What’s in a name? well, since you asked, quite a lot!

WHEN ordering things by telephone, a friend of mine in Dorset tends to take a proactive approach to the inevitable question: “What’s your address?” She lays it out straight, so there’s no room for unpleasant confusion. “Sh**terton”. In the scale of embarrassing place names, Sh**terton ranks pretty high. But the UK is full of them. Some are mostly amusing, like Diddling, in East Sussex; North Piddle, Worcestershire; and Spanker Lane, Derbyshire.

Others evoke images that may conflict with residents’ efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs. These include Slutsh*le Lane, Norfolk; Thong, Kent; Bellyside Hill, Northumberland and Benny Mill, in Cornwall. (Wasn’t he a comedian?). Not to mention the villages of Ugley and Loose (both of which have branches of the Women’s Institute so no sniggering at the back there), Nether Wallop and Upper and Lower Slaughter.

And, in a country that delights in lavatory humour, particularly if the word “bottom” is involved, there’s Pratts Bottom, in Kent, doubly cursed because “prat” is natch well-known slang for buffoon.

It’s interesting how often these places cluster together. In one crowded area south of Cambridge, for instance, you can find Blo Norton, Rickinghall Inferior, Helions Bumpstead and (a personal favourite) Shellow Bowells.

Take Dorset, too, where the true meaning of most village names leaps out at you, hardly requiring translation at all. Gussage St Michael, for instance, is clearly a pair of chain-store knickers. Beer Hackett is an alcoholic scribbler who used to write in the News of the World. And Catsgore was the place where the forbidden sport of cat-fighting was practised.
Lewes District Council in East Sussex tried to address the problem of inadvertent place-name titillation by decreeing that “street names which could give offence” would no longer be allowed on new roads. Planners should “avoid aesthetically unsuitable names” like Gaswork Road. Also, “names capable of deliberate misinterpretation” like Hoare Road, Typple Avenue and Quare Street.

According to the author – who himself grew up on Tumbledown Dick Road, Oxfordshire – of “Rude Britain” and “Rude UK” which list arguably offensive place names — some so arguably offensive that, unfortunately, they can’t be printed here — place and street names are full of history and culture, and it’s only because language has evolved over the centuries that they’ve wound up sounding rude.

Ah! Just think how different Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca might have been if it had begun: “Last night I dreamt I went to Sh**terton again …”

Nora Johnson’s novel, The De Clerambault Code (www.nora-johnson.com) available at Amazon in paperback and as eBook. Profits to Cudeca








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