Renaming Towns and Villages: Does it Add Value?

1 May

As the recession bites and towns and villages are left to fend for themselves so a rash of name changing has broken out as some attempt to move upmarket and attract more prime visitors, residents and shops.

Most recent is Staines in Surrey, home town (most famously) to comedy character Ali G and which added ‘on-Thames’ top its name recently. And in a few weeks’ time the Oxfordshire town of Abingdon is following suit when it asks permission from its district council to adopt ‘on-Thames’ too.

Let's reflect on the river: Abingdon in Oxfordshire is trying to change its name

Others are further behind. Conservative MP Dan Byles, who represents North Warwickshire, is waging a largely failed campaign to have his constituency’s name altered to include ‘and Bedworth’ to reflect geographic (rather than political) reality.

And residents of a south Wales village, Sully in the Vale of Glamorgan, want to alter the recently created alternative Welsh version of their locale – Sili – because it sounds “silly”, a spokesman said.

Changing moniker is not a new trend, of course. A quick look at the names of Britain’s 44 cities, 928 towns and 4,520 villages reveals how often they have changed theirs over the decades, centuries and even millennia.

Many alter ‘organically’ as the English language develops (Swindon was once SwineDun meaning Pig Hill) but in more recent times places have changed their name more abruptly for a variety of reasons.

The London borough of Greenwich, which is now very Royal.

The most common is when monarchy comes knocking. Last month the London borough of Greenwich gained ‘Royal’ status, the first local authority to win the Queen’s approval in more than 85 years. And in October last year the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett, famed for its silent tributes to soldiers killed in war as they pass through its high street, was also renamed ‘Royal’.

Name changes can be controversial, too. A councillor in the village of Kenardington, Kent, got into trouble in 2009 when she asked for a thoroughfare to be changed from Church Road to ‘Lane’ to prevent confusion with an identically named road in a nearby (and similarly named) village. Locals, however, thought her proposal largely an attempt to make Kenardington sound (and look) more ‘middle class’ and to ‘boost property prices’.

And then there’s the ‘simples’ PR opportunity. Insurance website comparethemarket.com recently claimed to have persuaded Market Harborough in Leicestershire to change its name following a Facebook campaign. The town was known Meerkat Harborough for a day.

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