Monday, March 23, 2015

Place Names

The name of the city I grew up in is Lynchburg, Not the one famous for whiskey, which can be found in a state named for a the Cherokee word used for a river, “tanasi” or, Tennessee.  But the one in Virginia, named for the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth. The other thing about my Lynchburg  is that it was not named so because of a reputation of lynching folks. The city was named for John Lynch who established a ferry service in 1757 on the Fluvanna River (“Annie’s River” in honor of Queen Anne of England) which was later renamed the James River, named for King James the 1st.  Locals always say “The Mighty James”.

Lynchburg, Va and the Mighty James
Flash forward to our small village in France where place names can be traced to the times of the Celtic Gauls 50 BC, then the Gallo Roman Era until somewhere around the 400s (of our era), followed by the “dark ages” of the  Visigoth invasions, on through the Middle Ages and continuing on until modern times. It wasn't until the 15th century that place names began to be deliberately recorded for government purposes. The French government was trying to get a standardized grip on its possessions, but the local people in a back waters like our region resisted standardization and continued to speak their own language until the 1940.  It took a lot of central government muscle to get the schools to force children to learn the King’s French.  (Even though it had been some time since those fun-loving Bourbon despots left the scene.  The last one even being allowed to exit with his head on)

This long train of cultural evolutions left such a variety of place names that even today the locals will disagree with how to pronounce a name - and Parisians blanche at the tongue twisting, vowel laced, foreign names.

I tell you all of this because here place names are either original and mysterious or have changed and changed, remaining mysterious and difficult. 
As an example - The neighboring village is now called Valeuil. Researchers have found that the village name has had 10 known different spellings. The 1st written record of the name was in 1220 and was written Valoil. The roots of this name can be traced back to the Gaulic word -remember 400 AD- for apples, aballo. The current spelling and pronunciation are a clear sign of the telephone game as the ab slurred to V.

Each new group of immigrants brought their language influences. Latin came along and melded with Gaulic names. Visigoths brought germanic words and accents. Accents came and went with the passage of soldiers and journeymen. Rural accents just got thicker and more diverse until government officials came out to record the names of villages. These Parisian French speaking officials just had to take a stab at what the heck was being said - for even the French are stumped by these strange vowel combinations and silent letters.

Here are some other fun names from nearby:

Labrousse  (occitain)  rocky useless land

Ramefort  (pre-Celtic)  ram -rock    (french) fort - strong
Charbonnier (french)   the coal family

Les Baconnets (occitane)  seller of salted pork

Agonac  (Roman) - ac showed that a place belonged to someone - the home of Agon

Puy Fromage  (english and french)  Hill From the Edge (Which is really confusing to all because  fromage is French for cheese.)
Les Chauses  (french) The Things.  The original name of this hamlet was the occitan word for male genitals - people were embarrassed to say the word in polite company so they just said “You’re looking for the Dubois family? They live up at the Things.”
Geuyonie (occitain) Lesbians.  This 3 house hamlet is just down the road from The Things (I am not making this up! Maybe my French friends are making it up to goof on the gullible american, but I swear they tell me this with a blushing, straight face and they really do not seem to have rehearsed the conversation among themselves.)
My neighborhood is called La Croix St Marc. The cross of Saint Mark. The stone mason who was commissioned to build our house was so grateful for the work that he carved this cross as a thanks to God.


MaryLou said...

Beautiful, writing. I love this: " and Parisians blanche at the tongue twisting, vowel laced, foreign names.

Mary Jo said...

Very interesting post. I love word origins and especially the stories behind place names. Loved that you started with places I know but not the origins of their names. You must have quite the photo library!