NOW here's a thought: If you had been born in the county of Cornwall, in the southernmost tip of England, you might possibly be living in a little place called Perranarworthal. You wouldn't be able to pronounce it, and spelling it might keep you awake at night. But there you would be. You might prefer to live somewhere with a nice simple name like, well - how about "Town End" or "Lower Place?" But tough. You live in Parranarworthal.Imagine - if you (through no fault of your own) did just happen to live in Perranarworthal - how much ink you would use every time you wrote your address at the top of a letter! Of course things could have been even worse. You might be Welsh-born, and living in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllandysiliogogogoch. You think I'm joking? I'm not. There really is a village called this, even though its name must be a foot or two longer than its main street. There are even some brilliant people who can say it, though, for everyday use, it is often shortened to Llanfairpwll. I believe you can buy a car sticker saying, in full, that you love it or have been there (even if you hav en't) - the only problem being, you can't see much out of your back window once its stuck in position. Even the oddest names for places usually have some sort of meaning, even if it is buried in the sands of time. This lengthy Welsh name means "Church of St. Mary in a hollow of white hazel, near to a rapid whirlpool and to St. Tysilio's Church, near to a red cave." Britain (where I live) seems to specialize in peculiar names for its villages and towns. Here are a few of my favorites: Gigglewick. Kirby Overblow. Peatling Magna. Great Snoring. Little Snoring. Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. Ashby cum Fenby. Nether Poppleton ... and Upper Poppleton. Half the fun of traveling about Britain is noticing such incredible, tongue-titillating names. Somebody called Humphrey Pakington, who wrote a serious book about British villages, said: "There are ... many snares laid across the path of the seeker after a good village." The "strange allurement" of some village names was, he felt, one such "snare." He kept thinking villages he spotted on the map must be as fascinating as their names. But this is not always so. When I was a boy, my family used to drive through a village twice a week called "Christmas Pie a marvelous name that brings to mind images of Victorian families all jolly and red-faced opening presents on Christmas Day. But, in fact, this small place - with no disrespect to its inhabitants - is a boring little bunch of lined-up bungalows with little history and less charm. A disappointment. Except for its name. The original meaning of place names is not always quite what you might expect, either. Giggleswick, for example (I used to live near this delightful Yorkshire village), has nothing at all to do with uncontrolled laughter but comes from a very old name, "Gikel's Wic," which probably means there was a farmer called Gikel who owned a plot of land there. One of the funniest village name of all is Piddletrenthide. Then there is Tolpuddle. There's Fugglestone and Muggleswick. There's Kettlebaston and Clackmannan, Nutter's Platt, and right inside London, Tooting Bec. How do the people who live in these places ever keep straight faces? Actually I think it's far more fun to make up stories of your own about all these names and what they mean than it is to look them up in the Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names. Take Whoberly, for example. There's a place that is bound to be full of inhabitants that bounce around uncertainly and live in unsteady houses. Or Sloley. Obviously this village was named because people would drive through it much too fast for safety. "Drive through Sloley!" Then there is Slepe. And another place called Sleap. Clearly the people who live in these villages spend a lot of time dozing in front of the fire. And what about the householders in Middle Wallop, Nether Wallop, and Over Wallop? Would you like to encounter them on a dark night? Nor would I much fancy my chances of instant friendship with someone from Grim's Ditch, or Pittville, or even Unthank End. Places to be steered well clear of! Another game with British village and place names could be called "Categories." The object of the game is to find as many names as possible to fit a chosen group. For example, there are four places, all in England's West Country, called Week. So how about names of the week as a category? Here's what I've come up with: Munsley, Tuesley, Wednesbury, Thursley, Friday Street, Satterleigh, and Sunbury. These are all genuine place names in Britain - though not all little villages. Then you can make up names for companies, firms, or partnerships. I have a firm of lawyers, for example, named: Sutterton, Hopperton, Sapperton, and Potterton. Or a disreputable bunch of moneylenders: Shap, Slough, Catchall, and Sixpenny Handley. Or a store specializing in environmentally friendly products: Snail, Smug Oak, and Pudding Green. Animals have also lent their names to places: Mousehole (rhymes with "tousle"), Dog Village, Rabbit's Cross, Duck Street, Tigerton, Catcott, West Camel, and Horseshoes - all authentic. In fact, there isn't a single place name I have mentioned that doesn't actually exist, with people living there. You couldn't invent better, or sillier names - could you? And I've hardly scratched the surface. Think of the ones I haven't room for ... like Brampford Speke, and Overcombe, Upend, Downend, Jump, Offten, Upper Shuckburgh, Potternewton, Sheepwash, Much Hadham, and Little Irchester. Oh, and how could I forget to mention Uncleby, Beccles, Auchtermuchty, Lower Slaughter, Moreton on Lugg, Sloothy, Strathbungo, Snailwell, and Pinkett's Booth ... and Tiptoe ... and Nimble Nook ... and ... .
'Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.