Frizinghall: what’s in a name?

I should also like to give an example which illustrates the difficulties of place name studies. Frizinghall is a village now subsumed within the modern city of Bradford. Absolute certainty in place name derivation is rarely possible. In the past many explanations seem to have been based on little more than antiquarian speculation. Does anyone now believe that nearby Baildon derived its name from the Mesopotamian god Baal? Regrettably Frizinghall is not in the Domesday Book, the village being first recorded in 1287. The oldest name of the community in question is sometimes said to be Frizingley, but -leah and -healh both meant the same in Old English (OE). Assuming that the original name was in fact Frizingley then it would consist of three elements. Leah is easy, provided we do not believe in ley lines, meaning a ‘clearing in a wood’ of which there are many nearby examples eg Shipley, Bingley, Keighley, Farsley, and Pudsey.

Ing has plausibly been interpreted as deriving from the OE -ingas (the people of) along the lines of Hastings – the people of Hasta. Such place names are common in the south east and East Anglia. This derivation has been criticised when it was considered to be an early Anglo-Saxon element. If so you would expect it to be common in the south-east, but rare in this part of Yorkshire which was seemingly a British kingdom (Elmet) until King Edwin’s conquest of it around AD 620. This objection is now less cogent since -ingas is not today considered especially early. Even if this element is not common in Yorkshire as a whole we do nonetheless have several close parallels locally: Manningham, Addingham, Bingley, Cullingworth and Cottingley. Slightly further away are Headingley and Knottingley. It has been suggested that all these locations indicate new 7th century Anglian settlement sites following Edwin’s conquest. A faintly possible alternative for -ingas is ings, that is the Old Norse for a clearing or a muddy place eg Hall Ings, Wetherby Ings. This explanation was popular with Victorian Bradford historians but at present I cannot locate a definite example of this element occurring in the middle of a place name.

Friz is easily the most controversial element. The four preferred origin possibilities appear to be: Frisian – the people, or a person, from the Frisian islands; furze – a plant (OE fyrz – furze, but note the misplaced ‘r’); friese – a rough cloth; Frisa – a personal name (Frigg and Freya, Scandinavian gods, are known). Could there also be a parallel with the Scottish town of Dunfries? Dunfries was once ‘the fort of the Frisians’ but is now more credibly derived from the Gaelic Dún Phris or ‘fort of the thicket’. Before deciding that no local community could possibly have a Celtic place name element we have to recall Eccleshill, Bradford which does (eccles – church). The adoption of Frisian would only make sense while any dwellers from the Frisian Isles were recognisably distinct from their other Anglo-Saxon neighbours. If so one would anticipate their name being commemorated by early place names in the south and east eg Friston and Alfriston in East Sussex. Irritatingly even the Sussex derivation is not universally accepted, alternative origins being O.E. frijy, fyrhfre forest land, or a personal name like Frifrstan. Some authorities believe that Frisian was used to describe traders whatever their actual ethnic origin. (To the Arabs all Europeans were Franks; to the Scots all the English are Saxons or sassenachs). This makes the Sussex name very hard to explain. There is a Ferry Fryston in West Yorks and at least Ferry Fryston is close to the point on the river Aire reachable by sailing ships. But it is really hard to see our Frizinghall as a trading centre.

My personal suggested interpretation is, I must allow, very boring. I would start by saying that all the Fris- place names cannot be explained in a single way although I feel that in the Bradford area we have to try to derive all the -ingas place names uniformly. I suggest a personal name, followed by the people of, followed by -ham (settlement), or –ley.

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