Brighton: The name

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

a) ETYMOLOGY: Although the first known use of the name ‘Brighton’ was in 1660, it did not come into general use until the late eighteenth century and its official use dates only from 1810 when it was adopted by the town commissioners {3}. ‘Brighton’ is in fact a contraction of the older ‘Brighthelmston’ which lasted into the 1850s and of which there are at least 44 known variations. In the Domesday Book Brighton was ‘Bristelmestune’, and other variations included ‘Bredhemston’, ‘Brichelmston’, ‘Brighthampstead’, ‘Brighthelmsted’, ‘Brighthelnisted’, ‘Brighthempston’, ‘Brithelmeston’, and ‘Brogholmestune’. {63}

It has been suggested that the original name could have been derived from two Saxon words, one meaning ‘division’ or ‘valley’, the other meaning ‘stones’: ‘the stony valley’, perhaps a reference to the large sarsen stones found in the Steine. However, the most widely accepted etymology is from ‘Beorthelm’ or ‘Brithelm’, a personal name not unusual among Anglo-Saxons, and ‘tun’, or homestead: thus ‘Beorthelm’s homestead’ or possibly ‘Beothelm’s village’. This derivation has also been assigned to other villages, viz: Bricklehampton, Worcestershire; Brighthampton, Oxfordshire; and Brislington, Somerset. {18,20,289,301a}

b) OTHER ‘BRIGHTONS’: At least 48 settlements in 11 different countries are known as ‘Brighton’, together with numerous variations such as ‘New Brighton’, ‘Brighton Beach’, ‘Brighton Hills’, ‘Brightons’, etc. In the United Kingdom, the hamlet of Brighton lies south-east of Newquay in Cornwall, while a Brighton farm stands one mile south of Hartington in Derbyshire, and another lies to the south-west of Cupar in Fife. The largest Brighton other than our own is situated six miles south of Melbourne, Australia, on the eastern side of Port Philip Bay, and has a population of about 40,000.

Settlements are to be found in the following countries {303a}:

i) Australia (4 instances): near Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart and Melbourne;
ii) Barbados (1);
iii) Canada (4): in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Ontario provinces;
iv) Guyana (1): east-south-east of Georgetown;
v) Jamaica (2): both south of Montego Bay;
vi) New Zealand (2): west-south-west of Dunedin, and north of Greymouth (but now known as Tiromoana);
vii) St Kitts (1);
viii) South Africa (2): near Cape Town, and in the Orange Free State;
ix) Trinidad (1): forty miles south-south-west of Port of Spain;
x) United States of America (27): in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York (2), Ohio (2), Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

c) NICKNAMES: Brighton has acquired several nicknames over the years, the most popular being ‘The Queen of Watering Places’, first used by Horace Smith who also coined the description ‘Old Ocean’s Bauble’. At the time of the so-called ‘Trunk Murders’ (q.v.), the former phrase was popularly corrupted to ‘The Queen of Slaughtering Places’! William Thackeray in TheNewcombes states, ‘One of the best of Physicians is kind, cheerful, merry Doctor Brighton’. Other nicknames have included ‘London-by-the-Sea’ and ‘London-super-Mare’. {2,3}

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

Comments about this page

  • I thought Brighton would mean ‘bright town’.  Also, where does the name Hove come from?

    By Natasha (12/08/2008)

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