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Names meaning Waterfall

By Bob Harvey

There are several naming conventions for waterfalls used in Britain and Ireland, as a result of our rich history of languages. For today, I am going to confine myself to waterfall words, ignoring the various rapids, cascades, and weirs that are not quite waterfalls. In that I am going to let centuries of forebears lead the way and follow the names they have chosen.

Very few waterfalls are called 'Waterfall'. Those that are are frequently artificially created, like this one in Jesmond Dene:
NZ2567 : Waterfall on the Ouse Burn, Jesmond Dene by Les Hull
It's far more common for them to be called just 'falls', as here:
SE0088 : Upper Falls, Aysgarth by Philip Halling NH0125 : The Falls of Glomach by John Allan SE0063 : Linton Falls by Carroll Pierce R1288 : Ennistymon Falls by Maigheach-gheal
Aysgarth Falls, The Falls of Glomach, Linton Falls, Ennistymon Falls

But even 'Falls' is just a common English word, and most English waterfalls are called 'Force', from the Viking word 'Foss'. This word is associated with the North of England, and the Lake district, which happen to be both where the waterfalls mostly are and most heavily associated with Danish settlers.
SD3391 : Waterfall at Force Forge by Lakeland Ramblers NY8528 : White Force by Paul Gregory SD8691 : Hardraw Force Waterfall by Stephen clark SD7582 : Sun on the upper fall ('Mare's Tail'), Force Gill by Karl and Ali
Force Forge, White Force, Hardraw Force, Force Gill
Probably the best known of these is High Force:
NY8828 : High Force in full flow by malcolm tebbit NY8828 : View from Top of High Force by George Tod NY8828 : High Force by Jeff Buck

Occasionally 'Foss' survives unchanged:
SE8199 : Nelly Ayre Foss by Richard Spencer NZ8202 : Thomason Foss by Mick Garratt
Nelly Ayre Foss, Thomason Foss

And, on occasion, the intermediate form 'Fosse'
SE1463 : Waterfall in Fosse Gill by Mick Borroff
Fosse Gill
This use of the word 'Fosse' is, of course, distinct from the Anglo Saxon usage in 'Fosse Way', which probably means 'ditch' from the Latin 'fossa'

You will also find the occasional 'Spout', or even 'Snout', which is probably a variant of the same name.
SD5760 : White Spout by Karl and Ali SD6897 : The base of the big fall, Cautley Spout by Karl and Ali NY8128 : Cauldron Snout by Andy Jamieson
White Spout, Cautley Spout, Cauldron Snout

Note that 'Snout', as describing a feature like an animal's nose, need not mean a Waterfall. It might mean a hill or ridge, as in C9444 : Grand Causeway and Aird Snout or NT1815 : Deacon Snout . This is a linguistic convergence, not a connection; rather like the two meanings of 'Fosse'.

The Scots word 'Linn' occurs several times, and even creeps through border territory into Northumberland. As well it might. 'Linn' has two watery meanings; a waterfall or torrent; or the pool at the base of same. It is a convergence of the Scots Gaelic 'linne' (cognate with Irish 'linn', Welsh 'llyn' - a lake or pool) and Old English 'hlynn' meaning 'torrent' Perhaps the 'waterfall' meaning flowed North, not South.
NS8840 : Bonnington Linn by Rude Health NS8841 : Corra Linn by G Laird NO2553 : Reekie Linn in early Autumn by Maigheach-gheal NS4477 : The Black Linn by Lairich Rig
Bonnington Linn, Corra Linn, Reekie Linn, Black Linn,

NT9220 : Harthope Linn by Les Hull NY8485 : Hareshaw Linn by Andrew Curtis
Harthope Linn, Hareshaw Linn, both in Northumberland. 'Har' is interesting here, it comes from Old English Har "gray bearded, venerable", which has come down to us as 'Hoary'. I suspect that the spray around the waterfalls was seen poetically as a grandfather's beard.

Where Gaelic survived, in The Highlands and in Ireland, the commonest word for waterfall is 'Eas'. This is another ancient pan-European word, similar to the Old English 'Ea' or 'Aa', meaning river, still seen in Lancashire as 'Ea' and Lincolnshire as 'Eau' . In Modern Gaelic it is used for Waterfall:
NN1788 : Eas Chia-aig by Trevor Littlewood NR3474 : Eas Lathan, Islay by Becky Williamson NN2432 : Eas Urchaidh, River Orchy by Peter Bond L8964 : Aasleagh Falls by Espresso Addict
Eas Chia-aig, Eas Lathan, Eas Urchaidh, Eas Liath

A special case is Eas Fors, which can be translated 'Waterfall Waterfall'
NM4442 : Eas Fors from the shoreline by Tom Richardson NM4442 : Eas Fors top fall, Isle of Mull by Graham Hogg NM4442 : Eas Fors top falls by Peter Amsden

'Eas' also appears as 'Easan' which can mean either a waterfall or a steeply running stream
NC4044 : Easan Choineas by Richard Webb NG8274 : Waterfall on Easan Bàna by Trevor Littlewood NC3913 : Easan na Gaibhrie Waterfall by Graeme Smith NH0152 : The Easan Dorcha by jeff collins NC3913 : Easan na Gaibhre by sylvia duckworth
Easan Choineas, Easan Bàna, Easan na Gaibhrie, Easan Dorcha, Easan na Gaibhre

But what of Welsh, that other celtic language spoken in these isles? The Welsh language has several words for waterfall: ‘rhaeadr’; ‘sgwd’; ‘pistyll’. ‘Sgwd’ (plural ‘sgydau’) occurs only in Brecknockshire, and 'pistyll' is normally only used in mid-Wales.
SH7657 : Rhaeadr Ewynnol (Swallow Falls) by David Dixon SH7657 : Swallow Falls (Rhaeadr Ewynnol) by David Dixon
Rhaeadr Ewynnol, The Swallow Falls, may be the best known waterfall in Wales
SH6669 : Aber Falls, Rhaeadr-bach by Jeremy Bolwell SH6670 : Rhaeadr-fawr by Philip Halling
Rhaeadr-bach and Rhaeadr-fawr are part of the Aber Falls near Abergwyngregyn
SJ0729 : Pistyll Rhaeadr: the top of the falls by Chris Downer SJ0729 : The highest waterfall in England and Wales by Chris Downer SJ0729 : Pistyll Rhaeadr, Gwynedd by nick macneill
Pistyll Rhaeadr is another of these "waterfall waterfall" names.
SH6729 : Pistyll Gwyn by Ian Medcalf SH7327 : Pistyll Gain by Nigel Brown
Pistyll Gwyn, Pistyll Gain,
SN8511 : Sgwd Henrhyd by Alan Richards SN9210 : Sgwd y Pannwr by Stuart Wilding SN9009 : Sgwd Ddwli Isaf on the River Neath by Mick Lobb
Sgwd Henrhyd, Sgwd y Pannwr, Sgwd Ddwli

Updated 2015-06-26 with corrections and additions from user "Karl and Ali". Added Linn and Snout. From more reading added 'Easan' too.

Sat, 13 Jun 2015 at 21:45
Chosen Photo

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