Place names

Starter activity to explore where place names come from, and what meaning might be contained within a place name.

KS2 | 15 Mins | Group

KEY QUESTIONS: What does the name of this place mean? Where do place names come from?



Finding out the origin of place names allows learners to think about what a place once was, the reasons why people settled there, and how it might have changed and lost its original meaning since that time.

There are various ways you could research place names. These include:

local library or museum services (larger places may have special archive units);

websites about the local area (often written for visitors, or perhaps by local history societies);

local knowledge through interviewing older generations or those with lengthy local connections.

Guessing what the name might mean could also be quite fun!


One example of a useful resource for investigating place names is the website of the Institute for Names Studies at the University of Nottingham. Their Place Names Database offers ideas as to the likely origin of most places. Use the web tab to right to access.

Using this website for example, the city of Bradford is thought to have come from broad (wide) ford (stream) and the area of Allerton, from Alder tree farm or settlement.

For more capable and older learners you could teach them how to use this website quite quickly.

For younger learners you could look up a few local places, and see how close their guesses were.

Having explored place names relevant to your own school and children’s own connections you could then use this to explore place names connected to a link school.


Based on original material created by The Linking Network and Lifeworlds Learning

Resources to download