... It’s worth mentioning here that these changes didn’t occur overnight. They were the result of long, drawn out processes which often took place over hundreds of years so a change which started in one developmental period may not have become established until the following period in the development.
Can the name 'Holly Mount' be Celtic?
Practically the only place names surviving from our original language, Celtic, are topographical names, particularly names that describe the natural features of the landscape – like, for example, Holly Mount - a hill with Holly. According to Charles Barber (The English Language, a Historical Introduction) quite a few of our rivers still have Celtic names: Avon and Ouse, he says, are Celtic words for water or stream, Derwent means Oak River and Thames means Dark River. A couple of our county names are also totally Celtic in origin, Kent and Devon, while some county names are Celtic in part only. Cumberland, to give an example, has the first part in Celtic, cumber, and the last part in English, land, and means “the land of the Cymry” that’s to say the land of the Welsh. I’m sure you recognize the word Cymry, meaning Welsh, from the name of a certain political party.
Remember here, the Celts were the people who were driven south from all over England and eventually settled in Wales and Cornwall but today’s word Welsh, when referring to the people of Wales, bears no resemblance to the word Cymry, the reason for that being that it’s from a different language. The word Welsh has its origins not in Celtic but in Old English, the language introduced throughout the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions (700 – 1100 BC). Charles Barber, another scholar, (The English Language: A Historical Introduction, 1997) says that the Old English word, wealh, from which Welsh is derived, originally meant ‘foreigner’ but went on to mean Celt, Welshman, servant or slave, which is what these people were to the invaders. Wealh, albeit in a somewhat distorted form, survives today in the second half of the county name Cornwall. And there you have a good example of how history is reflected in the language we speak. Nothing to do with place names but, by way of anecdote, I can tell you that it’s also found as wal in our word ‘walnut’ from the same period’s wheal-hnutu – literally ‘a foreign nut’ (the shelled variety)!
At this point, it’s tempting to think that Holly Mount may have its origins in Celtic, describing as it does a natural feature of the landscape, and not only that, the Holly was a much revered tree, worn in crowns by Celtic chieftains, highly sacred in Celtic mythology and planted near settlements to protect them from lightening strikes. https://thepresenttree.com/blogs/news/holly-tree-meaning. It seems they knew a thing or two those Celts as, in later years, the belief that Holly was resistant to lightening has proved to be justified! Those plantations themselves would create a landscape feature with which to identify your whereabouts.
However, Hollymount/Holly Mount is not a name unique to Bedlington, either as a place name or the name of a residential building. Can we get any clues from those? Have there been world wide, multiple, widely accepted linguistic changes from holy to holly? Or, perhaps multiple events of 'holy' significance? I’ve been able to find numerous examples, not only in England but as far afield as America and Australia. Nearer home, in Ireland, the name seems to have been particularly popular among goods owners. A Directory to the Market Towns, Villages, Gentlemen’s Seats and Other Noted Places in Ireland (1814 Ambrose Leet) lists eight “gentlemen’s seats” called Hollymount and one other called Hollymount House. The name was clearly popular at the beginning of the 19th century. Perhaps John Birkenshaw, in choosing the name Hollymount Hall, was simply following the fashion of the Irish gentry.
These Irish names are of particular interest because they are clearly not derived from any word meaning holy. We can see this by comparing their Irish Gaelic translations. This allows us to envisage how the name was much earlier in history. The name Hollymount translates to Cnoc an Chuillin where chuillin means Holly and Cnoc means hill. Here, there can be no doubt that the name refers to the Holly bush/tree because the word chuillin bears no resemblance to any of the Irish Gaelic words meaning holy: naofa, beannaithe, diaga or naomh and is therefore not a derivation or distortion of any of those words. The same result is obtained by comparison with another Celtic language, Welsh, and the name Bryn Celyn – Holly Hill. Here, celyn means holly while holy translates as cysegredig, gysegredig or cyseg-lân. There is a similarity, however, in the respective Celtic words for Holly, chuillin and celyn and we can also see a trend in the use of this bush/tree in place names.
Another interesting linguistic comparison lies in the order of the words. In English we place the noun (the thing being described) last – Holly Mount. The modifier (the word describing or giving more information about that thing) is placed first – Holly Mount, Holy Mount. In the Celtic languages that order is reversed: Cnoc an Chuillin (Irish Gaelic) means literally ‘Hill the Holly’ as does the Welsh equivalent ‘Bryn Celyn’ - holy hill. As I said earlier, there aren’t many Celtic names left in Britain but I’ve managed to find one on Internet that illustrates the point: ‘Aberdeen’, where Aber means mouth (estuary) and is placed first while dee the name of the river is placed last. Compare that with: Tynemouth, Monmouth or Exmouth. This suggests that ‘Hollymount’ may be a later addition to the English language.
Next, we'll have a look at the Old English period of the development of the English language. It's a period of great changes.
To be continued ...