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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 32

I.—Wal, Wall; Wel, Well

page 16

I.—Wal, Wall; Wel, Well.

In a considerable number of local names in England—as in Wallingford, Wallbrook, Welling, Wellington—and in some names of things—as in walnut, wallflower—the syllable wal or wel will be found. In some few cases, which will be referred to hereafter, they bear the modern meaning of wall and well. But, as a general rule, they have no etymological connection with the last-named words, but are the Saxon-English equivalent of the Romance word galles; Latin, galli.

The Teutonic W is often the equivalent of the Romance (Latin and French) G; as—
Walter Gaultier
William Guilleaume
Wilhelm Guilleaume
Warranty Guarantee
Wager Gage
Wales Galles.

The Saxon-English name for a Celtic Briton was Wealh or Walh; plural Wealhas, Walhas, the original of our modern Wales, Welshman.

In the Saxon chronicle, A.D. 465, we read: "Her Hengest and Esc gefuhten with Walas." In modern English : Here (i.e., at this date) Hengist and Esc fought against the Britons.

The Saxon and Angles who came into contact with the people of Britain, found them speaking the same language as the Gauls of the Continent, and naturally called them by the same name. Hence the syllable Wal = Gal.

The Germans to this day call Italy, or at least the northern portion thereof, Welschland. The Italians are their Welshmen. The people of "the Principality," however, never called them-selves by that name. This practice by an intruding or conquering race of giving to a people a name differing from that by which they designate themselves, has prevailed in all ages. The Romans called Hellas, Grecia, Greece, and the people are Greeks to this day. The people whom we call Germans call themselves Deutsch, and their country, which we call Germany, Deutschland; and page 17 those whom we call Dutch, call themselves Neiderduitsche, or Hollanders. We call the Maoris New Zealanders, and they call us Pakeha. The name Anglo-Saxon is of modern growth. King Alfred called the country Ængla-land—the land of the Angles; and what we now call the Anglo-Saxon tongue, Ænglisce-spraec.

One of the most conspicuous of the local names alluded to is Wallingford, and it is the one which is the most easily decomposed. Its oldest form was Weal-inga-ford. The middle syllable, inga, is the patronymic, and the full import of the compound word is the ford of the sons of the Welshmen or Britons, or the ford of the tribe of the Britons. There may have been some tradition that an army of British men forded the river there; Welling and Wellington, with some others, have been assigned to the same origin.

In London, there is a street called Walbrook. It runs from the back of the Mansion-house towards the river Thames, as far as East Cheap and Watling street. It takes its name from an old brook or rivulet which descended from the northern fields to the Thames, but it has long, like many other similar streams, been covered in to serve the purpose of a sewer. As it passed by the old London Wall, it was only natural to conclude that it took its name therefrom; but we have very ancient authority (circ. A.D. 1205) for saying that the name has no connection with Roman bricks and mortar. It is, in fact, the old English or Saxon form of Gal = Wal. In Layamon's poem of the early traditions of Britain, founded on the Brut of the Norman poet Wace or Gasse (another instance, by the way, of the interchangeable W and G), there is a passage which gives the mythical origin of the name Wal-brook. After alluding to the brook, the passage may be thus translated, and I translate it word for word, in order to convey some notion of the structure of the original:—

"There Gallus in that brook at (the) bottom was buried. Then was this nation cleansed of Rome-folk. And the Britons to the brook gave a name. For that (i.e., because) Gallus was slain thereby (or near), they bade it be called Galli, and in the English books it is called Wal-brook."

In the original—

"Ther Gallus i than broke at grunde was biburied. Tha was thas theode i-clansed of Rom leode, and Bruttes than broke nome bi-tæhte. For Gallus was if lagen ther bi, hæete hine nemni Galli, and a there Euglisce boc he is i-hate Wale-broc. (Layamn, Vol. II., p. 27.)

Here it will be observed that Wal, "in the English books," is treated as the equivalent, of Gal in the name Gallus. Now this slaying of Livius Gallus hard by may be mythical, but, like many similar myths, it is resorted to in order to account for the name; so that the very structure of the myth, not by Layamon himself, but by his undisclosed authority, "in the English books," shows page 18 that the syllable Wal could only suggest some story in which the Romance equivalent figured. Neither the poet nor his authority dreamed of the old Roman Wall, though much of it was then standing, and many vestiges have been disclosed by excavation even in the present century.

It is beyond any doubt that the first syllable of the word walnut is of similar import, and has the same origin. Everyone knows that the walnut, in its maturity, is a gigantic tree. One species furnishes the beautiful wood of which furniture is made. It is never, like our wall fruit, trained to walls, and its name has no connection with a wall. The walnut was known in England in Saxon times, and possibly earlier, and our ancestors called it wealh-hnut (or hnyt)—that is, Gallic nut. The Germans of this day call it walnuss, and sometimes Welsche-nuss, which has the same meaning as the Saxon-English word. I learn from a note in Mr. Earle's excellent edition of two of the Saxon chronicles, that in Somersetshire walnuts are called Welsh nuts, and in Devonshire the country people call them French nuts. These names must embody a very ancient tradition.

In such compounds as wall fruit, wall creeper, wall cress, usually written as two words, their connection with a wall of brick or stone is obvious; but in the case of wallflower it is doubtful. The name is, in fact, applied to two distinct plants of different habits: I. To a cruciferous evergreen plant which grows on old walls, and therefore clearly takes its name from its dwelling place. 2. To the sweet-scented flower of the Stock family so common in our gardens, from that of the prince to that of the peasant, and which would not live a day upon a dry wall. I cannot help suspecting that the first syllable of this latter wallflower has the same origin as the first syllable of walnut—that is, not being indigenous, it was the Welsh flower, or foreign flower, of our ancestors. This, however, must be taken as a mere conjecture, which I am not able to verify. We know that it has no sympathy with bricks or mortar, and the suggested derivation, founded on the analogous case of walnut, seems the only alternative.