Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Playing Placename Detective

The British Placenames Mapper is an interactive map which allows you to search for patterns in British placenames. The map uses 'regular expressions' to find defined text patterns within placenames. These text patterns could be prefixes used at the beginning of a name (eg 'Great' or 'Little'), suffixes used at the end of a name (eg 'ford' or 'mouth'), or even patterns that occur anywhere within a placename.
map showing the distribution of Viking placenames in Britain
The map is a fantastic resource for anyone who is interested in British toponyms or even in general British history. For example the map can be used to explore how foreign invasions have helped to shape modern Britain. This map of Roman placenames ending in 'caster', 'cester' or 'chester' (all of which mean 'fort') reveals the lasting influence of the Roman invasion of Britain almost 2000 years after the Romans first arrived. 

The influence of the Viking invasion can also be explored on the British Placenames Mapper. This map showing the locations of Norse placenames, ending in 'by' (village or settlement), 'thorpe' (a hamlet or village) or 'thwaite' (a clearing or meadow within a forest or wooded area). The map shows clear evidence of where the Vikings successfully invaded, with the distribution of these placenames closely matching the Danelaw, the area of the UK which was once ruled by the Vikings. 

Placename Patterns Using Regular Expressions is another interactive mapping tool for exploring the distribution of different patterns in placenames. This map can currently plot the distribution of placenames in a number of different countries (the United States, the British Isles, France, Germany, Romania, Canada, and Japan).

The 'about' section of the map provides two interesting examples of how Placename Patterns Using Regular Expressions can be used. One example shows the link between German placenames and altitude. The other example visualizes the distribution of places in France whose names end in 'ac' (the -ac placename in France comes from the Gaulish language - so towns ending in '-ac' are most likely to predate the Roman invasion of France).

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