Weird Words and Freaky Phrases – British River Names

River Names

The UK has a LOT of waterways. Majestic rivers like the Avon and the Thames, smaller tributaries and tiny streams. Humans have lived close to such sources of fresh water for tens of thousands of years.

The names of these rivers have passed down the years, meandering a bit here and there, like their rivers, but what are the origins? Two thirds of British rivers derive their names from Celtic roots.


Gaelic -abhainn

Welsh – afon

Celtic – Brythonic word for river (abona) – so calling it the River Avon is calling it river river….

There are nine rivers in Britain called Avon (or Afon). Five in England, three in Scotland and one in Wales (it’s the Afon Afan – which means river river…)

The largest Avon is 85 miles in length from Naseby (site of the English Civil War Battle 1645) to Tewksbury in Gloucestershire where it merges with the River Severn.

The Avon which flows through the city of Bristol (where I live), is 70 miles from Acron Turville in Gloucestershire to Avonmouth (hence the name) in Bristol where it again joins the Severn at the Severn Estuary. The Avon meanders, the actual distance between the mouth and the start is far less than 75 miles.

(For other Avons see the link below)

River Ouse (pronounced like Ooze) also derives for a Celtic word for water (usso).

Thames – Celtic word for Dark Water (Tamissa -Via Latin Tamesis) – the rivers Thame and Tamar also have this root

Wye – Flowing Water

Trent – derives from the Celtic word for Trespasser as it flooded so often.

Dart, Darent, Derwent derive again from the Celtic Brythonic for River where the Oak Trees Grow

The Ock (salmon), Laughern (fox) and Yarty (bear) all get their names from the Celtic words for those animals.

The river Dee – was once worshipped as a goddess (Deva), and people in the Middle Ages thought the river would being them luck.

The Severn is named for the goddess Sabrina.

The River Boyne in Ireland is named after the Irish Goddess Boann (meaning white cow).

Don – derived from Devonna – also a river goddess

Tyne – Brythonic – river

Mersey – Anglo Saxon – Boundary River

Shannon (Irish) – a river goddess

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