What’s there in a name? Some embarrassment and debate

June 25th, 2008 - 2:06 pm ICT by IANS  


London, June 25 (IANS) One can only speculate if poet William Wordsworth was proud of the name of the town he was born in: Cockermouth. An estate agent in Dorset certainly isn’t and his advertisements conveniently don’t mention where the properties are: Shitterton. In the people’s domain in Britain there is a debate on the legacies of the past, particularly when it comes to naming towns and villages.

There’s a notion of a vicious rivalry between residents who rejoice in living in Britain’s rude places and those who’d rather die than admit living there. The Independent’s Rhodri Marsden was recently on a pilgrimage of such places.

There’s no saying who is winning, but the newspaper finds there are not many takers for “campaigns by residents to effect name changes that might give the area a bit more class”.

Every country has its own list of embarrassing secrets and the British ones - we are talking only about embarrassing place names - are being put on the altar of introspection.

Shitterton, for example. This isn’t the only place in Britain proudly to wear the prefix - an unholy trinity is formed with Shittlehope and Shitlington Crags, both in northeast England - but Shitterton is the only one of the three actually to be named after excrement.

Keith Briggs, who updates an informative website on the subject, says the name probably came after the river Shiter, “a brook used as a privy”.

The brook today is a picturesque waterway. The absence of any excrement hasn’t discouraged some residents who recently tried to rename a row of council houses as Sitterton Close.

The majority of the residents frown upon the renaming. Are they actually proud of Shitterton? Yes. It brings in tourists mostly to send postcards back home with the peculiar name on the postal stamp. There’s even a shitterton.com website. The name attracts a lot of people, says Diana Ventham, who, with her husband, owns Shitterton Farmhouse and the internet domain.

The Independent says: “While there is no evidence that having an address that alludes to sewage, genitals, prostitution, bottoms, murder or masturbation makes your house any less pleasant to live in, Shitterton isn’t the only place in the UK where residents have turned against their addresses, in spite of having decided to move there in the first place.”

Edd Hurst, who has co-authored three books on rude places, remembers once visiting Lincolnshire to locate a street named Fanny Hands Lane. “I wasn’t prepared for the sheer hostility that I encountered. They were sick of having their road sign pinched, they were sick of pizza not being delivered because the restaurant thought it was a hoax call. As it turned out, it was just named after a woman called Fanny Hands.”

This historian has the dubious distinction of having visited the rudest places of Britain, from Slutshole Lane in Norfolk to Butthole Road. Efforts are on to change the name of the latter to Buttonhole Road. Just as residents of villages on the river Piddle are renaming their places as Tolpuddle, Affpuddle and Puddletown.

As a slow metamorphosis from the Victorian era is under way in Britain, here’s a quick look at places which some believe they’ve been brought up never to utter in public.

Lickey End in Worcestershire where residents ignore the obvious wisecracks.

Thong is a hamlet in Kent with no connection with undergarments that go by its name.

Ugley in Essex. Peeved by the name, the Ugley Women’s Institute changed itself to Women’s Institute of Ugley.

Lower Swell in Gloucestershire. If that’s not shocking, try the village’s river Dickler and a pub called Golden Ball.

Penistone in South Yorkshire. Penstun or Penstone were the early versions, derived from the Old English word “tun” meaning a farm or village. There’s no recorded history of how the “i” came to be inserted.

Crapstone in Devon. The people fiercely defend the village’s name.

Bitchfield is a beautiful village in Lincolnshire. There’s nothing to see in this really small place, except for a chapel and two blocks of buildings connected by the Dark Lane.

Wetwang is a village in Yorkshire. The name is so popular that the late Richard Whiteley, famous as the host of BBC’s Countdown cult word game show, was made an honorary mayor of Wetwang. The title is now held by BBC’s weatherman Paul Hudson.

Muff is a village on the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. It comes from Irish for a village, “magh”.

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