Etymology of London

Etymology of London

The etymology of London is virtually unknown. There have been many theories advanced over the centuries for the origin of the name: most can be dismissed as fanciful on linguistic or historical grounds, while a few have some measure of academic plausibility. None have any direct evidence.

Attested forms

Richard Coates, in the 1998 articlecite journal|last=Coates|first=Richard|year=1998|title=A new explanation of the name of London|journal=Transactions of the Philological Society|volume=96|issue=2|pages=203–229|url=|doi=10.1111/1467-968X.00027] where he published his own theory of the etymology, lists all the known occurrences of the name up to around the year 900, in Greek, Latin, British and Anglo-Saxon.

Most of the older sources begin "Londin-" ("Λονδινιου", "Londino", "Londinium" etc), though there are some in "Lundin-"; but later examples are mostly "Lundon-" or "London-", and all the Anglo-Saxon examples have "Lunden-" with various 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 own proposal.

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 _cy. "Llundein".

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 termination "-in-jo-n". But this cannot be the form from which the Anglo-Saxon names were borrowed, as they all have "Lund-", and an /i/ in the following syllable would have caused "Lynd-" by umlaut. He tentatively accepts Jackson's argumentcite journal|last=Jackson|first=Kenneth H.|journal=Antiquity|title=Nennius and the 28 cities of Britain|volume=12|pages=44–55|year=1938] that the British form was "-on-jo-n", with the change to "-inium" unexplained. However he speculates further that the "-i-" could have arisen by metathesis of the "-i-" in the last syllable of his own suggested etymon (see below).

Proposed etymologies

The earliest account of the toponym's derivation can be attributed to Geoffrey of Monmouth. In "Historia Regum Britanniae", the name is described as originating from King Lud, who seized the city and ordered it to be renamed in his honour as "Kaerlud". This was then eventually slurred into "Karelundein" and then "London". However, Geoffrey's work is largely based on Celtic folklore and the suggestion has no basis in linguistics. [ Legends of London's Origins ] ] .

Other fanciful theories over the years have been:
* William Camden reportedly suggested that the name might come from Brythonic "lhwn" (modern Welsh _cy. "Llwn") meaning "grove" and "town". Thus, giving the origin as "Lhwn Town", translating to "city in the grove". [ [] ]
* John Jackson, writing in the "Gentleman's Magazine" in 1792 [cite journal|last=Jackson|first=John|year=1792|journal=The Gentleman's Magazine|title=Conjecture on the Etymology of London|url=,M1] , challenges the "Llyn din" theory (see below) on geographical grounds, and suggests instead a derivation from _cy. "Glynn din" - 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. [cite journal|title=English words of supposed Hebrew origin in George Crabb's "English Synonymes|last=Gold|first=David L|journal=American Speech|year=1979|volume=51|number=1|pages=61–64 |url=|issue=1|doi=10.2307/454531]
* An unsigned article in "The Cambro Briton" for 1821 [cite journal|journal=The Cambro Briton|title=Etymology of 'London'|year=1821|pages=42–43|url=,M1] supports the suggestion of "Luna din" ('moon fortress'), and also mentions in passing the possibility of "Llong din" ('ship fortress').
* Several theories were discussed in the pages of "Notes and Queries" on December 27, 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), [cite book|title=The Cymry of '76|last=Jones|first=Alexander|year=1855|publisher=Sheldon, Lamport|city=New York|url=] Alexander Jones says that the Welsh name derives from "Llyn Dain", meaining 'pool of the Thames'.
* An 1887 Handbook for Travellers [cite book|year=1887|title=London and Its Environs: Handbook for Travellers|last=Baedeker|first=Karl|url=] asserts that "The etymology of London is the same as that of Lincoln" (Latin _la. "Lindum").
* "A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare" (1918) [cite book|title=A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare"|year=1918|last=Furness (ed)|first=Horace Howard|publisher=J B Lipincott & co|url=] mentions a variant on Geoffrey's suggestion being "Lud's town", although refutes it saying that the origin of the name was most likely Saxon.
* 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 _cy. "Llyn din", supposedly 'lake fort' (? or 'fort lake'). But _cy. "llyn" derives from British "*Lind-", which is incompatible with all the early attestations.

H. D'Arbois de Jubainville suggested in 1899 [cite book|last=D'Arbois de Jubainville|first=H|year=1899|title=La Civilisation des Celtes et celle de l'épopée homérique|publisher=Albert Fontemoing|city=Paris|lang=fr] that the name meant "Londino's fortress". 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 1960's, and more recently still in less specialist works.

"The first of the scientific explanations" according to Coates (p. 212) was from Giovanni Alessio in 1951 [cite conference|last=Alessio|first=Giovanni|title=L'origine du nom de Londres'|booktitle=Actes et Mémoires du troisième congrès international de toponymie et d'anthroponymie|location=Louvain|publisher=Instituut voor naamkunde|lang=fr|year=1951|pages=223-224] . 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, [cite journal|title=Notes sur le toponyme "Londres" (Hérault)|last=Gigot|first=Jean-Gabriel|journal=Revue international d'onomastique|volume=26|year=1974|pages=284–292] 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 (pre-Celtic) name "*Plowonida", from Indo-European roots "*plew-", which 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 "-on-jon", in either Old European or Celtic times, giving "*(p)lowonidonjon".Indo-European "/p/" regularly disappears in Celtic, so this would have gone through "*Lowonidonjon" and either "*Lōondonjon" or "*Lōnidonjon" to "*Lūndonjon" and hence "Lūndein" or "Lūndyn". An advantage of the form "*Lōnidonjon" is that it could account for Latin "Londinium" by metathesis to "*Lōnodinjon".


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • London — chief city and capital of England, L. Londinium (c.115), often explained as place belonging to a man named Londinos, a supposed Celtic personal name meaning the wild one, but this etymology is rejected in an emphatic footnote in Jackson 1953… …   Etymology dictionary

  • London — This article is about the capital of England and the United Kingdom. For other uses, see London (disambiguation). London From upper left: City of London, Tower Bridge and London Eye, Palace of Westminster …   Wikipedia

  • london bridge — noun Usage: usually capitalized L&B Etymology: from London Bridge, a bridge built in 1209 across the Thames river in London, England : an old singing game in which one of a line of children passing under an arch formed by uplifted arms is… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Etymology of Scotland — The founders of Scotland of late medieval legend, Scota with Goídel Glas, voyaging from Egypt, as depicted in a 15th century manuscript of the Scotichronicon of Walter Bower. Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Alba pronounced  …   Wikipedia

  • London Borough of Haringey — Infobox London Borough | name = London Borough of Haringey short name = Haringey imagename = status = London borough | area rank = 339th area km2 = 29.59 ons code = 00AP | adminhq = Wood Green | ethnicity = 61.7% White 22.1% African Caribbean… …   Wikipedia

  • London Borough of Hounslow — Infobox London Borough | name = London Borough of Hounslow short name = Hounslow imagename = status = London borough | area rank = 292th area km2 = 55.98 ons code = 00AT | adminhq = Hounslow ethnicity = 60.9% White 27.7% South Asian 5.4% African… …   Wikipedia

  • London Borough of Redbridge — Infobox London Borough | name = London Borough of Redbridge short name = Redbridge imagename = status = London borough | area rank = 291st area km2 = 56.41 ons code = 00BC | adminhq = Ilford | ethnicity = 60.5% White (53.4% British, 2.3% Irish, 6 …   Wikipedia

  • London Borough of Islington — Infobox London Borough | name = London Borough of Islington short name = Islington imagename = status = London borough | area rank = 352nd area km2 = 14.86 ons code = 00AU | adminhq = Upper Street, Islington | url = [… …   Wikipedia

  • London Mills, Illinois — Geobox|Settlement name = London Mills native name = other name = category = Village etymology = official name = motto = nickname = image caption = symbol = country = United States state = Illinois region = Fulton, Knox region type = Counties… …   Wikipedia

  • Etymology of Kapisa — Kapiśa is related to and includes Kafiristan. The scholarly community holds that Kapiśa is equivalent to the Sanskrit Kamboja.[1][2][3][4][5][6] …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.