Guide to the Place-names of North Cornwall and Devon

England is renowned for its quirky and quaint place-names, but Cornwall, with its extra language, has some real oddities.  In this blog post, we explore the origins of some of North Cornwall and Devon’s place-names.  If there’s a particular name that you can’t fathom, let us know on social media and we’ll do some digging for you.


“By Tre Pol and Pen / Shall ye know all Cornishmen” – Old Cornish adage

As a rough guide, it is useful to know some of the most common elements of Cornish place-names as follows:

Tre (e.g Trerice and Treneglos) means a homestead or collection of dwellings.

Pol (e.g Polperro and Polzeath) means a pool.

Pen (e.g. Penzance and Penryn) means the head or the end of something.

Wheal means mine.

Porth or port (e.g Perranporth and Port Quin) means a harbour or port.

Lan (e.g Lanhydrock and Launceston) meaning an enclosure belonging to a church.

Bos or Bod (e.g Bodmin and Bodrugan) meaning dwelling or abode.

Here are the place-names we’ve looked into, in alphabetical order:


Meaning St. Nonn’s altar. St. Nonn is thought to have been the mother of the St. David.


Probably, ‘battle-axe post’, signifying the site of a religious or administrative meeting-place from Old English bearde (battle-axe) and stapol (post).


Meaning ‘ford at the stream called Byd’. Alternatively the first element may be ‘vessel, tub’ used topographically for one of the side valleys to mean ‘deep valley’.


From ‘bod’ meaning a place or dwelling, and ‘menegh’ meaning monks.


Originally Botreaux Castle (pronounced “But’ry”), a long-gone home of the Norman Botereaux family. 

Bradworthy From bradewurtha meaning broad enclosure.


Meaning Ruald’s bridge, after the landowner in 1086, Roald Adobed.

Brown Willy

The name for the highest point in Cornwall is thought to come from Bronn Wennili meaning ‘hill of swallows’ in old Cornish.

Bude  Although it’s unlikely that Bude was named after the original St. Bede, the term bede was a old term for holy men, derived from the Saxon verb to pray or to bid.  In the middle ages, Bude (or Budehaven) was little more than a chapel on a rock, so the name makes sense.  Haven comes from the Old Norse ‘hofn’ meaning harbour.


Rather obviously, this means a ford on the river Camel.  The river itself is named from the Cornish for “the crooked one”.

Clawton ‘Claw’ meaning a tongue of land, and ‘ton’ meaning enclosure or homestead.

Clovelly  An unusual name with uncertain origins – a common understanding is that it’s based on the Old English ‘cloh’ meaning a ravine, and the personal name Felec.

Crackington Haven  From the old Cornish ‘kragen’, meaning little crag, ‘ton’ meaning enclosed or homestead, and haven meaning harbour. 

Hartland  Although many people think this is associated with harts (the old name for stag deer), it is more likely that it comes from a prominent early name in the area ‘Heorta’.

Holsworthy‘Worthy’ comes from the Old English ‘wordig’ meaning enclosure.  The ‘Hols’ part could either be from a personal name, or from ‘Helde’ meaning slope.

Kilkhampton ‘Kilk’ is thought to be derived from the Cornish ‘kylgh’ meaning circle, while Hampton means an enclosure in the bend of a river (Saxon ‘hamm’).


Originally Lanstefan, from ‘lan’ meaning enclosed land belonging to a church, and ‘Stefan’ after Saint Stephen.  The early settlement around the castle (now known as Launceston) was first called Dunheved, meaning hill-head’, until it borrowed the name of the village on the other side of the valley which to this day is known as St. Stephens.

Morwenstow   From the name of the Welsh Saint Morwenna (‘morwyn’ meaning maiden), and the Old English ‘stow’ meaning place of worship.  It was once believed Saint Morwenna was buried here.

North Tamerton

Unsurprisingly, this means enclosure or homestead on the river Tamar.  There is a larger village called Tamerton Foliot near Plymouth (Foliot being a local family’s name), so ‘North’ became a helpful addition to our village name.  The Tamar itself is an ancient name thought to mean ‘Great water’, first mentioned by Greek writer Ptolemy. 


The ‘Oke’ comes from the Ockment river (or originally Ocmund), and Hampton means a settlement in the bend of the river.

Poughill  This name doesn’t have certain origins.  The hill part is actually from ‘wella’ which meant a spring or stream.  The Poug part is either from the word for a pouch or bag (so a spring resembling a pouch) or it was from the personal name Pohha.

Red Post

The generally accepted origin of the name here is rather morbid.  The crossroads (like many) was the site of a gibbet or gallows, and so the colour of the signpost was intended to represent the blood that was shed there.

Shebbear From the Old English ‘scheaft’ meaning a shaft or pole (sometimes used as a landmark or boundary), and ‘bearu’ meaning a small woodland. 

Stratton  The Old Cornish name was stradneth, meaning the flat-bottomed valley of the river Neth.  This was mixed with the suffix ‘ton’ meaning enclosure or homestead.  Eventually, the river became known as the Strat, by working backwards from Stratton.

Torrington  Formed from the Celtic name of the river Torridge (meaning turbulent stream) with ‘ton’ meaning enclosure or homestead.

Week St. Mary Originally St. Mary Wike, and before that just Wike.  From the Old English ‘wic’ meaning a dwelling or a farm, and the St. Mary – the saint to whom the local church is dedicated.

Whitstone Many think the village was named after the white stone featured inside the church.  However, a more likely (and earlier) origin, is that the old manor house was built on white stone, and the village borrowed the name.

The names of our cottages: 

From hen meaning old and dra or tre meaning farm.  The old farm. 

From tre meaning farm, and eglos meaning church.  The church farm. 

From Pen meaning head or end, and hale meaning a moor or heathland. 

A family name, originally BodeWorgoin  meaning Wurcon’s house.

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