What’s in a name?
When I began writing Four Hidden Treasures, the first book my new series, The Secrets of Hartwell, not only did I have to come up with a village full of new characters, I also had to create the village itself. Previously, my stories have been set in real places like York, so I considered basing this series in one of the many Yorkshire villages I love such as Hovingham, Thornton Le Dale or Coxwold, but none of them were quite right. So, instead, I picked my favourite bits of each place; the beck running through Thornton, the Victorian primary school in Hovingham and the church in Coxwold, to create somewhere new.
Then, I had to think of a name for my village. This wasn’t as simple as you might think. Due to England’s long history, every tribe or invading army have left their mark when it comes to place names. The Roman word for ‘fort’ roughly translates to cester, caster or chester, so we have Manchester, Lancaster and Cirencester. The Viking influence is still strong in the north of the country. Places ending in ‘thorpe’, ‘thwait’, ‘ness’, ‘by’ and ‘kirk’ were all named by our Scandinavian invaders, so we have Copmanthorpe, Husthwaite, Skegness, Whitby and Ormskirk. The Anglo Saxon’s dominated the south and their place names ended in ‘ham’, ‘ford’ and ‘ton’, giving us Birmingham, Oxford and Boston. When the French- speaking Normans arrived in 1066, they made a few changes too. They liked to use ‘beau’ and ‘bel’ meaning fine or fair, so we get Belvoir and Beaumont.
Due to a backstory running through my series, the village had to have been founded by the Celts. They treated water as if it was sacred. In fact, two thirds of England’s rivers still have their Celtic names, such as Avon, Derwent, Severn, Tees and Tyne. My village had an old, sacred well, so ‘well’ needed to be included in the name. Certain trees and animals were also important to the Celts, but Hollywell sounded too much like Hollywood and I couldn’t use Oakwell as it’s the name of Barnsley football club’s home ground. Stagwell just sounded wrong. It was starting to drive me crazy. I would lay awake at night, coming up with names only to find they had already been taken. Then one day, I was browsing the internet, looking for a new mattress (my husband had bought one that he thought was a bargain but turned out to be only one inch deep. Neither our backs nor our marriage were going to survive it much longer!) As I was scrolling through the pages of a mattress store, I found it. Amongst the Lyndehursts, St James’s and Lichfields was ‘Hartwell’. It was perfect. Combining the word ‘well’ with ‘hart’ the old English word for stag. Finally, I had a name for my village and a new mattress. I could sleep in peace.
About the Author
H L Marsay always loved detective stories and promised herself that one day, she would write one too. She is lucky enough to live in York, a city full of history and mystery. When not writing, the five men in her life keep her busy – two sons, two dogs and one husband.