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London Life

18 months on and some British names still baffle me!

Yesterday marked the 18 month anniversary since I moved to London, so in the spirit of any good occasion I decided to compile a short list about my experience in the UK thus far. I decided to focus on some British places that I noticed to have seemingly peculiar names which, in my eyes as a foreigner, make absolutely little sense!

Photo credit: timparkinson

1. Places with three words

Many places around the world have sites named according to certain features specific to that area. In Malta we use the word ‘Ta’, which mean ‘of’, for certain places – Ta’ Cenc or Ta’ Xbiex being an example. Unfortunately for the English language, it is not as clear cut as it is in Maltese to use such terms, since they would not make sense (image a place called ‘Of James’). Instead, the British have bestowed certain places with names made up of a combination of hyphens and prepositions to create monstrosities such as Stoke-upon-Trent, Southend-on-Sea, and (my personal favourite) Weston-super-Mare.

Despite the long name, Weston-super-mare looks quite peaceful (Photo credit: Chris Downer)

2. The ‘-Sex’ Factor

It is very evident from the content of most British TV that this country is fascinated with sex, but I find it quite entertaining that there are a couple of places given the suffix of ‘–sex’ (P.S. – this last three word combination is quite amusing in itself).

We have three counties in the UK called Wessex, Sussex and Essex, which are relics of the ancient and far too complicated monarchy of the Britain. The term Wessex, for example, refers to the ‘Kingdom of West Saxons’ although I am still dumbstruck as to how someone managed to end up with ‘Wessex’…as opposed to ‘Wessax’ (obsessed with sex I tell you!)

Furthermore, what the hell happened to the North Saxons? Where they too conservative to adopt the –sex suffix, so opted for something more aristocratic? While I am not sure about which Northern Kingdom represents which county today, it is worth pointing out that the regions above the ‘-sexes’ are called Mercia and Northumbria, which does sound rather posh to me.

I forgot to mention that there is also Middlesex, which is comparatively smaller to the other regions and often forgotten by its neighbours. It seems that no one like to being in the middle when ‘-sex’ is involved…

amy childs

Amy Childs, former ‘The Only Way is Essex’ star, flying the Essex flag and making her East Saxon ancestors proud! (Photo credit: PictureMatt)

3. Cookie cutter names

I have a fondness for the names of British places, not because they are super-original, but because they manage to rotate amongst ten suffixes and then attach random prefixes to create an odd sounding, yet often whimsical name. For example, what do you get when you attached a body organ to one of these common suffixes? LIVERPOOL!

Examples of such places include:

The ‘-boroughs’ – Scarborough, Loughborough, Marlborough

The ‘-cesters’ – Worcester, Leicester, Gloucester

The ‘-fields’ – Sheffield, Beaconsfield, Macclesfield

The ‘-fords – Watford, Bradford, Chelmsford

The ‘-mouths’ – Bournemouth, Plymouth, Portsmouth

With so many other suffixes to go! Very few places have an actual original symbolic name, such as Bath, conveniently named after the Roman Baths left behind by ancient settlers.

The Portsmouth Spinica Tower, quite a nice view with the adjoining harbour area (Photo credit: Ian.Wolloff)

4. Silent letters that otherwise are NEVER silent

The English language is relatively easy to read, compared to certain languages that have an infinite array of silent letters and are actually conspiring to make your life hell. Once such languages is Maltese in fact, with its silent ‘ie’, ‘h’ and ‘gh’ that make foreigners believe that we purposely make up words to confuse tourists.

So why on Earth would people name places which are not read as they are phonetically spelt? Such a case is the various places across the UK ending with the suffix –ham. While I do acknowledge that several words make use of a silent ‘h’, especially after the letters ‘t’ or ‘s’ where they have a different sound, I do not understand why anything ending in a –ham is given special treatment – it’s not fair! How is it logical that the ‘h’ in Farnham, Cookham or Bloxham is not said? Why would you pronounce it as “Farnim”, but then write it using more letters?

I suggest the British government starts including a phonetic version of such places at train stations (Photo credit: quinn.anya)

Is this a secret way of how British people distinguish between locals and foreigners, on the basis of the silent ‘h’? And this brings me to the ultimate and most annoying place in the UK

5. Southwark

HOW is the ‘w’ in Southwark even remotely silent? SERIOUSLY! It is even placed after a vowel, just begging to be spoken. I would love to meet the individual who came up with this name and ask him how he managed to contradict English grammar and get everyone else on board.

And if you think that’s it, you are grossly mistaken. The ‘South’ in Southwark is not even pronounced as such! The actual phonetically corrected way of saying ‘Southwark’ is “Suderk”.

Southwark tube station, driving tourists insane since 1999 (Photo credit: scarycurlgirl_photos)

To add insult to injury, you would not imagine the looks you get from people when you sound Southwark as it is written. This is a natural thing for anyone with a decent level of English, but in London it is classified as a ghastly mispronunciation. I hate this name, it is deceitful and a massive nuisance to visitors with a good speaking level of English.

Despite such quirky and occasionally frustrating names, I hope the coming months will allow me to continue exploring the UK!

Till then, Tea Time.

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