The Origins Of London Tube Names

Mark Forsyth enjoys words. So much so that he’s written a book about the origins of familiar terms. The Etymologicon, published today, is an ‘erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language’, revealing the strange connections and origins of everyday words.

By way of example, Mark’s been dicking about with the names of Tube stations. The gallery above shows six familiar stops, each now sporting a name that reflects its origin. Some are obvious, some less so…but how many can you work out?

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth is published today by Icon Books. Buy here.

Like this? You might also enjoy our map of Anglo Saxon London, which contains tens of other etymologies.

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  • http://twitter.com/zefrog Nicolas Chinardet

    I think I have 5. where are the results?

  • Anonymous

    I’ll put them up later.

  • Charlie

    Holborn, Covent Garden, Bayswater (?), Aldgate, Pimlico, Temple

    • http://twitter.com/sparticus Mark Walley

      Holborn, if correct, is genius.

  • Big Mac

    Holborn, Covent Garden, Bayswater, Aldgate, Pimlico and Temple. Though I disagree that Aldgate was “Ale Gate” – it’s “Old Gate”. It was the (relative) position of the old gated wall into London (and later replaced by New Gate/Newgate, where the prison was). Nothing (sadly) to do with Ale.

    • Markhforsyth

      Actually, Ale Gate is the original spelling. The Oxford Dictionary of London Place Names insists on Ale Gate as a place where beer was sold. It points out that there was medieval tavern there and adds that: “It should be noted that the -d- in the modern spelling Ald- is intrusive and unhistorical, appearing only from the 17th century.” Surprised the hell out of me as well. 

  • Anonymous

    Charlie and Big Mac have the answers.

    RE: Aldgate…Wikipedia suggests that the etymology is not certain and gives Ale Gate as an alternative theory to (the more likely sounding) Old Gate.

    • Anonymous

      I was excited to come accross the Lodonist webaddress, which has opened so many venues, things to do etc, I wonder if there is the time…. and energy for ALL the places I would like to visit, books to read, exhibitions to go to…
      There is a Photography Exhibition at The National Gallery from Dec 5th to the end of the month…which is worth a visit…
      They also have free music before the plays….. open to the public ( one does not HAVE to go for the plays, for the free music, food, and exhibitions!!)

      I would have like to post it as a comment…. But was unable to as, the cursor would not allow me to….

      Maybe you could post it for me, as it is a compliment to your website!!

      • http://twitter.com/mmanford Michael Manford

        I have a suspicion you mean the National Theatre not Gallery. I don’t think the National Gallery do plays!

  • Adz

    is it really sad that I looked at the first picture, saw it had the sign for central and piccadilly lines and surmised it was Holborn?

    • Anonymous

      Not on this site. We’re all Tube geeks. You’re in good company ;-)

  • Aldhard

    Did anybody notice the face on the wall in the top right hand of the horses pond pic? Is that there intentionally or a reflection from somewhere opposite ?

    • Anonymous

      Ha, weird. I think it’s probably just the chance fall of shadow and light.

  • Aldhard

    I wonder where the light has been reflected from to form such a precise shape as that. I suppose it all depends on the time of day n what day the pic was taken. It just happened to catch my eye as I looked at the pic more. Very weird!

  • tapesh majumdar

    Hurray , Got 5 .

  • http://moretojack.com/ Jack Gordon

    I’ve just stumbled across this article with the recent promotion, and it’s extremely interesting – particularly to see different interpretations for place names.

    Admittedly it’s only a subject I’ve done a limited amount of research into myself (must change that – it’s been done before but it interests me greatly), however I’d say that both Bayswater and Aldgate would be open to interpretation – indeed, the Ale Gate/Old Gate debate has been made already.

    I could well be wrong but I think the ‘Bay’ in Bayswater comes from a family name that lived in the area – Bayard? Bayard’s Watering was certainly the place’s name some time ago (c. late 1300s), the ‘Watering’ of course being the nearby crossing of the River Westbourne.

    If I could also offer a possible alternative for Aldgate? Aelgate – from Anglo Saxon times – having nothing to do with beer but rather being open to all, or free.

    As I say – perfectly happy to accept other options and I could well be wrong, but just wanted to share my thoughts. :-)