2019, Volume 16, Issue 3

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Andrew Breeze
University of Navarra
Pamplona, Spain

Doubts on Irish Iubhar 'Yew Tree' and Eburacum or York

Voprosy onomastiki, 2019, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp. 205–211 (in English)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2019.16.3.040

Received 18 August 2018

Abstract: York, a cathedral city in the north of England, was the Eburacum or Colonia Eburacensis of Roman Britain. Its name has usually been explained from Irish iubhar ‘yew tree’ (or alternatively from Welsh efwr ‘hogweed’) and so ‘place where yew trees grow’; or else as containing the British(-Latin) personal name Eburus plus the suffix -aco-, and so ‘estate of Eburus’ (with commentators wavering between the two). The author provides an overview of the etymological interpretations suggested in literarure and adduces arguments in favour of the second explanation. The yew tree (Taxus baccata) is typically found in dry woodland and scrub, often on chalk. It hates wet soil, which York has in plenty, for it occupies a low-lying site at the junction of the Rivers Ouse and Foss. Damp and subject to flooding, York is no place for yew trees. A direct link with yews may be rejected and a sense ‘estate of Eburus’ accepted with confidence, even if Eburus (somewhat confusingly) itself meant ‘he who lives by a yew tree’. The implications of topographical factors for the name of York may be recalled on other dubious etymologies in Watts’s 2004 dictionary, including ‘port with deep water’ for Dunwich, ‘water, pool’ for London, ‘fort of a breast-shaped hill’ for Manchester, or ‘fork, watershed’ for the Isle of Wight.

Keywords: British toponymy, Celtic, York, Eburacum, yew trees, estate names, etymology.


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