The thing about -ing(tūn)

Robert Briggs, MA Viking & Anglo-Saxon Studies graduate, University of Nottingham

I recently completed an MA in Viking and Anglo-Saxon Studies at the University of Nottingham, capping off the course with a dissertation re-examining the philological evidence for place-names in the county of Surrey in South-East England which have been, or else could be, suggested to derive from Old English (OE) -ingas and -ingahām. These two place-name endings have been at the heart of many of the scholarly debates that catalysed the advances in English place-name studies during the twentieth century, and still excite the interest of linguists and other scholars for what they might be able to reveal about Early Anglo-Saxon society. One of my primary motivations for choosing them as the subject of my dissertation was the feeling that existing datasets must be revisited and reassessed in the light of the latest scholarship before they can be cited as evidence of specific naming trends or wider social processes. As is so often the case with undertaking extended pieces of research, I looked at several interesting strands of evidence that, for reasons of space, didn’t make the final cut. I have used my own blog as an outlet for one such topic and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to outline my thoughts on another here!

My subject matter here is OE -ingtūn, another place-name ending that again has been the subject of much debate and several quite different interpretations. There are numerous place-names which have been identified as reaching back to OE -ingtūn in England, so it is no surprise that it was used as the archetype for Warmington on Sea, the fictional Sussex seaside town that was the setting for the British TV comedy classic Dad’s Army. (Nor should we forget the real-life inspiration behind the name of Paddington Bear.) Indeed, perceptions of its ubiquity have led to “ington” being reported in contemporary colloquial speech in the Urban Dictionary.

Strictly speaking, -ingtūn didn’t exist as a lexical item, since the -ing particle relates to the preceding noun in the compound (of which more presently), not to the oh-so-common generic tūn. Translations of this element are many and varied, so, rather than take up the rest of this blog post going through them, for our purposes those of “farm, village, estate” can be read into the examples cited below even though I refrain from translating the term. Because place-names featuring the combination of -ing followed by tūn are so common, it has been pragmatically treated as an element in its own right by some leading authorities, notably A. H. Smith in his benchmark 1956 work English Place-Name Elements.

What did -ing signify? Much like tūn, it most likely possessed multiple meanings. Greater emphasis has been placed on some over others by different scholars. The prevailing current opinion, or at least that taken throughout English Place-Name Society publications, is that -ing is a singular suffix which, when paired with tūn, had an associative function, i.e. “called after [personal name]”. An alternative way of interpreting a large number of -ingtūn place-names as formations starting with topographical appellatives – “called or at [noun]” – came to the fore in the 1970s thanks to papers by Gillian Fellows Jensen and Olaf Arngart. The reading advocated by the great Swedish linguist Eilert Ekwall, that -ing was a reduced inflected form of the OE genitive plural -inga, indicating a group of people (or things), has fallen out of favour owing to the repeated criticisms published by other linguists over the decades.

Turning to Surrey, nine of the county’s place-names are listed as being from -ingtūn in the English Place-Name Society volume The Place-Names of Surrey (PNS): Addington, Artington, Beddington, Chivington, Cuddington, Enton, Kennington, Pointers, Stevens Bridge. Appearance in this list did not equal absolute acceptance of their derivation on the part of the book’s authors, since they put a question mark against Enton. Revisiting the evidence in 2014, 80 years since PNS was published, has given me reasons to believe several of the place-names can be interpreted in different and more credible ways.

There are some misleading false friends to separate out first. For starters, the conjecture in PNS that Chilberton in Merstham (earliest Chelberton 1298) suffered the loss of a medial -ing, and hence was originally OE Cēolbeorhtingtūn, has no precedent in the county’s toponymy. Surrey place-names did not lose medial -ing, but not infrequently they did gain it in Middle English (ME), and sometimes retained it through to the present day. Luddington in Egham parish (Sodyn(g)ton 1332-33) is earliest Sudinton 1213, and so is perhaps to be interpreted as the elliptical OE sūth in tūne “place south of the tūn”. In the case of Wallington (Wallyngton 1377), its many renderings as Waletona, -e from 1076 x 84 strongly suggest it derives from OE w(e)alh-tūn. “slaves’/Britons’ tūn”. More extreme in its corruption is Artington, Erdinton(a) 1172 and Erdyngton 1279, but also Ertendon(e) 1191-1318, Eardendon’ 1234. The range of spellings is such that Artington may not be an -ingtūn at all, rather OE *Eardan-dūn, a combination of the genitive singular of the hypocoristic (shortened) personal name *Earda and dūn, “hill”.

The suggested presence of the genitive singular inflection of a weak masculine personal name in Artington may be repeated in two supposed Surrey -ingtūnas, bearing out the contentions made by Smith as early as 1936 regarding the intrusion of -ing particles in many place-names during or by the ME period. Chivington in Bletchingley is Civentone 1086 and Chivington’ 1235, making an etymology of *Cifan-tūn, “*Cifa’s tūn” as likely if not more so. Enton in Witley does not occur on record until the fourteenth century. It has been postulated as an -ingtūn on the strength of forms like Enyngton 1377-86, but earlier spellings, e.g. Eneton’ 1332 are commensurate with formations which include tūn but not -ing: the specific could be the either of the personal names Ēana or Eni, or the nouns ened, “duck”, or *ean, “lamb”. Arguments for parallel traditions of forms with and without a medial -ing particle put forward by linguists such John Dodgson cannot be dismissed altogether, but Smith’s concept of “secondary” -ing particles fits a number of Surrey place-names very well.

In her recent PhD thesis, Jill Bourne set out the idea that Kennington in Lambeth (Chenintune 1086, Kenigton 1274-1316) may not be an -ingtūn formation incorporating the personal name Cena, rather one combining cyng, “king” with tūn. If representing a version of the recurrent “Kingston” place-name, this may account for the similarity of many of its ME spellings with those of the Middlesex place-names Kempton and Kenton. Another postulated Surrey -ingtūn with apparent namesakes outside the county is Stevens Bridge in Chertsey (Styvynton 1189 x 99). The close resemblance of its ME spellings to the places named Steventon in Berkshire and Hampshire allows the extension of conjectures around their etymologies, with the shift from the specific being the personal name *Stīf(a) + -ing + tūn to one introducing a topographical *styficing, “place where trees have been grubbed up”, + tūn. In a similar vein, Fellows Jensen’s reassessment of Pointers in Cobham (Pontintone in a number of spurious Anglo-Saxon charters from a cartulary of 13th century date, otherwise Puntinton 1219-21) as a name deriving not from the late-recorded personal name Punt but an appellative *punting, “flat-bottom boat place”. This would make topographical sense as Pointers lies across the River Mole from the rest of Cobham parish and a small ferry crossing would have been an apt alternative to a bridge.

This leaves Addington, Beddington, and Cuddington. Although only Beddington has credible OE spellings (e.g. Beaddinctun 900 x 908, Beaddingtun 996 x 1010), each offers abundant evidence for the medial element being an original OE singular -ing, with Addington’s rendering as Adingetone 1203 the only ME spelling which could be interpreted as being derived from plural -inga. They are also united by having first elements that can only be credibly interpreted as masculine personal names: Æddi, Bēada, Cuda. The first of these names has been suggested to reappear in Addiscombe (Ad(d)escomp(e) 1279-) very close to Addington, inflected in the genitive singular with no hint of an -ing particle.

Not only are these three place-names linguistically analogous, they also form a distinct grouping which clusters around Croydon, an important place in the core zone of early medieval Surrey, now on the southern outskirts of London. It seems justifiable to consider whether the trio might share much the same means and date of origin. This is the direction my research is going in next and, at this early stage, I can offer a couple of observations.

The earliest credible examples of -ingtūn formations are to be located in Mercia or its annexed territories in the English West Midlands in the second half of the eighth century; they do not occur in South-East England until several decades later. More generally, connective -ing particles are not in evidence in the charter boundary descriptions of estates in Kent (the county due east of Surrey) before the later 780s, right at the time historical sources record Mercia secured control over the previously-independent Kentish kingdom. Its overlordship of Surrey may have been of longer duration (apparently prompting the construction of a number of defensive ditches on or close to the present Surrey-Kent border). One way of reading this evidence is to link the spread of place-names with -ing as a medial element, particularly in combination with personal names, to the extension of Mercian military-political power and attendant patronage in the eighth and early-ninth century.

Putting Addington, Beddington, Cuddington and other early-attested correlates within a historical context for which a reasonable number of documentary sources are extant invites testing of the possibility that we might be able to hazard guesses as to the identities of men like Æddi, Bēada and Cuda. Here speaks the optimist in me! I grant you, raking over old place-name spellings may not be the most glamourous or exciting work to carry out and report in the world of onomastics. Nevertheless, I strongly believe the reassessment of discrete populations of names supposedly of the same derivation or, as in the case of -ingtūn, having one or more element in common, is a necessary first step to identifying new groupings (or confirming the validity of old ones). With an improved understanding of the probable meanings of place-names comes a firmer foundation on which to build, through reaching out to consider other forms of evidence, better interpretations of the dates and circumstances of their coinage.

A little –ingtūn reading list…

Arngart, O., ‘On the ingtūn Type of English Place-Name’, Studia Neophilologica, 44 (1972), 263-73.

Bourne, J., The Place-Name Kingston and its Context, Thesis submitted to the University of Nottingham for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy ([October] 2011) [Kennington is in unpaginated Material section as code SUR[REY] 3].

Dodgson, J. McN., ‘Various forms of Old English -ing in English place-names’, Beiträge zur Namenforschung, Neue Folge, 2 (1967), 325-96.

Ekwall, E., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, 4th edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1960) [especially pages xi and 264].

Fellows Jensen, Gillian, ‘English Place-Names such as Doddington and Donnington’, Sydsvenska Ortnamnssällskapets Årsskrift (1974), 26-65.

Gover, J. E. B., A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, The Place-Names in Surrey, English Place-Name Society, 11 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934) [especially pages 346 and 352].

Smith, A. H., ‘Analogical development of -ing- and the interpretation of Patrington’, Leeds Studies in English, 5 (1936), 71-73 []

Smith, A. H., English Place-Name Elements, Part 1 (Á-Īw), English Place-Name Society, 25 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956) [especially pages 291-97].

Watts, V., The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) [especially pages xlv-xlvi].

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