The Sanctuary

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Bed and Breakfast in Ogbourne St.George, Marlborough, Wiltshire

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Local history - ancient and recent

Og What?

Many visitors to our village have asked where the Ogbourne name comes from. The "bourne" part is the easy part, it means a winter river. Many villages on the chalk downs are something-bourne.

The "Og" part is the historical curiosity. It used to be assumed by many that "Og" was a Saxon name.

But studies by Margaret Gelling on pre-English river names show that Celtic names survive much more frequently in a north-south band of central England, with few in the east and more in the west and north. The Anglo-Saxons adopted large numbers of British place names unchanged. This is not surprising. The Saxons, as good as they were at warfare and being the new Overlords, were largely illiterate mercenaries. They didn't suddenly start writing in sophisticated Cambro-Latin in Western Britain.

In that case, could "Og" be a Norman name?

Again, probably not. If it was a Norman name, either as an adopted or translated name, "Og" would appear somewhere in Norman French names of people or places. But it doesn't. The small numbers of Normans arrived as a new set of Overlords, conquering the land, and displacing the old Saxon overlords. But the Normans did not bring a large group of new settlers, and they largely adopted local names. Sometimes with changes of pronunciation, but not with completely new names. Very few new towns or villages received a very few newly-created French names because few new settlements were needed. Ogbourne was clearly not a new settlement, as it dates back to at least Roman times.

In fact, the effect on language may have gone in the opposite direction.

David Howlett, the author of "The English origins of Old French literature", says:

Dramatic differences between Latin texts written before and after the settlement of the Normans in England imply that the conquerors inherited from the conquered a tradition of Anglo-Latin composition. They also derived from a 500-year-old tradition of Old English literature the idea and the formal, generic, and thematic models of Old French literature. The earliest examples of nearly every genre of Old French verse and prose were composed in the Anglo-Norman dialect or written by continental authors working in England or preserved in English manuscripts. These, with the Insular heroes and stories of Brendan, Havelock, Horn, Arthur and Tristan, suggest that for the first century of its existence most French literature was English in origin and execution.

In "Language Made Visible: The Invention of French in England After the Norman Conquest" by David Georgi, the author says:

The English origins of French literature remain something of an open secret, backed by impressive evidence, but known only to a relatively small audience. In 1992, Ian Short lamented that "standard histories of medieval French literature persist in ignoring the fact that French Literature begins, to all intents and purposes, in 12th century Anglo-Norman England". Many years later, this fact is still not universally recognised, even among Anglo-Norman specialists. A recent book devoted entirely to post-conquest England remarks "in the twelfth century England seems to have been a key region for the production of French writing, in some ways ahead of French-speaking areas on the continent." As late as 2005, the team of eminent scholars who prepared the chapter on "Vernacular Literary Consciousness" in the Middle Ages volume of the Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, called the development of French literature in England "curiously precocious" and don't seem to know what to make of it.

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