Tamesa or Tamesis

Attested:  Caesar Tamesis river;  Tacitus Tamesae estuary;  Ptolemy 2,3,6 Ιαμησα estuary;  Cassius Dio Ταμεσαν.

Where:  River Thames.  Ptolemy's coordinates point far out in the wide opening of the estuary, quite different from the Ravenna Cosmography's Tamese, which appears to be at Westminster.

Name origin:  From PIE *temə- ‘to cut’, whose descendants include Greek ταμνω/τεμνω ‘to cut’, Latin temno ‘to scorn’ (as in English contempt), and Irish tamnaid ‘cuts down’, with other cognates in Balto-Slavic.  French tamise ‘sieve’ has no certain etymology and might be related.
  A less good analysis is still commonly stated today, from Nicolaisen WFH (1957) ‘Die alteuropäischen Gewässernamen der britischen Hauptinsel’ Beiträge zur Namenforschung 8, 211-268, which Rivet & Smith spelled out thus: “... a very large number of names ... based on the Indo-European root *ta- *tə- ‘to flow’.  Three consonantal formations ...: the first with -m-, which accounts for [Tamar, Thames, etc]; the second with -n-, which explains modern British Tone, Tain, Tean, and several Continental names; the third with -y-, which embraces modern Taw, Tay, and Continental examples.  This is amply convincing as to forms, and semantically also ...”.  The old idea of a Celtic word for ‘dark’ is unsatisfactory.

Notes:  The Manchester river Tame “has been a border from the earliest times between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia”.  The Tamworth river Tame is notably wide and flood-prone.  The river Teme marks the border between England and Wales for much of its length and is flood-prone in its lower reaches.  The river Team through Gateshead is a tidal gut.  The river Taff (ancient Tamion) cuts deep into the hinterland of Cardiff.  The river Thame (otherwise known as the Isis) is essentially an upper reach of the Thames.  The river Tamar (ancient Tamaris) has a huge tidal estuary and marks the border between Devon and Cornwall.  Ptolemy's other Ταμαρα was the modern river Tambre in Galicia, north-west Spain.
  The Spanish linguist Francisco Villar favours the ‘cut’ etymology for the modern river Tamuja (a head-stream of the Tagus towards Lisbon), which appears to preserve the name of the pre-Roman city of Tamusia, which minted coins marked with TAMVSIENSI and the clear image of a river boat being rowed, that are bilingual, using the Roman alphabet on one side and Iberian on the other.  This comes from the zone where Indo-European and Iberian languages met and may have given birth to Celtic.
  Tamesis differs only by a letter T from Amesis the river Ems, where Anglo-Saxons are said to come from, so maybe Ptolemy's initial letter I cannot be corrected into a T with total certainty.  Max Förster (1941) wrote a whole book about the name Thames and called it “Celtic”.

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Last edited 19 September 2020     to main Menu