What’s In A Name?

Much of the time we don’t think twice about the names of the place we visit around the bay: “I’m just nipping into Kendal” or “I’m off for a walk along Morecambe Prom”, but all of these names came from somewhere. Sometimes names are very specific to a place whereas other times names indicate what was there before. Often there is no definitive answer; our ancestors didn’t write everything down, so all we can do is make an educated guess or two about why a place came to be called what it is.


Morecambe Beach



Let’s start big with the name of the bay – why Morecambe Bay? The name Morecambe Bay doesn’t appear on a map until 1774 but it’s likely the origin for the name comes from the astronomer Ptolemy who in AD150 wrote that there was a place called ‘Morikambe eischusis’ (curved bay or salt flats) on the North West coast of Britain. There was some disagreement at the time as to just where it related to, but in 1774 John Whitaker produced a map with the words Morecambe Bay on it and it’s been there ever since.



The Celts, the Saxons and the Vikings all had different but very similar names for Cartmel: Caer-moel (Celts), Carth-mal (Saxons) and Garth-mell (Vikings) but they all translate to the same thing – an enclosed place (Caer) amongst bare topped hills (moel).




This is where I live and is possibly my favourite place name story of them all. Grange comes from an old French word “Grainge” (granary) as it was where the monks from Cartmel kept their grain. The original building is long gone but when the memorial gardens were being created a number of large stone slabs were found which may have originated in the granary. The “over-Sands” part came thanks to Rev Wilson Rigg, who arrived in 1858 having nearly drowned on his way across the sands. He apparently got so fed up with his post ending up in the other Grange near Keswick that he added the “over-Sands” bit to differentiate the two.




Ulverston was mentioned in the Doomsday Book as ‘Ulvrestun’. The ‘tun’ part means ‘village’ or ‘homestead’ so whenever you see a ‘tun’ or ‘ton’ ending on a map you know it was originally where someone lived, but what about the ‘Ulvres’ part? Well as with many of our place names we have our Norse ancestors to thank, in this case a Ulfar whose name means ‘wolf warrior’ and explains why the town has a wolf on its coat of arms.




It’s the River Keer which most likely gave Carnforth its name; the town was a crossing point, or ford, and it’s thought that Keer-ford became Carnforth over the years, although an alternate possibility is that it derives from the Celtic words Cairn (pile of stones or rocks) and Forth (safe harbour).




The name of this very lovely village is popularly thought to relate to the silver birches or surrounding limestone hills but this is unlikely. In 1199 the name ‘Selredal’ is recorded for the place which is thought to come from the Norse name ‘Soelvers’. The Silverdale Hoard, which dates to around 905AD, tells us that our Viking ancestors were active in the region for many years and even though they buried plenty of silver the name doesn’t come from that either.



Yealand Redmayne & Yealand Conyers

These two place names are curious but the origins are pretty straightforward. ‘Yealand’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘high land’ – ‘geah-land’ and Redmayne and Conyers were the family names of the powerful medieval people who owned the land.




Another place where there are a couple of options regarding the origin. Some people have suggested that Kendal is a shortened version of ‘Kent Dale’ as the town sits in the valley of the River Kent. The town is in the Doomsday Book as ‘Cherchebi’ or ‘church village’ and for many years it was known as Kirkbie Kendal, a name that still lives on in the school.




This is slightly outside of the bay area, being just to the north of Kendal, but I love the story and it makes a great one to finish on. Apparently Bannisdale got its name from an early Nordic settler who was somewhat feisty and regularly invoked the gods to curse anyone he fell out with. His nickname was ‘Bannandi’ which means ‘the man who curses’ and the area became known as ‘Bannandi’s Dale’ and later Banisdale. I love the fact that one man’s bad temper is now preserved for all eternity in a place name.


Words by Beth Pipe, Images by Steve Pipe
The Cumbrian Rambler