One of the crucial aspects of historical onomastics is the question of place-names – how did places get their names, why have some names survived and others been forgotten, how can we trace the etymologies of these names? In England, place-names can be a complex mish-mash of ‘Celtic’, Latin, Old English, Old Norse and French name elements.
Researching place-names is notoriously difficult, as they are often scattered throughout different sources, or constructed in long lists that remove the spacial aspects of the data.
The Key to English Place-Names database, provided by the University of Nottingham, attempts to improve this situation. Containing 14,000 place-names across England, it can be accessed for free online here.
If you have a specific place-name in mind, a handy search function makes finding it easy. Alternatively, a map function also allows you to explore the landscape, and look for named places nearby. Each recorded place-name is marked with a red dot, which can be clicked on to provide the etymological evidence.
If you’re interested in the history of place-names, or names more broadly, the Society of Names Studies in Britain and Ireland (SNSBI) provides a great list of resources.