Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Hen in Breton Place Names

No. Not that 'hen'. 
This one:
Old Breton: hen, ‘old’ , ‘former’, ‘ancient’ [Old Welsh: hen; Old Cornish: hen].
There are quite a few communes with hen in their names, so let me go through them with you now - it will give me a chance to show you how Breton place names work.
Hémonstoir    B: Henvoustoer
OB: mostoer, ‘monastery’ 
The old monastery has gone but the name goes on. 
Hénansal    B: Henan-Sal   [Henant Sal, 1213]
OB: ant/nant, ‘valley’, ‘brook’ [OW/OC: nant] - cf. Nantes (Loire Atlantique), Nant-Glas, Nant-y-Moel (Wales).
The first two components of this name, hen and nan(t) are fairly straightforward. 
Sal is related to B: halegen, ‘willow’ [W: helygen; Irish: sail] which is derived from Latin/Old French/Old High German: salix /saule/salaha. In historical linguistics 's' and 'h' are pretty interchangeable.
It may also be from OHG/OF: sal/salle, ‘manor’, ‘hall’, ‘château’. But I prefer 'old willow valley'.
Hénanbihen    B: Henan-Bihan     [Henantbian, 1139]
OB: bihan, ‘small’, ‘little’ [OC: bychan/bean; OW: bychan] - cf. Morfa Bychan (Wales), Carn Bean (Cornwall).
A name with two adjectives (‘old’ and ‘small’) and no noun does not make sense so this needs the nan(t) to create 'old, small valley' (see Hénansal). 
However, it is interesting to note that Hénanbihen used to be part of Hénansal (see below) and was the smaller part when they split. Small Hénansal?
Hengoat    B: Hengoad
OB: coët, ‘wood/forest’ [OC: cuit; W: coed; OB: koad].
The old or ancient wood.
OB: onn, ‘ash’ [W: onnen s./onn pl.] cf. La Fresnais/An Onnod (Ille-et-Vilaine), Trefonnen, Rhyd-yr-onnen (Wales).
Old ash trees or forest. Or maybe simply a place where there used to be ash trees before they were cut down!
Le Hinglé    B: An Hengleuz
OB: gleuz, ‘ditch/hedge’ [OC: gour; OW: clawdd;].
An old ditch or hedge. 
If you want to see how the Breton language works in place names and why 
mostoer/voustoer, gleuz/clawdd and coët/goad are, in fact, the same words see M is for Mutation next week.

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