. Culcheth (Cheshire): same as Culgaith (cf. Ekwall 1960: 135).
  4. Penketh (Cheshire): W penn + W coed.
  5. Werneth (Greater Manchester): W gwern ‘alder’ + the Latin suffix -etum (cf. Gaul Vernetum, now Vernois, Vernet, etc.).
  6. Tulketh (Lancashire): W twll ‘hollow/hole/cave’ + W coed.
  7. Winfrith (Dorset): W ffrwd ‘stream’ (Win is the name of the local river).

These spellings with a word-final ⟨th⟩ /θ/ are noteworthy, as the expected outcome of a lenited *t is /d/, not /θ/ (e.g. PrC. *kaito- > Welsh coed). In order to explain these seven place names in terms of sound change, one would have to clarify how a /d/ (< *t) would have become a /θ/ –  not only does the consonant have to become voiceless, it also has to become a fricative.

Jackson’s discussion of British-Celtic *t /d/

Jackson (1953: 554–556) considers the British-Celtic lenited *t /d/ in place names in two phonetic contexts: word-medial and word-final. The former is written with a ⟨d⟩ in the English sources, though sometimes a ⟨t⟩ is used. Jackson (1953: 555) argues that this can be explained through a mixture of provection (a mutation whereby voiced consonants become voiceless) and hypercorrection, rather than having to assume that these place names were adopted by the Anglo-Saxons before lenition had occurred. As for word-final lenited *t /d/, Jackson states that, initially, this too was replaced with a ⟨d⟩ in English sources. However, in later periods (especially the Middle English period), it was often written with a ⟨t⟩. Here Jackson points out that the consonants /b/, /d/ and/g/ were often written with ⟨p⟩, ⟨t⟩, and ⟨c⟩ respectively at the end of a word in Middle Welsh, as these consonants are known to become voiceless in word-final position (like in many other languages, including Dutch). Ekwall (1928: lxxiii) furthermore points out that this also occurred in many Old English dialects, and that ⟨d⟩ spellings are probably from an older period. Examples of this phenomenon include Parrett, (Dorset, Somerset) < OE Pedrede, and Nymet (Devon) < OE Nimed, Nymed.
With these examples we are able to explain how word-final ⟨d⟩ (/d/ [< *t]) often became voiceless /t/ in later periods, but not the transition from a stop to a fricative. Förster (1921: 213) suggested that lenited British-Celtic *t /d/ was dental (as opposed to alveolar) and strongly aspirated, and Ekwall (1928: lxxiii) claimed that it seemed as if the pronunciation of lenited *t /d/ was aspirated and perhaps even sounded similar to Old English /θ/, but both claims have remained without convincing evidence. As such, Jackson concluded that word-final ⟨th⟩ (pronounced /θ/ in both the Middle English period and the present day) was probably a trend of a later period as the earliest attestations are from the twelfth century. British-Celtic lenited *t /d/ would thus have been adopted into Old English as a /d/ ⟨d⟩, later have become /t/, ⟨t⟩ (which is likely given the word-final position) and eventually become ⟨th⟩ /θ/ under unspecified circumstances. Jackson does not go into further discussion at this point, although he does remark that it might not be a coincidence that six out of the seven place names in question are located in the Northwest of England, i.e. in Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria.

Using British-Celtic place names as evidence

In his discussion on place names in the context of trying to date British-Celtic lenition, Jackson quickly concludes that British-Celtic place names as recorded in Old English sources offer little information (which according to Ekwall is chiefly due to provection), and his suggestion of dating lenition to the second half of the fifth century is largely based on his investigations of three other sources: 1) inscriptions, 2) written sources from the sixth and seventh centuries, and 3) Old Welsh and Old Southwest-British orthography. One of the reasons for which demonstrating lenition through the evidence afforded by place names is so difficult is because of the fact that in Old English various letters could be used to represent the same sound. For example, in the early medieval period both /ð/ and /θ/ could be represented by either ⟨th⟩ or ⟨d⟩ in writing, and these letters were joined by thorn ⟨Þ⟩ and eth ⟨ð⟩ in the eighth century.
However, the main difficulty – something that applies to all historical sources, and in particular place names – is that we simply do not know how certain written letters were pronounced. As such, in this article I will focus on 1) all the available written attestations of the above-listed place names in English sources, 2) the orthographies of Old Welsh, Old Norse, Old English and Middle English, and 3) all possible pronunciations of said orthographies with regard to the sounds and letters concerned here (insofar as this is currently known), with the aim of creating an overview that provides an explanation as to why these place names were and are written with ⟨th⟩ (pronounced /θ/ in the present day), where a ⟨d⟩ (or ⟨t⟩) is expected. I will limit myself to the British-Celtic word-final lenited *t /d/, and leave the other consonants as discussed by Jackson to the side. I will also not consider lenited *t /d/ still in between vowels – despite the fact it concerns the same consonant – as it concerns a different position from the cases where we unexpectedly find ⟨th⟩.

Problematic place names: etymologies and spelling variants

In order to find out if a pattern exists and if certain variants are rarer than others, I collected all known spelling variants of the above-mentioned place names ending in ⟨th⟩, arranged them chronologically and subsequently analysed them (I do not provide the complete list here as it is too long for the present article). As previously remarked by Jackson (1953: 556), all of the places concerned – with the exception of Winfrith in Dorset – are located in the Northwest of England. Jackson uses the example of Winfrith to indicate that word-final ⟨th⟩ for a British-Celtic lenited *t /d/ must have been a late phenomenon as the only spelling variant of this place name with ⟨th⟩ dates from 1491 (with previous spellings having either ⟨t⟩ or ⟨d⟩). As there are no other attestations of word-final ⟨th⟩ for lenited *t /d/ in the South of England (Winfrith being the only example), I will leave this case for what it is and focus on the Northwest area. In the following section I provide a more detailed overview of the etymologies (as initially indicated by Ekwall and Jackson, and later adopted by many other scholars) as well as the different spelling variants (as found in written sources between c. 1100 and 1800) of the six place names concerned.
Penrith consists of the Proto-Celtic elements *kwenno- (W penn), ‘head/top/hill/end’, and *(f)ritu-, (W rhyd) ‘ford’ (cf. Mills 2011: 365).[5]n. 5 See Sedgefield (1915: 86-87) for an alternative suggestion for the second element in Penrith, namely Old Norse rjóðr ‘glen in a forest’.. What immediately caught my attention when going over the known spellings variants for this place name is that there have been many different ones over the years. For the word-final consonant, four different (di)graphs were used: ⟨d⟩, ⟨t⟩, ⟨dh⟩ and ⟨th⟩, of which the ⟨dh⟩ and ⟨d⟩ spellings only occur in the variants Penredh (only one instance from 1230, cf. Sedgefield 1915: 86) and Penred (occurs in multiple sources). In his brief discussion on Penrith, Sedgefield (1915: 86) mentions Penrydd (since 1974 incorporated into the community of Boncath) in Pembrokeshire as a place with the same etymology. Here too we find many different spellings, including some with final ⟨th⟩: Penrhydd, Penrhudd, Penrith, Penreth and Penrieth.
Culgaith and Culcheth both consist of the Proto-Celtic elements *koilo- (W cul) ‘back/corner/retreat’ and *kaito- (W coed) ‘wood’. Both Jackson and Ekwall make no difference in the etymologies of these two place names, even though a clear difference between the two can be made on the basis of the attested spelling variants, most notably between instances with ⟨ay/ai⟩ and those with ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩. This variation can however also be attributed to different writing/spelling conventions, especially seeing as these place names have been attested in multiple sources from different periods. As regards the word-final consonant, at first both ⟨d⟩ and ⟨t⟩ occurred frequently for lenited *t /d/, after which ⟨th⟩ started being used as well on a few occasions. This is less so the case with Penrith, where only one spelling variant with ⟨d⟩ and two with ⟨t⟩ were found.
Penketh consist of the Proto-Celtic elements *kwenno- and *kaito-. Ekwall (1960: 362) refers to Pencoyd (Herefordshire) when discussing this place name, which according to him has the same etymology, although to our knowledge no ⟨th⟩ spellings exist for this place. This could indicate that the ⟨th⟩ spelling was not used in all regions of England. Based on the three variants that we have for Penketh, i.e. Penket, Penketh and Penkith, it seems that it was never written with a ⟨d⟩, although the lack of attestations here makes it difficult to be to make a case for this. As with Culgaith and Culcheth, Jackson and Ekwall claim that the second element is *kaito- , and therefore that it concerns a lenited *t /d/.
Werneth is made up of the Proto-Celtic elements *wernā- (W gwern) ’alder’ and the Latin suffix -etum (cf. Gaulish Vernetum, now Vernois, Vernet, etc.). The latter occurs frequently in Latin localities named after the plants or trees that grew there, such as Oletum ‘olive-yard/grove’, and ficetum ‘fig-yard/grove’, and was often used to name various other places. Similar to Penketh, there are no attestations of spelling variants of this place name with a word-final ⟨d⟩, and there are many with ⟨t⟩ and ⟨th⟩. Despite this, Jackson and Ekwall state that this too concerns a lenited *t /d/.
Tulketh consist of the Proto-Celtic elements *tullo- (W twll, Bret. toul, Corn. toll) ‘hollow/hole/cave’ and *kaito-. Amongst similarly named places and persons we find Mbret. Toulgoet, Bret. Toulhoet, Twll-côd, Tollcoit en W Tull coit. When considering any of these other names, no spelling variants contain ⟨th⟩, which could indicate that the spelling of Tulketh with a ⟨th⟩ was indeed a Northwestern practice. Once again, Jackson and Ekwall claim that, even though there are only two attestations of this place name with a word-final ⟨d⟩, this concerns a British-Celtic lenited *t /d/.
Based on all the spelling variants, the following overview emerges:
Spelling variant Period
d 1165–1290 (with the exception of Tulcood in 1545)
t 1086–1380
th 1100 –1890
From this we can conclude that, for these six place names, ⟨d⟩, ⟨t⟩ and ⟨th⟩ were used alongside each other for a period of time, and that ⟨d⟩ disappeared first. Tulcood is the exception to this, but as this concerns the only variant from such a late period, I do not take it as an indication of anything other than an exception. After the ⟨d⟩ disappeared, the ⟨t⟩ followed, leaving only spellings with ⟨th⟩. This development would seem to indicate that the word-final consonant first lost its voice (as discussed before, this is not uncommon), before becoming a fricative. This sequence of sound changes seems plausible at first glance, but seeing as all three letters were used alongside each other for roughly 300 years it seems unlikely that this was the case (although it has to be noted that differences in pronunciation sometimes show up in writing much later).
Furthermore, we cannot say with absolute certainty how ⟨d⟩, ⟨t⟩ and ⟨th⟩ would have been pronounced, especially in a pre-Standard English writing culture where regional variation was more likely to show up in writing. Moreover, by the twelfth century, scribes in the Northwest of England had a wide variety of letters/graphs available to represent the consonants /d/, /t/, /θ/ and /ð/ in writing due to the influence that various languages (and with them writing cultures) had on the region, i.e. British-Celtic, Old Norse, Old English and later Middle English (and with the latter a strong Norman influence). As such, I will now turn to the possible pronunciations of /d/, /t/, /θ/ and /ð/ in these different languages. I will use Old Welsh as a representation of British-Celtic.

Writing and pronouncing /d/, /t/, /θ/ and /ð/

In Old English (c. 500–1150), both the thorn ⟨Þ⟩ and eth ⟨ð⟩ could represent /θ/ and /ð/ in writing: /θ/ if the thorn or eth was either the first or last letter/graph of a word (or when it was doubled in the middle of a word), and /ð/ if either of them was between vowels or voiced consonants. Before these two graphs were used, however, ⟨th⟩ and ⟨d⟩ were used, especially in the earliest manuscripts from the North of England. Both could represent either /θ/ or /ð/ in the early Old English period. ⟨Th⟩ was borrowed from Irish and/or Latin (from Ireland), and ⟨d⟩ could be used (just as ⟨b⟩) to represent both a stop and a fricative in the earlier Old English period. Whether ⟨d⟩ was used only to represent a voiced alveolar stop or also the voiceless alveolar stop is unclear, but since it was used for the voiceless dental fricative /θ/, and it could be pronounced as /t/ in later Old English (especially in word-final position), this seems plausible to say the least.
It was of course also possible to simply use ⟨t⟩ for /t/, and in Old English (similar to other West-Germanic languages in the period from 400 AD) the /ð/ eventually became the voiced stop /d/. Given these considerations I am not assuming ⟨d⟩ could also represent /t/, but only /d/ or /ð/, and in the earlier Old English period to some extent /θ/ (later this sound was almost always represented with the thorn ⟨Þ⟩). After the eighth century ⟨Þ⟩ and ⟨ð⟩ were used on a large scale to represent dental fricatives, and seeing as all attestations of the six place names in question occur from the eleventh century onwards I will leave the use of ⟨d⟩ for /θ/ out of the discussion later on. Lastly, ⟨t⟩ was only used for /t/, which results in the following overview:
Old English Voiceless Voiced
Stop t d
Fricative ð, Þ, th ð, Þ, th, d
In the transition of Old English to Middle English (c. 1150–1500), it is noteworthy that ⟨ð⟩ was no longer used, and that ⟨Þ⟩ could be used for both /θ/ and /ð/, just like ⟨th⟩. Furthermore, ⟨d⟩ was used for /ð/ until about c. 1500, and ⟨t⟩ and ⟨d⟩ were used to represent /t/ and /d/ respectively. As such, the Middle English overview is as follows:
Middle English Voiceless Voiced
Stop t d
Fricative Þ, th Þ, th, d
In Old Norse (c. 800-1400), the letters ⟨t⟩, ⟨d⟩ and ⟨Þ⟩ were available, with the addition of ⟨ð⟩ from the early thirteenth century onwards. Both the latter and ⟨Þ⟩ were used to represent the voiced and voiceless dental fricatives. Until ⟨ð⟩ was introduced, ⟨Þ⟩ was used for both sounds, but after that it was used only for the voiceless fricative, and only in initial position. The ⟨ð⟩ represents the voiced variant in all other positions, unless it is followed by a voiceless consonant which renders the ⟨ð⟩ voiceless. This seldom happened as normally a ⟨t⟩ would have been used to represent the sound in that case. Lastly, the ⟨d⟩ and ⟨t⟩ were used to represent /d/ and /t/ respectively, resulting in the following overview:
Old Norse Voiceless Voiced
Stop t d
Fricative Þ ð, Þ
The graphs ⟨Þ⟩ and ⟨ð⟩ were not available in Old Welsh (c. 750-1150). As such, /ð/ was represented in writing with a variety of (di)graphs: ⟨th⟩, ⟨dd⟩, ⟨d⟩ and ⟨t⟩, and /θ/ with ⟨t⟩, ⟨d⟩, ⟨th⟩, ⟨tth⟩, ⟨dh⟩ and ⟨dt⟩ (⟨d⟩ for /θ/ is typical for the Juvencus Manuscript and ⟨th⟩ for /θ/ for the Computus fragment). The ⟨t⟩ furthermore represents /t/, and was also used for /d/ in Old Welsh before the eleventh century. Besides /ð/ and /θ/, the ⟨d⟩ was also used for /d/. As such, for Old Welsh the overview is as follows:
Old Welsh Voiceless Voiced
Stop t t, d
Fricative t, d, th, tth, dh, dt th, dd, d, t
From the above overviews it becomes clear that it is not the stops /t/ and /d/ that present difficulties in how they are represented in writing, but rather the fricatives /θ/ and /ð/, which were visualised with a manifold of (di)graphs. Combining all the above tables results in the following overview:
  Voiceless Voiced
Stop t t, d
Fricative ð, Þ, t, d, th, tth, dh, dt t, d, ð, dd, th, Þ
Coming back to the six place names and how the consonants in question were visualised in all the known recorded attestations (i.e. ⟨d⟩ ⟨t⟩ and ⟨th⟩), we can now create the following overview (sounds that are represented by certain [di]graphs in only one language are presented in brackets):
Spelling variant Sound Period
d /d/, /ð/ (/θ/) 1165-1290
t /t/, /d/ (/ð/) 1086-1380
th /θ/, /ð/ 1100-1890
Based on this, it still seems that the word-final sound first lost its voice: /d/ > /t/ (especially since in both Old and Middle English – the languages in which the attestations of the place name variants were recorded - ⟨t⟩ could only represent /t/), and subsequently became a fricative: /t/ > /th/. The loss of voice can be explained, as was mentioned before, but, based on the chronology, the change from a stop into a fricative does not seem likely. For about 100 years, ⟨d⟩, ⟨t⟩ and ⟨th⟩ were used alongside each other for various place names, which presumably had a (relatively) consistent pronunciation as regards the word-final consonant, be it /θ/, /d/, /ð/ or /t/. Of course, different local writing practices are more than likely part of the reason we find different spelling variants in the same period, but it still leaves the question as to how a British-Celtic lenited *t /d/ eventually became ⟨th⟩ /θ/, as opposed to many other place names where we find present-day ⟨t⟩ /t/ (from OE ⟨d⟩ /d/) for lenited *t /d/ (e.g. Parrett, [Dorset, Somerset] < OE Pedrede, and Nymet [Devon] < OE Nimed, Nymed) (Jackson 1953: 555).

Alternative etymologies

Having gone over the known attestations of the six place names, as well as which sounds they likely represented, it seems we are no closer to proposing a satisfactory explanation of how lenited British-Celtic *t /d/ ended up as a voiceless dental fricative. The overview above, however, made me think back further still: what if we have not been dealing with lenited *t /d/, but instead with lenited *d /ð/? This sound could have been represented in writing from Northwest England with either ⟨d⟩ or ⟨th⟩, or even ⟨t⟩ if we consider Old Welsh. Furthermore, ⟨ð⟩ and ⟨Þ⟩ from Old English, which could represent /ð/, were largely replaced with ⟨th⟩ in Middle English, the language of the attestations of the six place names. Additionally, spelling variants with ⟨t⟩ (which could represent /θ/ only in Old Welsh), occurred much less frequently than spellings with ⟨d⟩ or ⟨th⟩. This realisation had me go back to Jackson’s and Ekwall’s suggested etymologies to see whether different origins for the place names in question might explain why we find ⟨th⟩ for /θ/ where we expect to find ⟨d⟩ (or later ⟨t⟩).
With regard to the Proto-Celtic elements *(f)ritu- (W rhyd) ‘ford’ and *kaito- (W coed ‘wood’), Ekwall and Jackson only refer to a handful of other place names with the same etymology, such as Toulcoet and Pencoyd, where no attestations exist with ⟨th⟩ /θ/,[6]n. 6 The element *kaito- occurs in a few place names with different etymologies (e.g. Ascot in Berkshire and Didcot in Oxfordshire), none of which end in ⟨th⟩ /θ/. leaving Ekwall and Jackson to attribute this change to the geographical location of the six place names concerned. However, it is possible that both Ekwall and Jackson (who largely followed Ekwall in this) suggested the wrong etymology here, and no deviating sound change /t/ > /θ/ is required to explain the known attestations and present-day pronunciation.
After doing some research, I came across the following Proto-Celtic words: *rowdo- (W rhudd) ‘red, bloody’ and *kowdo- (W cudd) ‘hiding (place), concealment’, which over time changed into *rʉ:d and *kʉ:d respectively. In Old English, the British-Celtic sound /ʉ:/ was replaced with a /u:/, /i:/ or /y:/, all of which are closed vowels. It is probable that later in the medieval period (i.e. after the Norman Conquest) these were replaced with the vowels /ɛ/ and /i/, which were represented in writing with ⟨e⟩ (Tulketh, Penketh and Culcheth), ⟨ai⟩ (Culgaith), and ⟨i⟩ (Penrith). Using these two Proto-Celtic elements as part of the etymologies of the place names in question, trying to explain British-celtic *t /d/ > /θ/ is no longer an issue, and I therefore suggest the following etymologies:
  1. Penrith < PrC. *kwenno (W penn) ‘head/top/hill/end’ and PrC. *rowdo- (W rhudd) ‘red/bloody’, instead of PrC. *(f)ritu- (W rhyd) ‘ford’.
  2. Culcheth and Culgaith < PrC. *koilo- (W cul) ‘back/corner/retreat’ and PrC. *kowdo- (W cudd) ‘hiding (place)/concealment’, instead of PrC. *kaito- (W coed) ‘forest/wood’.
  3. Penketh < PrC. *kwenno and PrC. *kowdo- instead of PrC. *kaito-.
  4. Werneth < PrC. *wernā- (W gwern) ‘alder’ (and the Latin particle -etum).
  5. Tulketh < PrC. *tullo- (W twll) ‘hollow/hole/cave’ and PrC. *kowdo- instead of PrC. *kaito-.
These etymologies also fit well with regard to the meaning of the place names. Penrith now means ‘red hill’ instead of ‘end of the ford’ (see Williamson 1849: 92 and Lee 1998: 65 for the same suggestion), something that seems to fit even better for this place as the nearest ford is almost a mile away. Furthermore, in between Penrith and Penrhuddock (‘ruddy hill’ cf. Sedgefield 1915: 87) lies a place called Redhills. All of these names reflect the local geology, as red sandstone is abundantly available in this area and used in the construction of many buildings in Penrith.
Culcheth and Culgaith now mean ‘small hiding place’ instead of ‘small wood/forest’, which I consider to concern roughly the same thing. Penketh now means ‘hidden hill/end/top’ or end/hill/top of a hiding place’ rather than ‘top/end of a forest/wood’, and Tulketh now means ‘hidden cave/hollow’ instead of ‘cave/hollow in/of a forest/wood’. I believe that these new meanings simply refer to the altitude on which these places were founded (i.e. either higher up or lower down), and again I consider *kaito- and *kowdo to mean roughly the same.
For Werneth there are a few possible alternatives for the second element of its etymology as suggested by EKwall and Jackson, i.e. -etum, although this part might still hold if we assume that through analogy it eventually changed into a ⟨th⟩ /θ/. After all, besides Tulketh, Penrith, Culgaith, Culcheth and Penketh there are many other places in the same region ending in ⟨th⟩ /θ/, such as Hesketh, Holleth, Kirby Ireleth and Lindeth.
Another option is that the etymology only concerns the element PrC. *wernā- (W gwern) ‘alder’, and that the place was named after the ‘double’ plural form gwernydd (W gwern can now also be used as the plural. For both forms, see the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru). When the place name was borrowed into Old English the ⟨y⟩ was likely still pronounced /ɪ/, which would explain the later English spelling ⟨e⟩ for /ɛ/. Moreover, we can see the borrowing of -ydd and subsequent change into -eth in other place names such as Merioneth (although here it does not reflect the plural ending -ydd).
A third possibility would be that the *jā-stem was used in PrC. *wernā-, rather than the expected ā-stem: *wernijā > *werniðā > *werneðā (a-affection) > gwernedd.[7]n. 7 I would like to thank dr. Linus Band-Dijkstra for this suggestion after an interesting discussion on the topic. Seeing as -ydd originates from a jo-stem this appears to be the most plausible etymology, although all of the origins suggested above remain possible.


If we accept the proposed alternative etymologies for the six problematic place names which which we are here concerned, we can now explain why in the present day we find ⟨th⟩ being written and /θ/ pronounced: we were not dealing with lenited *t /d/ but instead *d /ð/. As mentioned before, the change from a voiced dental fricative to an unvoiced dental fricative is much less complex and easier to explain than a change from a voiced alveolar stop into a voiceless dental fricative. We furthermore saw that there were many spelling variants available to scribes working in the Northwest of England to represent /ð/ in writing during the medieval period, which helps to explain the many different spelling variants of the place names we have come across (at least for the word-final sound). Additionally, both Old English /θ/ and /ð/ were mostly represented in Middle English writing with ⟨th⟩.
In the end, however, it is important to proceed carefully. We do not know for sure how most of these place names were written before the eleventh century, or how they would have been pronounced. What we can say is that, with the new etymologies, we can more easily explain the ⟨th⟩ spellings of Penrith, Tulketh, Penketh, Culcheth, Culgaith and Werneth. More research into the development of the different vowels in these place names is needed to verify whether the new etymologies hold or not, but for the moment I believe they are at least very plausible. 


In this article I use /.../ to indicate phonemes and ⟨...⟩ to indicate how they were written.
This is an updated version of the Dutch article 'Problematische Brits-Keltische plaatsnamen in het noordwesten van Engeland', previously published in Kelten 69 (2016), 13-20.
Jackson (as well as others) saw lenition as a single change that occurred in a short period of time. In more recent contributions (most notably by Peter Wynn Thomas and Patrick Sims Williams), it has been shown that it likely concerned multiple smaller changes occurring over a longer period of time.
In this article I use the following abbreviations: W for Welsh, OE for Old English, PrC for Proto-Celtic, Bret for Breton, MBret for Middle Breton and Corn for Cornish.
See Sedgefield (1915: 86-87) for an alternative suggestion for the second element in Penrith, namely Old Norse rjóðr ‘glen in a forest’..
The element *kaito- occurs in a few place names with different etymologies (e.g. Ascot in Berkshire and Didcot in Oxfordshire), none of which end in ⟨th⟩ /θ/.
I would like to thank dr. Linus Band-Dijkstra for this suggestion after an interesting discussion on the topic.


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