The Ligustrum vulgare, the English Privet, seems to have a confused history. It was known to the ancient Greeks as an important plant in making their formal gardens or topia "places" which gives us the word topiary for which Ligustrum vulgare is well-suited. If you've ever cared for a privet hedge, you know that they need to be pruned very early in spring. Which fact makes the historical name primprint somewhat apt even if this etymology "first spring" is in dispute.
What seems to confuse things is a much earlier attestation to an English place name in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Pryfetes flode, now Privett, Hampshire. However, I think this is a false cognate. I have some Welsh ancestry and an old Welsh dictionary which lists Pryfydd as vermin-killer. I read elsewhere that the older meaning was rabbit-hunter, but I can no longer find that reference. Flode is a gulch. Why is there a place name in Hampshire with a Welsh name? Or is this not the origin of the name at all? Welsh rabbit-hunter's gulch? Is this a joke? I looked on a map and Privett is at a high point in the Chalk Ridge of South Downs not a gulch providing easy access to the great forest beyond. And in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, a nobleman was thrown from the cliff whether to his death or to dispose of the body is unclear. Is this another example of the English poking fun at the Welsh their frequent object of derision?
Can anyone shed any light on the confused and entangled history of Privett, Hampshire and Privet, Ligustrum vulgare? I think they are unrelated, but separately interesting etymologies.
privet: Origin unknown. Compare later primprint n., prim n.2, and primp n., and also primet n. A connection between the present word and later private adj.1, privy adj. has frequently been suggested, but there is no evidence to support this.
Apparently attested early in place names, as Pryfetesflode (c900 in an annal for the year 755), Prevet (1207), Pruuet (c1245), Privet (1248), now Privett, Hampshire; bosco de Prevet (1268), boscus de Pryvet (14th cent.), now Privett Farm, Wiltshire. The β forms are perhaps attested earlier in the following place name: Prinelegh (read Priuelegh) (1380), Preuelegh (1481), now Prewley, Devon