In Britain, Anglo-saxon Place-names Hold Hydrological Clues

One of the joys of travel, even of armchair travel, is the discovery of euphonious place-names. I’ve driven through both Humptulips, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and Quonochontaug, in Rhode Island, and in both cases, these names, which I find flow off the tongue, flow in another way, too. Each describes the place’s hydrological characteristics.

Humptulips, in the tongue of the Chehalis Tribe, tells that it is “hard to pole” a canoe through the river, which follows a convoluted course that includes fast, narrow torrents. Quonochontaug (Narragansett for “at the long pond”) is along a string of broad, placid coastal lagoons.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="800"]View towards the ruined St James Church at Bawsey (geograph 4255210).jpg Source: Wikipedia[/caption]

The guide that indigenous names can provide to landscape qualities and to human interactions with landscape may be followed any-where such names have not been erased by the conquest of colonialism. This is no less true in Britain, where four universities—Leicester, Southampton, Nottingham, and Wales—have joined forces under a grant from the Leverhulme Trust for a two-year study of place-names called “Flood and Flow.”

In Britain, an extra dimension to the record of place-names provides a set of clues to how particular land-scapes might respond to global warming in the near future. In the period between 700 and 1000 AD, temperatures in the British Isles rose rapidly after a cold phase that began in 400 AD.