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“Llan” revealed as Wales’ most common place name element

Ever wondered what the name of your hometown really means?



With the UK brimming with interestingly named places and its residents discovering more of what the UK has to offer, we’ve teamed up with Welsh cottage company Sugar & Loaf and have mapped the UK’s most common place name elements, revealing the stories behind them.

The UK is filled with interesting place names. From Llandudno to Westward Ho! and even Giggleswick, there are common parts of these place names that lead you back in time and down a fascinating linguistical road. 

These intriguing place names have been formed from beautiful local languages, landscapes, and history. Each place name therefore tells the story of its origins, as well as the origins of the first people to settle there.

Common suffixes include “ton” (enclosure, estate, homestead), “llan” (church, churchyard, village with church, parish), “ar” (high, hight), “by” (settlement, village), “cwm” (valley) and “aber” (mouth (of a river), confluence, a meeting of waters). 

These elements are found within or appended to names of local landmarks such as rivers to make a meaningful place name such as Aberystwyth, “the mouth of the River Ystwyth”. 


We’ve shuffled through and decoded every place and common place name element in the UK and picked out the most common and fascinating place name patterns below. 

If you’re curious about what the name of your hometown means, you may well find the answer here.

Wales’ most common place name elements and meanings:

  1. Llan: church, churchyard, village with church, parish. As seen in: Llanybydder, Llandaff, Llanberis
  2. Pen: head (headland or hill), top, far end of, end of. As seen in: Pendine, Penderyn, Penrhos
  3. Ton: enclosure, estate, homestead. As seen in: Bosherston, Cosmeston, Burton
  4. Tre: settlement. As seen in: Tredegar, Tresaith, Tregarth
  5. Cwm: valley. As seen in: Cwmaman, Cwm-yr-Eglwys, Cwmpengraig
  6. Pont: bridge. As seen in: Pontardawe, Pontcanna, Pontypridd
  7. Aber: mouth (of a river), confluence, a meeting of waters. As seen in: Aberaeron, Abergavenny, Aberystwyth
  8. Coed: wood, forest. As seen in: Betws-y-Coed, Pen-y-coed, Cyncoed
  9. Pant: a hollow. As seen in: Panteg, Pant Eidal, Pantmawr
  10. Nant: ravine or the stream in it. As seen in: Nantgarw, Nantyglo, Nantgaredig

Christianity swept over Wales from the 5th century onwards, when the first saints, including St David, settled in Wales, having a huge influence over the surrounding areas. There are larger clusters of places featuring “llan” in areas where several monasteries were established, such as Monmouthshire and Anglesey, and many of these still stand today.

Meaning settlement, “tre” can be found in place names in a few key pockets of Wales. The first is in Glamorgan, a former Welsh kingdom which was much contested with the English. There is also a high concentration of places beginning with “tre” in the St Davids area of Pembrokeshire, which was once one of the highest populated areas in Wales, due to its importance in the Christian community throughout the medieval period.

It’s no surprise that places beginning with “cwm” are found mostly in the South Wales valleys, which stretch across from Carmarthenshire in the west to Monmouthshire in the east. There are over 20 populated valleys in this area, including the Rhondda, Taff, and Rhymney Valleys, with plenty of places around these valleys named after them in Welsh.

The UK’s most common place name elements and meanings:

  1. Ton: enclosure, estate, homestead. As seen in: Wolverhampton, Clifton, Brighton
  2. Ley: from leah, a woodland clearing. As seen in: Wolverley, Keighley, Beverley
  3. Ham: farm, homestead, [settlement]. As seen in: Birmingham, Bishop’s Waltham, Saxmundham
  4. Ford: ford, crossing, road. As seen in: Bradford, Watford, Salford
  5. Wes: west. As seen in: West Ham, Weston-super-Mare, West Wycombe
  6. Field: open land, a forest clearing. As seen in: Sheffield, Huddersfield, Wakefield
  7. Nor: north. As seen in: Norwich, Northampton, North Berwick
  8. By: settlement, village. As seen in: Tenby, Formby, Coningsby
  9. Gate: road. As seen in: Harrogate, Margate, Bathgate
  10. Pen: head (headland or hill), top, far end of, end of. As seen in: Penmaenmawr, Penally, Pentlepoir

With a wide variety of meanings including enclosure, estate, homestead, and farm, it’s no surprise that “ton” is the most popular place name element in the UK. “Ton” comes from the Old English spoken by the Anglo Saxons, who first arrived in Britain during the 6th century and established the foundations of the English language as we know it. A large number of places featuring “ton” can be seen on the map in the Midlands and the Welsh Borders, where Mercia, one of the largest Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, once was.

Deriving also from the Old English of the Anglo-Saxons, places featuring “ley” are widespread across several of the former Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that came before England existed. Meaning a woodland clearing, there are once again large clusters in the West Midlands, where several large woodlands still stand today, including the National Forest, which covers 200 square miles.

Wales is famed for its hills, mountains, and rugged coastline so it’s no surprise that “pen”, meaning top of a hill or end of a headland, is found in so many place names here. It’s also found in places throughout West Cornwall, and even parts of Cumbria, as the languages once spoken there, Cornish and Cumbric, shared a common ancestor language with Welsh.

Laura Mackenzie, Senior Brand Communications Executive at Sugar & Loaf, commented: “We’re so proud to have such interesting places right here in the UK. 


The data has been really fascinating to analyse, and it’s great to delve into the meanings and patterns behind the place names, as well as the history behind them. We hope that this will inspire everyone to experience fascinating places right across the UK”

Find out more about the origins of the UK’s most common place name elements in Sugar & Loaf’s blog. 

(Lead image: Creative Commons 2.0 / Senedd Cymru)

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