London is a city we know and love well, but how did London get its name? Our guide to how London got its name will walk you through all the routes that lead us to calling our great city what it is today.
Is There Debate Over Where London Got Its Name?
A city as old as London can be tricky to pinpoint exact origins, which means there’s many ideas and thoughts on how it came to be known by its current name. For the most part it is believed that London as we know it evolved from the Roman city of Londinium. However, there are both Celtic, Non-Celtic, ancient, and even mythical origins of the London name that are debated.
What was the Roman Name for London?
The Romans called London Londinium. The Romans founded Londinium in 43AD and it is the first settlement in this area of proper note. A written record in 117AD by Tacitus shows us the first written, and one of the only written proofs of the Roman name for our city. There were however other variations noted including: Londinio, Londinensi, and Londinensium. By 368 however, the city was often referred to as Augusta as seen on Roman coins.
Ancient London Names
Before the Romans came, there were certainly settlers going back in time. We have proof of this in structures found, including 6,000 year old timbers that can be seen as very low tide at Vauxhall. With no actual settlers verifiably known to live in this area, all we can do is guess at what it may have been called. However, linguists and historians suggest that the Roman name may have developed from a pre-existing name. This could have been a number of things including: Plowonida (stemming from pre-celtic words and meaning ‘flowing river’).
There are a number of theories regarding London’s name that stem from the celtic language. William Camden, a 16th century historian, suggested that the name London derived from Welsh. He thought ‘Lon’ was a derivation of ‘Llyn’ a welsh word for grove, and ‘don’ coming from ‘dun’ which once meant fort.
After the Romans left in 410, little was known of the city for the next 200 years until the Anglo-Saxons arrived. The Anglo-Saxon settlers established themselves in the areas we now know as Covent Garden and Aldwych. 7th and 8th century sources name the port here as Ludenwic meaning ‘London settlement or trading town.’ In 886, Alfred the Great moved the settlement into the still standing Roman walls. This new area was renamed Ludenburh, which means ‘the fortified town of London.’
The Norman Conquest
The name London as we know it began to arise during the Norman Conquest. From this point on, the spelling of London became far more consistent – to the point we are at today.
Mythical Origins of London’s Name
Geoffrey of Monmouth, an important historiographer who was born in c. 1095, thought the name London derived from Brutus. He thought that London was founded as the ‘new Troy.’ He believed that the name began as Trinovantum which was rebuilt by King Lud. He was later buried under the Lud gate (where it gets its name), the city then was called ‘Caer-Lud’ which means fortress of Lud, and this later evolved to London.
Nicknames for London
London has had a few nicknames over the years, with the primary one being The Big Smoke – a name that comes from the famous smog in centuries gone past. Delve into the Great Smog of London to find out more about this name’s origin. It also answers to the name of Swinging London and The Great Wen (a not so positive name).The City of London can also be called The Square Mile (due to its size).
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