The Misspelt Three Names


Here, have a treat: a cross-post with my Tumblr, explaining about some of the names that can be seen in the map of BBC’s Sherlock episode A Study in Pink. Although this first sentence was not included in the original post as anyone reading it on Tumblr would’ve needed no explanation of the picture. ”All together now…” ”Rachel!” etc.

Ivor Pl is actually the road turning left (from Allsop Pl) – so far so obvious – but also note Dorest Sq, Glouchester Pl and Marlybone R.

Now, Dorest Sq is obviously just a mistakely written Dorset Sq (at least there is no logical, linguistic reason behind the misspelling as far as I can see), but let’s talk about the fascinating names of Marlybone Road and Glouchester Place!

Marlybone R, or Marylebone as is the actual name, is a very confusing name to try to pronounce for tourists. When you hear its name being called out in the speakers you will hear something that sounds like /marlibon/ or /marrylebon/ – and ”Hullo!” as Sherlock Holmes would’ve cried out – isn’t this suspiciously close to something we see in the map above?
My guess is that Englishmen’s confusion is regarding the spelling, not the pronounciation, but I have no proof of this – except the map above – so don’t take my word for it. Some onomastician has surely written loads about this.

What, though, is the reason for this confusion that makes us wonder if all our English classes on pronounciation were for nothing? Well, it is the fact that Marylebone Rd in 1453 was written Maryburne, Marybourne in 1492 (take that, Columbus!), Marybon in 1542 and Marylebone in 1626. The meaning of the name is ’(place by) St Mary’s stream’ with reference to the dedication of the 15th century church which was built there, and to the Old English burna ’stream’. As A Dictionary of London Place Names (Mills, 2010) would tell us, the inserted -le- is probably introduced on the analogy of other names, like St Mary-le-Bow where it has ”a loose, connective sense”. For other names with the old element burna, please visit this marvellous site I just found: Key to English Place-Names and type in ”burn”. You’re welcome.

Place-names can be very transparent (like Baker Street, where presumeably a baker once lived) or not transparent at all (like Marylebone Road) – which makes it such a fascinating thing to read about (and study, which many linguists do!). We choose names for ourselves and for places so that we can identify it in common – and human kind has always done so. Doesn’t the thought just blow your mind?

Which brings us to Glouchester Pl, or rather Gloucester Pl, which the previously mentioned KEPN explains as ”’Roman town called Glevum’. The first element may be based on a Brit. *Glevon/*Glaivon, ’bright’, although this interpretation is tentative.” -cester derives from Old English ceaster ’a city; an old fortification; a Roman site’, which in turn comes from the Latin castrum ’fortified place’. (As a small note, according to The Online Etymology Dictionary castellum is the Latin diminutive of castrum, and the origin of the word castle. You’re welcome again.)

Of course, writing Glouchester makes all the sense in the world – compare with similar place-names like Manchester, Winchester, Chesterfield etc. Even though Wiktionary explains the pronounciation as /’ɡlɒstə/ (yes I copied proper IPA this time) the analogous -chester is based on written language, not pronounciations of the name (note that this is my guess).

”Why the name Gloucester Place then?” you ask. Well, this is probably due to some person from Gloucestershire who either lived in London (near this place) or was famous and/or well-liked enough to get a street named after him-/herself.

(You should also give me A for effort on the alluding title of this post.)


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