etymology of London is
There have been many theories advanced over the
centuries for the origin of the name: most can be dismissed as
fanciful on linguistic
historical grounds, while a few have some measure of academic
plausibility. None has any direct evidence.
, in the 1998 article
where he published his own theory of the etymology, lists all the
known occurrences of the name up to around the year 900, in
Most of the older sources begin Londin-
though there are some in Lundin-
; but later examples are
, and all the
Anglo-Saxon examples have Lunden-
terminations. He observes that the modern spelling with <o>
derives from a mediaeval writing habit of avoiding <u>
between letters composed of minims
Coates discusses various aspects of the phonemic form of the name,
in order to be able to dismiss other suggestions and support his
He asserts that "It is quite clear that these vowel letters in the
earliest forms, both <o> and <u>, represent
phonemically long vowel sounds": he refers to a number of other
writers who have argued this, and adds several arguments of his
own, including the form of the name in Welsh .
Coates discusses the ending of the name, whose exact shape he says
is a problem. He observes that the ending in Latin sources before
600 is always -inium
, which points to a British double
. But this cannot be the form from
which the Anglo-Saxon names were borrowed, as they all have
, and an /i/ in the following syllable would have
tentatively accepts Jackson's argument that the British form was
, with the change to -inium
However he speculates further that the -i-
arisen by metathesis
of the -i-
in the last syllable of his own suggested etymon (see below).
The earliest account of the toponym's derivation can be attributed
to Geoffrey of Monmouth
, the name is described as originating from
, who seized the city and
ordered it to be renamed in his honour as Kaerlud
was then eventually slurred into Karelundein
. However, Geoffrey's work contains many fanciful
suppositions about place-name derivation and the suggestion has no
basis in linguistics..
Other fanciful theories over the years have been:
- William Camden reportedly
suggested that the name might come from Brythonic lhwn
(modern Welsh ) meaning "grove" and town. Thus, giving the
origin as Lhwn Town, translating to "city in the
- John Jackson, writing in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1792,
challenges the Llyn din theory (see below) on geographical
grounds, and suggests instead a derivation from - presumably
intended as 'valley city'.
- Some British Israelites
claimed that the Anglo-Saxons, assumed to be descendants of the
Tribe of Dan, named their settlement
lan-dan, meaning "abode of Dan" in Hebrew.
- An unsigned article in The Cambro Briton for 1821
supports the suggestion of Luna din ('moon fortress'), and
also mentions in passing the possibility of Llong din
- Several theories were discussed in the pages
of Notes and Queries on
27 December 1851, including Luandun (supposedly "city of
the moon", a reference to the temple of Diana supposed to have stood on the site
of St Paul's
Cathedral), and Lan Dian or Llan Dian
("temple of Diana"). Another correspondent dismissed these,
and reiterated the common Llyn din theory.
- In The Cymry of '76 (1855), Alexander Jones says that
the Welsh name derives from Llyn Dain, meaining 'pool of
- An 1887 Handbook for Travellers asserts that "The etymology of
London is the same as that of Lincoln" (Latin ).
- A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare (1918) mentions
a variant on Geoffrey's suggestion being Lud's town,
although refutes it saying that the origin of the name was most
- Another suggestion, published in The Geographical Journal in
1899, is that the area of London was previously settled by Belgae who named their outposts after townships in
Belgium. Some of these Belgic toponyms have been
attributed to the namesake of London including Lime,
Douvrend, and Londinières.
Coates says (p.211) that "The earliest non-mythic speculation ...
centred on the possibility of deriving London from Welsh ,
supposedly 'lake fort' (? or 'fort lake'). But derives from British
, which is incompatible with all the early
H. D'Arbois de Jubainville suggested in 1899 that the name meant
. But Coates argues that there is no
such personal name recorded, and that D'Arbois' suggested etymology
for it (from Celtic *londo-
, 'fierce') would have a short
vowel. Coates notes that this theory was repeated by linguistics up
to the 1960s, and more recently still in less specialist
"The first of the scientific explanations" according to Coates (p.
212) was from Giovanni Alessio in 1951. He proposed a Ligurian
rather than a Celtic
origin, with a root *lond-/lont-
meaning 'mud' or 'marsh'.
Coates' major criticisms are that this does not have the required
long vowel (an alternative form Alessio proposes, *lōna
has the long vowel, but lacks the required consonant), and that
there is no evidence of Ligurian in Britain.
The other suggestion that Coates considers worthy of discussion was
by Jean-Gabriel Gigot in 1974. In an article principally about St Martin de
Londres in Hérault in France, Gigot tries
to apply the Germanic root proposed for that name (*lohna)
to the topography of London.
Coates' own theory is that the name derives from an Old European
, from Indo-European
underlies words in different languages meaning 'flow', 'swim' and
'boat'; and *nejd-
, an element meaning 'flow', found in
various river names around Europe.
His suggestion is that this name, meaning either 'boat river' or
'swimming river' was applied to the Thames where it becomes too
wide to ford, in the vicinity of London. (He does admit that
compound names are comparatively rare for rivers in the
Indo-European area, but they are not unknown). The settlement on
its banks would then be named from it, with the suffix
, in either Old European or Celtic times, giving
disappears in Celtic, so this would have gone through
and either *Lōondonjon
. An advantage of the form
is that it could account for Latin