Hunts place-names: Fauna

Evening all! Today I’ll show you some Huntingdonshire names which have animal elements. This is part of my little mini series on a sample of Huntingdonshire place-names, where I look at what they were originally named and discuss what this could mean about the area (for example, what was farmed there?) or the people living there (who were they?).

(Catch up with part 1 and part 2, or browse my whole place-names tag)

Tenuous link: Easter makes me think of, spring means lambs and baby animals, animals mean nature in general. So now you’ve had that peek inside my head …


I found 5 names in my sample which have something to do with animals. It’s worth remembering – and I will point out – that a few of these may have been named for oddly shaped hills rather than important nearby animal populations or the like. Bearing that in mind:

  • Woolley – “Wolf Wood”

This hamlet has some frankly astonishing recorded spellings. I don’t know how anyone ever figured out what it meant. In the Domesday Book it’s Ciluelai, and in 1158 it is called Wulueleia. My general place-names dictionary even wrote [sic] next to the Domesday Book entry to prove that it wasn’t their typo. Scribes, what were you doing? Where’s the f gone? Is there an extra syllable in the middle – some distant past grammatical marker? Apparently it’s wulf + leah. I’m just going to agree. An information website gives more recorded spellings (sadly no sources though!):

Ulvelai (11th century); Wulueleia, Wolfleg, Wlfleg, Wolle (13th century) Wolley (16th century) and Woolley (Modern).

You might remember me previously mentioning that leah can mean either wood or clearing. I reckon it’s more likely to be wood here because WOLVES although maybe it could have been a clearing where wolves appeared a lot? Who knows? It’s near another wood place-name, weald, but that one can mean both wooded area and clearing too. Still, I’m claiming wood, because I can.

  • Buckworth – Buck (goat) enclosure

This village is only about 2.5 miles from Woolley. Wild conjecture time – was there a load of wolves nearby because there was a penned up fast food supply of walking meat?? Still doesn’t help with the wood vs clearing thing. This is mind-bogglingly self-explanatory as a place-name: Old English: bucc + worth, though my dictionary does suggest it could be Bucc as a name. Buck as a name, oh dear, I can’t blame the Americans for that any more …

I checked in the online Old English dictionary and bucc might specifically mean male goat. I kind of assumed we were talking deer or sheep, because in my head a male goat is a billy, but, that’s cool. Goat pen!

  • Yaxley – Cuckoo’s Clearing

Yay, it’s another name where you can see the possessive!! (Again, or for those who haven’t read previous posts, I’m talking about what in English we basically just have as the possessive apostrophe, and what if you’ve learnt German, Latin or basically any other language you might know as the genitive case.)

This first appears in 963 as Geaceslea, and is actually remarkably unchanged 120 years later in the Domesday Book: Iacheslei. Note the -es- middle bit!! Genitive!!!

The Anglo-Saxon didn’t always pronounce ‘g’ like we do. In front of certain vowels (I could dig  out my textbook and find out but I am sleepy … maybe I’ll do a brief post on it tomorrow?) it is pronounced like “y”. So you can see that the pronounciation hasn’t changed that much either.

  • Raveley – Raven Clearing

Great and Little Raveley are up near Ramsey in the fens. More on the fens in another post! This is fairly simple name. It was first attested as Raeflea in 1060, and it’s made up of Old English hreafn and good old leah.

Thanks for reading! I really do watch the view counter on WordPress with alarming concentration. I think I might have an F5 addiction.

Tomorrow I’ll do another little post on places named after plants and crops, and then hopefully I’ll do a meatier post about what names can tell us about the shape of the land at the time. See you then!

Hunts place-names: Fauna

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