Durovernum Cantiacorum

Attested:   Antonine Itinerary iter 2 Durorverno, iter 3 Durarveno, iter 4 Durarvenno;
    Ravenna Cosmography Duroaverno Cantiacorum;   Peutinger map Duroaverus;
    Ptolemy 2,3,27 Δαρουερνον, a πολις of the Καντιοι.

Where:  Canterbury, Kent, around TR1558.

Name origin:  The oft-repeated explanation as ‘fort on the alder swamp’ is unsatisfactory.  The first element Duro meant something like ‘transport hub’ in early place names across south-eastern Britain and northern Europe.  It came from a root that led to door and forum in English, and may have converged with another root that led to the first elements of Dutch doorvaren, German durchfahren, and English thoroughfare.
    The best consensus from all the attested spellings may be not the usually quoted Durovernum but closer to *Duroarvernum, containing an A.  Its second element, something like *avern or *arven, makes best sense as referring to Canterbury's river, now known as the Great Stour, which is braided and still tidal up to Fordwich, and was probably navigable in small boats up to Canterbury in Roman times.  More specifically, something like *awjo- ‘floodplain, meadow, island’ could have described Canterbury's large and distinctive river island known in medieval times as Binnewith.  Ekwall (1928:16-17;311;478-479) discussed the rivers now called Arrow (in the Midlands), Arrow/Arwy (in Wales), Yarrow (in Lancashire), and the Arewan mentioned by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1016 (possibly the Orwell).  Possible parallels in France include the Avre, Avre, Arve, Auve, Erve, and Orvanne.

Notes:  This analysis rejects Welsh gwern or Irish fern ‘alder tree’ as useful parallels.  They probably arose from the same root as Latin ver ‘spring’ because the alder is one of the first trees to bloom in spring and to colonize new (wet) ground.  Equally indirect must be any link to Dutch varen, German fahren ‘to travel’ or to Latin arva ‘arable land, sacred grove’, both of which have also offered attractive analyses.  Would it be outrageous to wonder if Harbledown (despite its usually suggested descent from Herebeald) preserves a memory of ancient watercourses, so that Stour was originally an adjective, meaning something like ‘strong’ applied to the unified river downstream of Canterbury?

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