Playing the naming game…
House names are revealing even if you’ve ‘dunroamin’, says Adam Edwards
The house is called Dunbankin and last month Stanley Rubin, from Manchester, wrote to the letters editor of The Daily Telegraph pointing out the aptness of the name in the current economic crisis.
He was not alone in noting a pertinent property moniker. Barbara Borrington from Derbyshire saw a house in Horsforth, Leeds, called Kantafordyt, while another reader spotted The Bank’s. Dr John Gladstone said his mother had crossed out one of the Os in his home, Stoneybrooke, while Brian Armstrong wrote from Saudi Arabia to say that friends of his lived in a basement flat in London called Wuthering Depths.
David Hill, from Hampshire, wrote to ask if it was “an indication of Britishness” that at a time of political and financial mayhem The Daily Telegraph devoted its letters page “to the quirky names we give to our houses”.
And the answer to David Hill’s question is yes.
The British house name is resonant of this island’s culture. It has even been nominated as an icon of England by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
“House naming is a hugely popular English custom,” states the Icons of England website. “It may all have begun with the Halls and Manors of the gentry, but since our homes are proverbially our castles, many of the rest of us have been drawn to giving a name to the family pile, be it ever so humble.”
It was a letter about the house name Ballabaalamb on the Isle of Man that prompted the flurry of correspondence to the letters’ editor.
John Shaw followed up the original missive to say that during the years that he struggled with a mortgage his house was called Millstone. He changed the name to Milestone when the money was paid off. Stephen Woodbridge Smith meanwhile claimed to live in a house called The Answer – he added “but I don’t know what it is”.
The history of British house names can be traced to the Roman grandees whose villas were given titles like Villa Faustini, Villa Magna and Villa Rostrata.
Later, when Britons emerged from the Dark Ages world of medieval castles to the castellated manor house, the property name tended towards location (for example Belvoir Castle overlooking the Belvoir Valley) or one’s family ancestors (Castle Howard after the Howard family). Then, when the bourgeoisie began to move into their own smaller villas, names like Highlands, Broadlands and Belmont also tended after location.
“In the late-19th century, the less prosperous middle classes began to colonise suburbia and they tended to choose diminutives to dignify their bay-fronted semis and terraces,” says Joyce Miles in her book Owl’s Hoot: How People Name Their Houses. “Villa became ville in names like Roseville and Woodville. Ferndale and Fernleigh – popular names at the time – were based on grander properties such as Fern Hill and the Ferns.”
It was the huge expansion outside London in the 1930s that saw the emergence not only of the blended personal name – Frankville, Maryville and so on – but also the cosy Chez Nous, Mon Repos and Dunroamin.
Today, the most popular house name in the UK, according to recent Halifax report, is The Cottage, followed by Rose Cottage and The Bungalow. The Coach House is fourth in the list and The Orchard fifth. Other recent arrivals in the top 50 include The Old Post Office, The Old School House and The Barn while names that have lost popularity this century include The White House, The Gables and Greenacres. Nothing with the prefix “dun…” makes it into the top 50.
“The most common source for the naming of houses has always been the transfer of names,” says Joyce Miles. “Henry VII, for example, named Richmonde [now Richmond] in Surrey after his estate in Yorkshire. Newquay in Staffordshire, Rugby in Somerset, and Tipton in Essex are named for similar reasons.”
Flowers, fruit, trees and animals are the next most popular followed by personal names twisted and contorted into all manner of puns and puzzles, many of which will reflect our new economic circumstances.
“I used to live in the Cork and Bottle,” says Mark Houldsworth of Moray, “in these troubled times I would happily dispense with the cork.”
However, it is Barbara Drummond, from Derbyshire, who has found the house name that probably most accurately reflects the times. She regularly corresponded with a disabled person who lived in a house called Llamedos.
“When it is read in reverse, it showed her feelings for those who made life difficult,” said Ms Drummond.