Celtic toponymy

Map of Celtic-influenced regions of Europe

Celtic toponymy is the study of place names wholly or partially of Celtic origin. These names are found throughout continental Europe, Britain, Ireland, Anatolia and, latterly, through various other parts of the globe not originally occupied by Celts.

Celtic languagesEdit

The Proto-Indo-European language developed into various daughter languages, including the Proto-Celtic language. In Proto-Celtic ("PC"), the Proto-Indo-European ("PIE") sound *p disappeared, perhaps through an intermediate *ɸ. After that, languages derived from Proto-Celtic changed PC *kw into either *p or *k (see: P-Celtic and Q-Celtic languages). In P-Celtic languages, PC *kw changed into *p. In Q-Celtic dialects it developed into /k/.

P-Celtic languages include the Continental Gaulish language and the Brittonic branch of Insular Celtic. Common Brittonic is the ancestor of Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

Ancient Q-Celtic languages include the Continental Celtiberian and the Goidelic branch of Insular Celtic. Goidelic is the ancestor of the Gaelic languages Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.

Frequent elementsEdit

  • Celtic *briga 'hill, high place' > Welsh bri 'honourable, respected' (not directly related to Welsh bryn 'hill'), Irish brí 'hill; strength, vigour, significance'
  • brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated'; used as a feminine divine name, rendered Brigantia in Latin, Old Irish Brigit 'exalted one', name of a goddess.
  • Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'
  • Celtic *dūnon 'fortress' > Welsh dinas 'city' & din 'fortress', Irish dún 'fortress'
  • Celtic *duro- 'fort'
  • Celtic *kwenno- 'head' > Brythonic *penn-, Welsh pen 'head, end, chief, supreme', Irish ceann 'head'
  • Celtic *magos 'field, plain' > Welsh maes 'field', Irish magh 'plain'
  • Celtic *windo- 'white, fair, blessed' > Welsh gwyn/wyn / gwen/wen 'white, blessed', Old Irish find, Irish fionn 'fair'

Continental CelticEdit


From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

From Celtic *windo- 'white' (Welsh gwyn) + *bona 'base, foundation' (Welsh bôn 'base, bottom, stump', Irish bun 'bottom, base')


From divine name Arduinna, from Celtic *ardu- 'high' (Irish ard) + Latin silva 'forest'

From divine name Gontia

Czech RepublicEdit


Most of the main cities in France have a Celtic name (the original Gaulish one or the name of the Gaulish tribe).

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

From Celtic *diwo- 'god, holy, divine' (Scottish Gaelic dia 'god') + *duro- 'fort'

From Celtic *lug- 'Lugus' (divine name) or perhaps 'light' + *dūnon 'fortress'

First element from Celtic *lemo- 'elm'.

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

"Bridge on the [river] Somme". River name Samara + Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'.

  • Oissel, Oisseau-le-Petit, several Ussel, etc.
  • Orange < Arausio, a water god
  • Pierremande < Petromantalum < petro-matalo- 'four road' = 'crossing'
  • Paris < Parisii (Gaul), a Celtic people situated on the banks of the Seine river
  • Rennes
  • Rouen < Rotomagus,[3] sometimes Ratómagos or Ratumacos (on the coins of the Veliocassi tribe). It can be roto-, the word for 'wheel' or 'race', cf. Old Irish roth 'wheel' 'race' or Welsh rhod 'wheel' 'race'. Magos is surer here : 'field', 'plain' or later 'market' cf. Old Irish mag (gen. maige) 'field' 'plain', Old Breton ma 'place'. The whole thing could mean 'hippodrome', 'racecourse' or 'wheel market'.[4]
  • Vandœuvres, Vendeuvre < vindo-briga 'white fortress'
  • 'Verdun, Latin "Virodunum" or "Verodunum"

Second element from Celtic *dūnon fortress.

  • Vernon < Vernomagus. There are other Vernons in France, but they come directly from Vernō 'place of the alder-trees'. 'plain of the alder-trees'. uernā 'alder-tree', Old Irish fern, Breton, Welsh gwern, dial. French verne / vergne.
  • Veuves, Voves, Vion


From Celtic alisa, s.f., 'alder'. (Compare the modern German Erlenbach) and Old High German (OHG) aha, s.n., 'flowing water'.

Perhaps from Celtic ambara, 'channel, river'. Compare Indo-European *amer-, 'channel, river' > Greek ἀμάρη (amárē), 'channel'. Or, from Celtic amara, 'spelt, a type of grain'.

From Celtic *onno-, 'ash tree' plus an OHG bach, 'small river'.

  • Boiodurum, now Innstadt, Passau, Niederbayern

First element is Celtic *Boio-, tribal name (Boii), possibly 'cattle-owner' (cf. Irish 'cow') or 'warrior'. Second element is Celtic *duro- 'fort'.

From Celtic *bona 'base, foundation' (Welsh bôn 'base, bottom, stump')

From Gaulish Boudobriga, "hill of victory". Containing the elements *boudo- 'victory' (Welsh budd 'gain, benefit') + *briga, 'hill'.

  • Düren, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Latin Durum

From Celtic *duro- 'fort'

From Celtic *(φ)erkunos 'oak' or divine name Perkwunos + Latin silva 'forest'

  • Kempten im Allgäu, Bavaria, Latin Cambodūnum, Celtic cambodūnom, *cambo- 'curved, bent, bowed, crooked', dūnon 'fortress'

From Celtic *mogunt-, 'mighty, great, powerful', used as a divine name (see Mogons)

From Celtic *mago-, 'plain, field'

  • Neumagen-Dhron, Rheinland-Pfalz, Latin Noviomagus Trevirorum
  • Noviomagus Nemetum (Latin), now Speyer, Rheinland-Pfalz

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

  • Remagen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Latin Rigomagus or Ricomagus

Second element is from Celtic *magos 'field, plain'. The first may be a variant of Celtic rigi-' 'king, chief of *touta'

Some have seen this toponym as a hybrid form comprising a Celtic form and a Germanic suffix -ingen.[5] This may be so, since between the 2nd and 4th centuries, the area around the present day German university town of Tübingen was settled by a Celtic tribe with Germanic tribal elements mixed in. The element tub- in Tübingen could possibly arise from a Celtic dubo-, s.m., 'dark, black; sad; wild'. As found in the Anglo-Irish placenames of Dublin, Devlin, Dowling, Doolin and Ballindoolin. Perhaps the reference is to the darkness of the river waters that flow near the town; if so, then the name can be compared to the English Tubney, Tubbanford, Tub Mead and Tub Hole in England. Compare the late Vulgar Latin tubeta 'morass', from Gaulish. The root is found in Old Irish dub > Irish dubh, Old Welsh dub > Welsh du, Old Cornish duw > Middle Cornish du, Breton du Gaulish dubo-, dubis, all meaning 'black; dark'

  • Worms, Rheinland-Pfalz, Latin Borbetomagus

Second element from Celtic *magos, 'plain, field', first perhaps related to Old Irish borb 'fierce, violent, rough, arrogant; foolish'


From Celtic *(φ)erkunos 'oak' or divine name Perkwunos + Latin jugum 'summit'


From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

Perhaps from Celtic *genu- 'mouth [of a river]'. (However, this Ligurian place-name, as well as that of Genava (modern Geneva), probably derive the Proto-Indo-European root *ĝenu- 'knee', see Pokorny, IEW [1].)

Unclear. First element looks like Latin medius 'middle'. Second element may be Celtic *landā 'land, place' (Welsh llan); or, *plan- > *lan-, a Celtic cognate of Latin plānus 'plain', with typical Celtic loss of /p/.

From Celtic *Bhel- 'bright' and *dūnon 'fortress'.

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

From Celtic *briga- 'rocky height or outcrop'.

From Celtic *bona 'base, foundation' (Welsh bôn 'base, bottom, stump')


From Celtic *lug- 'Lugus' (divine name) or perhaps 'light' + *dūnon 'fortress'

  • Nijmegen, Gelderland, Latin Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'


Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'


  • Portugal Portus Cale - Cale, the mother goddess of the Celtic people, the one who armed with a hammer formed mountains and valleys. She hides in the rocks. She is Mother Nature. Her other name is Cailleach (Calicia/Galiza) Cailleach-Bheur or Beira ( three Portuguese Provinces of the Central Mountain Region where Lusitania was located.
  • Braga, Braga Municipality, Portugal

From Celtic *bracari- after the Bracari Celts.

From Celtic *brigant- 'divine name, Brigantia'.

From Celtic *beira- Cailleach/ Cale's other name Cailleach-Bheura or Beira, the Celtic Goddess of mountains, water and Winter. Three Portuguese provinces: Beira-Baixa, Beira-Alta and Beira-Litoral

From Celtic *cambra- 'chamber, room'.[6]

From Celtic *briga- 'rocky height or outcrop'.

  • Coimbra Cymru place of the people in fellowship - where the people gathered as in at a fairgrounds. Related to the word Cumberland and Cambria.
  • Douro, Norte, Portugal

From Celtic *Dur 'water'.

From Celtic *ebora- 'plural genitive of the word eburos (trees)'.

From Celtic *Lacobriga- 'Lake of Briga'.



Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'


  • Celje, Latinized Celeia in turn from *keleia, meaning 'shelter' in Celtic
  • Neviodunum (Latin), now Drnovo

Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'


Asturias and Cantabria

  • Deva, several rivers in northern Spain, and Pontedeva, Galicia, Spain.

From Celtic *diwā- 'goddess; holy, divine'



  • Tambre, a river in Galicia (Spain), Latin Tamaris. Possibly from Celtic *tames- 'dark' (cf. Celtic *temeslos > Welsh tywyll 'darkness'). Other theories.
  • O Grove, Galicia, Spain, Medieval Latin Ogrobre 912[7]. From Celtic *ok-ro- 'acute; promontory'[8] and Celtic *brigs 'hill'.
  • Bergantiños, Galicia, Spain, Medieval Latin Bregantinos 830. From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated', or divine name Brigantia, or from Celtic *brigantīnos 'chief, king'.[9]
  • Dumbría, Galicia, Spain, Medieval Latin Donobria 830. From Celtic *dūnon 'fortress' + Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'.
  • Val do Dubra and Dubra River, Galicia. From Celtic *dubr- 'water', *dubrās 'waters' (Welsh dwfr).
  • Monforte de Lemos (region), Galicia, Spain, Latin Lemavos, after the local tribe of the Lemavi. From Celtic *lemo- 'elm'.
  • Nendos (region), Galicia, Spain, Medieval Latin Nemitos 830. From Celtic *nemeton 'sanctuary'.
  • Noia, Galicia, Spain, Greek Nouion.[10] From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd).


Switzerland, especially the Swiss Plateau, has many Celtic (Gaulish) toponyms. This old layer of names was overlaid with Latin names in the Gallo-Roman period,[11] and, from the medieval period, with Alemannic German[12] and Romance[13] names.

For some names, there is uncertainty as to whether they are Gaulish or Latin in origin. In some rare cases, such as Frick, Switzerland, there have even been competing suggestions of Gaulish, Latin and Alemannic etymologies.[14]

Examples of toponyms with established Gaulish etymology:

  • Solothurn, from Salodurum. The -durum element means "doors, gates; palisade; town". The etymology of the salo- element is unclear.
  • Thun, Berne: dunum "fort"
  • Windisch, Aargau, Latin Vindonissa: first element from *windo- "white"
  • Winterthur, Zürich, Latin Vitudurum or Vitodurum, from vitu "willow" and durum
  • Yverdon-les-Bains, from Eburodunum, from eburo- "yew" and dunum "fort".[15]
  • Zürich, Latin Turicum, from a Gaulish personal name Tūros
  • Limmat, from Lindomagos "lake-plain", originally the name of the plain formed by the Linth and Lake Zurich.

Insular CelticEdit



Place names in England derived from Goidelic languages include:

Place names that directly reference the Irish include Irby, Irby upon Humber, Ireby and Ireleth.


The vast majority of placenames in Ireland are anglicized Irish language names.


The majority of placenames in the Highlands of Scotland (part of the United Kingdom) are either Scottish Gaelic or anglicized Scottish Gaelic. Gaelic-derived placenames are very common in the rest of mainland Scotland also. Pictish-derived placenames can be found in the northeast, while Brythonic-derived placenames can be found in the south.

Isle of ManEdit

The majority of placenames on the Isle of Man (a Crown dependency) are Manx or anglicized Manx.


England (excluding Cornwall)Edit

Linguistic evidence for Celtic place-names in present-day England (part of the United Kingdom) can be found in names such as Leatherhead or Litchfield. In addition, evidence of Celtic populations can be found from those place-names including the Old English element wealh "foreigner, stranger, Briton". Such names are a minority, but are widespread across England. For example, a smattering of villages around the Fenland town of Wisbech hint at this: West Walton, Walsoken, and the Walpoles indicate the continued presence of an indigenous population, and Wisbech, King's Lynn and Chatteris retain Celtic topographical elements.

Some villages that exhibit "Tydd" in their name, e.g. Tydd St Giles, may obtain that element from the Britonnic word for "small holding". Compare the Welsh tyddyn.

  • Arden (forest), Warwickshire

From Celtic *ardu- 'high' (Irish ard)

  • Avon (river), Gloucestershire/Wiltshire/Somerset
  • Avon (river), Wiltshire/Hampshire/Dorset
  • Avon (river), Northamptonshire/Warwickshire/Worcestershire/Gloucestershire
  • Avon or Aune (river), Devon

From Brythonic *abona 'river' (Welsh afon)

From Celtic *iska 'water' (Irish uisce)

First element from Celtic *briga 'hill'

From Celtic *brigant- 'high, lofty, elevated' (or divine name, Brigantia)

  • Bryn, Greater Manchester

Derived from Welsh bryn, 'hill'.

From *kamulos 'Camulus' (divine name) + Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

First element from Brythonic *crüg 'hill'[16] (Irish cruach)

From tribal name Dumnonii or Dumnones, from Celtic *dumno- 'deep', 'world'

  • Dover, Kent, Latin Dubris

From Celtic *dubr- 'water', *dubrās 'waters' (Welsh dwfr; Breton dour)

  • Durham, County Durham, Latin Dunelm

First element is possibly dun, ' hill fort' (Welsh ddin, 'fort').

First element from Celtic *duro- 'fort'; in Dūrobrīvae, Celtic *brīwa 'bridge'

Possibly derived from Brythonic *iska, 'water, fish' and *leith, 'damp, wet'.

From Celtic *iska 'water' (Irish uisce); second element in Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) is a tribal name (see Devon)

From Brythonic *lēd- [from Celtic *leito-] + *rïd- [from Celtic *(φ)ritu-] = "Grey Ford"[16]

  • Lincoln, Lincolnshire, Latin Lindum Colonia

From Celtic *lindo- 'pool' + Latin colonia 'colony'

From Celtic *mamm- 'breast' (referring to the shape of a hill)

From Celtic *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd) + *magos 'field, plain'

  • Pengethley, Herefordshire

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill, top, head, chief' (Welsh pen) + possibly *kelli 'to stand' (Welsh gelli)

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill, top, head, chief' (Welsh pen) + *koid- 'wood' (Welsh coed), or *cēd- 'wood'[16]

First element from Brythonic *penn- 'hill, top, head, chief' (Welsh pen 'head, end, chief, supreme') = Irish ceann 'head', from Proto-Celtic *kwenno-

  • Penn, Buckinghamshire
  • Penn, West Midlands

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill' (Welsh pen)

From English lower + Brythonic *penn- 'hill'

From Brythonic *penn- 'hill' and possibly p-Celtic *carr 'rocks'. This matches the earliest attestation from c. 1190, Pencher.

Old Sarum, Wiltshire, Latin Sorviodūnum Second element from Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'

First element conjectured to be Celtic for 'victorious', 'strength' or 'dry' (theories). Second element is Celtic *dūnon 'fortress'.

From Celtic *seno- 'old' + *dūnon 'fortress'

  • Tamar (river), Devon/Cornwall
  • Tame (river), Greater Manchester
  • Tame (river), North Yorkshire
  • Tame (river), West Midlands
  • Team (river), Tyne and Wear
  • Teme (river), Welsh Tefeidiad, Wales/Shropshire/Worcestershire
  • Thames (river), Latin Tamesis

Possibly from Celtic *tames- 'dark' (cf. Celtic *temeslos > Welsh tywyll 'darkness'). Other theories.

'Of the Trinovantes', a tribal name, perhaps 'very energetic people' from Celtic *tri- (intensive) + *now- 'energetic', related to *nowijo- 'new' (Welsh newydd)

From Brittonic *weru- 'broad' + *lam- 'hand' [from Celtic *(φ)lāmā] (Welsh llaw, Irish láimh)

First element from Celtic *windo- 'white' (Welsh gwyn); in Vindolanda, Celtic *landā 'land, place' (Welsh llan). In Vindomora, second element could be 'sea' (Welsh môr, Irish muir).

  • Wigan, Greater Manchester
  • York, Greek Ebōrakon, Latin Eboracum or Eburacum from Celtic *eburo- 'yew'


The vast majority of placenames in Wales (part of the United Kingdom) are either Welsh or anglicized Welsh.


The vast majority of placenames in Cornwall are either Cornish or anglicized Cornish. For examples, see List of places in Cornwall.


The vast majority of placenames in the west of Brittany (part of France) are either Breton or derived from Breton. For examples, see Category:Populated places in Brittany.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, 2nd edn. (Paris: Errance, 2003), 111.
  2. ^ See Noviomagus and Lexovii.
  3. ^ Archetype that exists everywhere in France, for example Ruan (Rothomago 1233 / Rotomagus 5th century), Rom.
  4. ^ Delamarre 2003, pp. 261-2.
  5. ^ Bahlow, Hans. 1955. Namenforschung als Wissenschaft. Deutschlands Ortsnamen als Denkmäler keltischer Vorzeit. Frankfurt am Main.
  6. ^ http://journals.eecs.qub.ac.uk/DMLCS/frameset_letter_C.html
  7. ^ Prósper, Blanca María (2002). Lenguas y Religiones Prerromanas del Occidente de la Península Ibérica. Universidad de Salamanca. p. 375. ISBN 978-84-7800-818-6.
  8. ^ Matasovic, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Brill. p. 28. ISBN 90-04-17336-6.
  9. ^ Matasovic, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Brill. pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-90-04-17336-1.
  10. ^ Ptolemy II 6.21.
  11. ^ such as Basle, Latin Basilea, from the personal name Basilius, ultimately of Greek origin,
  12. ^ such as Berne, founded 1191
  13. ^ such as Neuchâtel, founded 1011
  14. ^ Frick has been derived from (a) a Celtic word for "confluence", cognate with fork, (b) an Alemannic personal name Fricco and (c) Latin ferra ricia "iron mine, ironworks".
  15. ^ Bernhard Maier, Kleines Lexikon der Namen und Wörter keltischen Ursprungs, 2010, p. 51. Julius Pokorny, IEW (1959:325), s.v. "ē̆reb(h)-, ō̆rob(h)- 'dark reddish-brown colour'": "alb.-ligur.-kelt.-germ. eburo- 'rowan, mountain ash, yew, evergreen tree with poisonous needles'."
  16. ^ a b c Mills, AD. Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Oxford University Press, 1991.