2018, Volume 15, Issue 3

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Andrew Breeze
University of Navarra
Pamplona, Spain

Welsh Dawn ‘Gift’ and Doncaster, Yorkshire

Voprosy onomastiki, 2018, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp. 202–211 (in English)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2018.15.3.037

Received 14 November 2017

Abstract: Doncaster, known to the Romans as Danum, is a town on the River Don, Yorkshire. Its British-Latin name (deriving from that of the river) has been obscure: although interpretations ‘wet’ or ‘bold’ or ‘flowing’ have been proposed from alleged parallels with the Danube, Dnieper, Don, or Rhône of the European continent, they are inconclusive, because they lack equivalents in Brittonic. A new etymology is needed. The one suggested here is ‘gift; gifted one’ or even ‘she who brings gifts’ (designating a river nymph). It is supported directly by the Welsh word dawn ‘gift’ and indirectly by the River Annan of Scotland, recorded in British-Latin as Anava, a form related to Welsh anaw ‘wealth, riches, largess, bounty, gift’ and presumably reflecting Celtic belief in the stream as a bountiful goddess. The Yorkshire Don (like the River Don of Tyneside) would thus have a name explicable in purely Celtic terms. Reference to Indo-Iranian, legitimately applied to continental rivers including the Russian Don and Dnieper, can here be dropped. Besides this, Doncaster can be proved as unrelated both to the “Cair Daun” of Historia Brittonum’s Twenty-Eight Cities of Britain (where the toponym is surely a corruption of Cair Dam or Cardiff), and to the goddess Dôn of the twelfth-century Four Branches of the Mabinogi. On the other hand, the Yorkshire Don can be shown as a namesake not only of the River Don of T neside, but of the River Doon in south-west Scotland.

Keywords: Celtic languages, Welsh language, British toponymy, Celtic hydronymy, Old European hydronymy, etymology, Doncaster, Historia Brittonum, Mabinogion


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