I live in the south west of England and there are many villages and roads that feature the word "Clyst". For example, Broadclyst, Clyst St Mary, Clyst Honiton and so on.

What does clyst mean, and where does it come from?

3 Answers 3


Clyst is the name of the river and all the localities you cite are on its banks.

Presumably all the Clyst St xxx are named after the saints to whom the various churches were dedicated. The villages being named after the churches.

Broadclyst is when the valley or the river itself broadens downstream.

Clyst is a Celtic name meaning 'clear stream'.(the Devon shire is named after the Celtic Devon tribe that was living there before the Roman conquest), just like Avon or Thames.

Other Celtic words that made it into the English toponymy are "crag", meaning "rock", "coombe", meaning "deep valley" (also in French), "tor" meaning "peak", "car-" (remember Harold's Carlisles) meaning "a fortified place".

  • 4
    Ekwall's The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names agrees that all the "Clyst St. So-and-so"s are straightforward "church of Saint So-and-so on the Clyst", but Clyst William is apparently a result of false etymology: it originally contained OE æwielm 'source of a river'.
    – JPmiaou
    Mar 29, 2011 at 14:04

Wikipedia and the Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names agree that it's a Celtic word, but disagree about its meaning ("clear stream" vs "sea inlet").

  • 2
    I can imagine a connection to the Proto-Indo-European base *kleue- ("to wash, clean"), whence Old English hlūtor "clean, clear, pure", Latin cloaca "sewer", Russian клизма "enema", Modern English (now archaic) clyster. But this is pure speculation on my part, thus I'm only leaving it as a comment.
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 29, 2011 at 9:51

I would say the meaning is clear stream as clyst can be traced back to 937ad and is derived from hhtor meaning clean.

  • 3
    Are there any references?
    – user49727
    Sep 29, 2013 at 17:47

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