I was planning a little trip the other day when I noticed that a number of rivers in Britain have common names. The ones I spotted were Avon, Ouse and Esk. Is there a reason for this? Are these names derived from something?
"Avon" derives from the British language abona, "river", which also survives as a number of other English and Scottish river names, and as modern Welsh afon (pronounced [ˈavɔn]), "river".
The English name for the river derives from its Celtic name Usa, from *udso-, "water," which derives from the Indo-European root *wed-, "wet, water" (and the same root from which we derive water and wet). Thus the Ouse River etymologically is the "Water River" or the "Wet River." Of course, the English who borrowed the name from the Celts did not know the meaning of the wordas is rather frequently the case when foreign topographical terms are borrowed.
At the same time the river names Axe, Exe, Esk and Usk are all derived from the British word isca meaning "water".
It would seem none of the naming was very original to begin with.
I'm originally from Harrogate, North Yorks, so my local river was the Nidd, which means "sparkling".
These days, I live in Perth, Western Australia, where the Swan River flows. Before becoming the Swan River, however, it is known as the Avon River, named after the Avon in England, which of course means River River. Funnily enough though, here it's pronounced the old British way with a short "A"' ie "Avvon", rather than "Ayvon".
The word 'ESK' almost certainly has origins much more ancient than Celtic tradition. I suspect the word derives from ancient biblical texts which references 'ESEK', a spring or well of water. ESEK first appears in Genesis 26 as the name given by Isaac to a well dug by his people. Local herdsmen, jealous of Isaacs growing wealth and influence, contested the wells dug byIsaac as a means of controlling their prosperity. In biblical times, the word 'Esek' literally meant 'contested'.
As the Old Testament narrative spread through northern Europe, words and place names were adopted. Indeed, in the 'ESK' valley of The Borough of Angus, where the rivers South and North Esk flow, sits the village of 'Padanaram', referenced in the very same Chapter of Genesis as the well-spring 'ESEK'.