It's summer time and the temperatures are getting high around Valencia. I can enjoy the sandy Mediterranean beaches near my home, which is quite good, but sometimes I wish I were in a place with milder weather, somewhere in the mountains or further north, for example on this beautiful island off the southwest coast of Ireland (picture taken from here).
The best known 'Valencia' is the one I live in, in eastern Spain, but there are others in this country and also in France, Portugal and Italy, with variations like 'Valença' or 'Valence'. The original form derives from Latin Valentia, used by the Romans to name some new settlements (the Spanish one was founded in the 2nd c. BC), but in some cases, e.g. Valence d'Albigeois (Tarn, France) or in Valencia de Don Juan (León, Spain), the place-name was coined at a later age as a calque on the original model, for reasons of beauty or prestige. Later on, it was also exported into the Americas (for some curious US examples take a look at this post from Vent d Cabylia, a blog I usually read).
What about the British Isles? The other day, reading a book about Romano-British place-names, I made an interesting discovery: by the end of the 4th c. AD, the Roman Emperor Theodosius decided to reorganize the province of Britannia adding a new sub-division in northern England that he called Valentia, probably as a tribute to Emperor Valens. It seems that the capital was Carlisle (Rivet - Smith, 1979: 46). The name of this territory can be found in some classical texts but it disappeared from common use.
In England there are nowadays a couple of place-names with a 'Valence' element in them. One of them is Sutton Valence (Kent). Its name derives from a French noble family that settled in England in the 13th c. They were called de Valence, after a small French village in France with the same name, in Poitou-Charantes. (On the right you can see a picture of Saint Mary's Curch, in Sutton Valence, taken from this web page).There is also a small village in Hampshire called Newton Valence. I haven't found information about its etymology, but I guess it must also have a medieval origin from a noble family.
Now, let's go back to our green Irish island. Its name is certainly not from Roman times (Ireland, or Hibernia, was never a Roman province), and there are no links with any noble familiy from medieval France. So where does this 'Valencia' come from? According to Mills' Dictionary of British Place Names, it derives from the Irish words Béal Inse, with the meaning "estuary of the island". The present form of the name is probably influenced by the Latin ones, but, as we have seen, its origin is completely different. And quite unexpected! As usually happens in the world of toponymy, a place-name is definitely not what it seems.
- Mills, A.D: ( 2003). Dictionary of British Place Names. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Rivet, A.L.F., and C. Smith (1979). The Place-Names of Roman Britain. London: Book Club Associates.