Tuesday 1 June 2010


Yesterday, in a sudden outbreak of anorakery (you read it here first? — this word already has 259 Google hits), I travelled the length of the newly opened London Overground line from West Croydon to Dalston Junction.
This is the old East London Underground line from New Cross Gate / New Cross to Whitechapel, closed for refurbishment a few years ago, now reopened with significant extensions at either end. The southern extension is just a suburban route that was previously connected to London Bridge station. The northern extension is more interesting. There is an entirely new piece of track with a striking new bridge over Shoreditch High Street, linking to a stretch of what was once upon a time the Broad Street line (closed 1986), north to Dalston (that’s ˈdɔːlstən). There are sparkling new stations at Shoreditch High Street, Hoxton and Haggerston, as well as at Dalston Junction itself.

I thought I remembered having read somewhere that Hoxton and Haggerston, adjacent parts of Hackney borough, are etymological doublets, like frail and fragile. After all, what’s a dropped r, a lost schwa, a bit of voicing assimilation, and a switch between a front and back short open vowel, when we’re talking about a thousand years of onomastic development?

It turns out I was wrong. According to the Oxford Names Companion, Hoxton was the farmstead (tūn) of a man called Hōc, whereas Haggerston was the boundary stone (stān) of a man called Hærgod. So there’s a metathesis in the latter that has made the names more similar to one another, but they have quite distinct origins.

Dalston, on the other hand, does seem to be a doublet of Darlaston (in the West Midlands). Both were the tūn of a man called Dēorlāf.

The southern extension of the line passes through the once fashionable suburb of Penge. Lo and behold! More place name etymology reveals that here we have yet another Welsh- (or rather British-) derived name (blog, 6 May). Penge comes from the Celtic elements that in modern Welsh would be Pencoed, ‘top of the wood’. It might as well have been called Woodhead.


  1. tūn = town = Du. tuin (garden)?

  2. After reading the intro, I was expecting this to be about London placenames that have variable pronunciation. Recently on the Tube announcements I've heard ˈpleɪstəʊ for Plaistow, and I think I heard ˈhəʊlbən for Holborn too. Usually those are ˈplɑːstəʊ and ˈhəʊbən.

    The Tube also pronounces Marylebone as ˈmɑːlibəʊn, but I've never had a clue about that one anyway.

  3. Oh, John. A missed opportunity. The title should have been "anorakism", pron. [əˈnɔ:rəkɪzm] of course.

  4. @John Maidment -- and I'd thought it was [ænəˈɹeɪkɪzm], from the Greek "ano" and "raki", roughly meaning "to raise one's spirits".

    As for convergent evolution, the the Darlaston-Barlaston pair in Staffordshire can cause a certain amount of confusion.

    And that etymology of Penge sounds decidedly fishy...

  5. Penge was recorded in 1067 (the Domesday Book, presumably) as "Penceat", which justifies this etymology.

  6. James D

    I cannot imagine anorakicity raising anyone's spirits.

  7. Aaah Penge; site of the famous Penge Bungalow murder.....

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