Genealogy Britain (soc.genealogy.britain FAQs NEW site)

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British placename nomenclature

Of the Naming of Things (and Places) in Britain

(Information derived from Cecilia's page at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~myths/counties.htm , with permission (and thanks).)

Nomenclature used in England for counties

In England, counties are referred to by name (eg. Bedfordshire, Cheshire).

The suffix "-shire", where it occurs in a county name, is equivalent to the word "county".

(Confusingly, there are a few places, that are not counties, whose names end in "-shire", e.g. Allertonshire.)

The word "county" is not added after the name, even for those counties that do not end in "-shire". Thus, "Surrey County" is incorrect in English usage.

"Kent County Council" refers to the County Council of Kent, not the Council of Kent County 

(Similarly, in the title of "Derby County Football Club", the word "County" describes "Football Club". Confusingly, the name may be shortened to "Derby County". (Etc.))

County Durham is correct, but it is often referred to simply as Durham. "County xxxx" is not used for other English counties.

In wills etc., one may find "county of ........". The reference may include the county, or the county town; in either case, the phrase refers to the county. Thus "Congleton in the county of Chester" (in a 1773 will), and "Congleton in the county of Cheshire" (in a 1769 will) are both references to Congleton, Cheshire.

(Note that "county of Southampton" refers to Hampshire, and "town of Salop" (in a 1643 will) refers to Shrewsbury.)

The suffix "-shire" occurs most often in counties where the name of the county town (sometimes now a city) would otherwise be same as that of the county without the -shire suffix. (E.g. Oxford, Oxfordshire.) In the past, the suffix might or might not appear.

"Staffs" refers to the county, Staffordshire, not the town, Stafford. (Etc.)

Note that "Hants" refers to Hampshire, "Oxon" to Oxfordshire, and both "Salop" and "Shrops" to Shropshire.

 See http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/ for a list of the historic counties in England, and a link to a list of the modern counties and county boroughs.

http://jonathan.rawle.org/counties/index.htm has links to a brief history (overview) of county changes, and to maps showing counties in Great Britain, before and after 1974, and after 1998.

Postal addresses relate to the distribution network of the Post Office / Royal Mail. The postal county (for pre-postcode addresses) or postcode may not relate to the actual county of the location.

Similarly, some other entities with county names do not cover the same area as the counties with those names (e.g. the archdeaconry of Norfolk has not had the same boundary as Norfolk since about the end of the 11th century).

One may find a reference to a diocese rather than a county in a will, as in "Congleton in the diocese of Chester" (1627)

[Editor's note: contributions for Welsh, Scottish and Irish county and placenames are very welcome!]