Both of the recent Russell books I’ve worked on, The Language of Bees and The Green Man (which final name is still to be decided…), look at the roots of what we now know as Britain. Thomas Brothers particularly is fascinated by the Norse and Roman roots of British society, and significant place names touch on the plot at various points.
We are currently staying in Oxfordshire: the shire (or roughly county) surrounding the town built up around the place where oxen can ford safely. The town of Burford is a medieval market town, as the sign at the entrance of town proclaims, and it, too, is a ford—in this case, one built around a fortification, or in Old English, Burh. The nearest village to me is Shipton under Wychwood, or the sheep-farm (scep tun) below Hwicce’s wood. The nearby Milton under Wychwood is the middle farm below the wood. And our hamlet (no church or even village shop) is Lyneham, the place where flax (lin—you knew that, right?) grows. Although I have yet to spot any flax. And last night I drove into the other town to buy fish and chips—appropriate, for Chipping Norton (ceping/north/tun, or market/north/settlement, the village in the north that has a market. Which incidentally it does: a Sainsbury’s.) And lest we forget that the busy farmers and monks in the middle ages made a lot of changes to the land, the big town (a two-supermarket town) of Witney translates as Witta’s island.