West Ruislip, Ruislip Gardens and South Ruislip
Ruislip, pronounced rye-slip, makes reference to the nearby River Pinn. The name is Old English for 'leaping place on the river where rushes grow'. We wouldn't recommend leaping into the Pinn these days, but a delightful and unexpected beach can be found at Ruislip Lido.
The town was originally known as Northala, a name rejuvenated by the modern Northala Fields (pictured above). Both the hala and holt refer to woodland, with the 'North' simply a compass direction. Southall plays on the same theme — the north woods and the south woods.
Greenford was simply a place where the River Brent, which still meanders through the area, could be forded in particularly verdant surroundings.
This delightful name is first recorded in the early 16th century as Pyryvale. It's thought to derive from a vale of pear trees, although a corruption of the area's original name, Greenford Parva, is also possible.
The lane and nearby Hanger Hill derive from the Old English word hangra, meaning wooded slope.
One of the oldest names in the London region, Ealing is attested from around 700 CE. There once, it seems, was a local chieftain known as Gilla, whose people were the Gillingas. This slowly transmuted into Ylling then Ealing.
West, North and East Acton
The Actons are legion. The name comes from Old English meaning an enclosure surrounded by oaks.
White City is neither particularly white in colour, nor a city. Step back to the early 2oth century, and the name felt more appropriate. This was home to a series of remarkable exhibition pavilions, all clad in white marble.
The origins of this name are seemingly obvious, yet murky. Shepherd's Bush is likely to have been a rest stop for sheep farmers making their way to Smithfield Market. On the other hand, the name could recall a person by the name of Sheppard. Nobody really knows. The sheep are long gone, unless you're into predictable metaphors regarding people who flock to Westfield.
Nothing Dutch about this place. Its name comes from Lord Holland (1773-1840) upon whose land the park and estate were built. The great man is commemorated with a statue in the park, upon whose head the pigeons are forever shitting.
Notting Hill Gate
A bit of a mystery on Hugh Grant's doorstep. Notting Hill is recorded from the 14th century under various knutting, nutting and knotting guises. The most likely origin is from a personal name such as Cnotta, with the 'ing' bit meaning 'people of', as with Ealing. Or, to paraphrase Michael Caine (who filmed part of the Italian Job here), "Cnotta's lot of people know that".
Named in honour of Queen Victoria soon after her accession. It's said that, as a child, Victoria would ride horses along the lane from her nearby home of Kensington Palace. She'd have a job today. Because she's dead.
Another station to take its cue from Queen Vic, albeit indirectly. The station is close to the Lancaster Gate into Kensington Gardens. The Queen also held the title of the Duke of Lancaster (as does the present Queen), hence the association. If we want to take yet another etymological step backwards, the city of Lancaster is named after the Roman fort (caster) on the River Lune.
Rather obviously, this station is named after the ornamental arch that stands nearby. The classical confection arrived here in 1851, having previously graced Buckingham Palace. The station and arch lie right beside the site of the old Tyburn Gallows, where many a malefactor was hanged in days gone by.
Named after Thomas Bond (ancestor of the fictional James) who owned the land on which the street was laid out in the 17th century. Curiously, Bond Street itself is fictional — only New Bond Street and Old Bond Street now exist.
You may well have noticed, but there is no circus at Oxford Circus. The word, also used in St Giles Circus and Piccadilly Circus, means a place where traffic circulates — even though you can't exactly U-turn at any of them these days. The 'Oxford' part is confusing. Oxford Street does sort-of lead to Oxford, if you take the right forks later on, but the name is also reflective of the Earl of Oxford, who developed land either side of the street.
Tottenham Court Road
Curiously, the names of Tottenham in north London and Tottenham Court Road are not directly related. TCR was formerly the road that led to the manor of Tothele, later Tottenhall, situated roughly where this road intersects the Euston Road. Like Tottenham, the manor was named after a local land holder called something like Tota.
Traditionally pronounced with as few letters as possible (O'b'n), Holborn's name has watery origins. It stems from either 'old bourne' or 'holl bourne' (old brook or hollow brook), and probably describes a long-lost tributary of the nearby River Fleet.
In medieval times, this lane was home to the Court of Chancery, which dealt with matters of equity. 850 years later, the street is still intimately associated with the legal professions.
The nearest stop to St Paul's cathedral. Simple as. The apostle has been commemorated on this spot since the seventh century.
We'll give you one guess. That's right.
The mainline station dates back to 1864 and takes its name from the local road. This itself was only named in 1827, in honour of Prime Minister Lord Liverpool. If we trace further back, the PM's title obviously comes from the city of Liverpool. This was first recorded in 1190 as Liuerpul, which probably means a pool or creek of muddy water. Hence, this station is the only tube stop to be named after a Scouse bog.
Bethnal Green has one of the most charming derivations on the map. It's thought to come from the Anglo-Saxon for 'happy corner'. If you've ever visited one of the area's many fine pubs or bars or, indeed, the Museum of Childhood, you will see why the name still holds true.
Known thus since the 13th century, Mile End is a mile from Aldgate pump, one of the traditional locations for measuring distance.
The same ancient road to Mile End carried on across the River Lea. The crossing point was originally a ford, and hence Stratford — the ford of the street — arose. A later bow-shaped bridge over the river gave us the additional name of Bow.
Leyton and Leytonstone
London's second river had still further influences on place names. Both Leyton and Leytonstone grew from the idea of a settlement (ton) on the Lea/Ley. The 'stone' part refers to an ancient distance-marker post (pictured) on the junction of Hollybush Hill and New Wanstead.
The name was first recorded as Wenstede on the eve of the Norman invasion. The 'stead' part indicates a settlement, but there is some uncertainty as to whether Wan or Wen means a hill or a wagon.
Quite simply, named for a red bridge which bestrode the River Roding from the 17th century, until it was knocked down for road improvement in 1922. Here's the modern replacement. The tube station name (1947) predates the London Borough of Redbridge (1965).
Not to be confused with Grange Hill down the line, nor Dickens's former home of Gad's Hill in Kent. The name probably derives from the le Gant family, stewards of Barking Abbey from the 13th century.
The name is medieval and has a simple derivation from 'new borough'.
First recorded in 1538, the name is a reference to Hainault Forest. The settlement here was on the same side as Barking. Barking's name is either a reference to birch trees or — like Ealing and Notting (Hill) — named after the followers (-ing) of a man called Bereca.
If the name conjures images of chopped trees, then you're along the right lines. From around 1725, Fairlop became a popular destination for its fairs, held around a great oak tree with lopped limbs. The tree was badly damaged by fire in the early 19th century and eventually blew down, but its name lives on.
We were convinced this one had to have French/Norman origins. C'est faux. The name stems from an Old English way of saying a wood belonging to a religious community, and is first recorded in 1221 as Henehout. The modern spelling came from a mistaken connection to Philippa of Hainault, wife of Edward III. Nor should it be pronounced the French way. Say 'Hay-nolt'.
A grange was simply a farm with a granary, here located on a hill. The tube stop has no connection to the well-known children's show of the same name, which was originally filmed in Willesden, Kingsbury and Borehamwood.
Chigwell's etymology is all over the place. Some sources reckon it's a variation on 'king's well', others that this is the well of a non-royal called Cicca. Still others think the 'well' is misleading and the suffix actually derives from 'weald'. Take your pick.
The name is supposedly a corruption of Sayers Brook, a tributary of the River Roding. Why that watercourse was so called is proving impossible to track down.
Woodford and South Woodford
The River Roding flows very visibly just a few hundred metres east of the tube station. An ancient, tree-lined ford across the river gave Woodford its name. The area retains a slightly woody feel, though the river has long since been bridged — giving us the name Woodford Bridge.
Follow the river upstream and we reach Roding Valley station — named most obviously because it lies on the banks of the River Roding. Roding itself is a corruption of Hroda, an Anglo-Saxon bossman who presided over settlements in the area.
The name is first recorded in the 12th century as La Bocherste, and indicates a hill covered in beech trees. Goes nicely with the pears of Perivale and the oaks of Acton and Fairlop.
In Loughton Camp, the area boasts one of the oldest settlements in the London area. Iron Age people were living in the forest as early as 500 BCE. What they called the place, we can only guess. It certainly wasn't Loughton, which gained its name more than a thousand years later from an Anglo-Saxon farmer called Luhha. It appears in Domesday Book as Lochintuna.
One of those tube stations that sounds more intriguing if you read it backwards, Debden simply means 'deep valley' in Old English. This presumably refers to the trench cut by the nearby River Roding. That being the case, we could formulate a pub quiz question: 'Which two tube stations are named after the same river valley?' (Roding Valley and Debden.)
Pronounced Thay-dun Boys, our penultimate stop is named after the Bois (sometimes de Bosco) family, who held the land in the 12th and 13th century. The 'Theydon' part, shared by two other local villages, comes from Old English phrasing for a valley where thatch work was common.
The end of the line also gives its name to the ancient forest nearby. Recorded in Domesday Book as Eppinges, it comes from Old English meaning 'the people of the raised ground'.
Other etymological explorations on Londonist
- How London got its name
- How London's terminal stations got their names
- How the tube lines got their names
- How London's parks got their names
- How London's rivers got their names
- How London's bridges got their names
- How London's odd suburbs got their names
- How London's churches got their names
- How London's markets got their names
- How London's alleyways got their names
- How London's castles and palaces got their names
- How London's squares got their names
- How London's hills got their names
- How London's football teams got their names
- How London's airports got their names