[NB The brief explanation given below has been drafted on the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the basic building-blocks used in Celtic topographical place-names (Chapter 1 of the Home menu), with the structure of compound place-names (Chapter 2) and with the structure of Celtic river-names (Chapter 19)]
This tribe is referred to as the Atrebates by Caesar and as the Atrebatii by Ptolemy.
The tribe presumably brought its name with it when it came to Britain from the Continent. The origin of the name is thus to be sought on the Continent, not in Britain. Nonetheless, since the tribe did occupy land in southern Britain and the tribal name is similar to the tribal names Trinovantes, Novantae, Ordovices and Taexali it will be discussed here. The tribal name Atrebates (using the form given by Caesar) is based on a river-name of the kind comprising a river-prefix, here a compound of the river-letters t and r, attached to an old-style land-name comprising one or more hill-letters. The river-name will thus have been somewhat of the form Atrebandion, where the n is n1. In names of this kind the only or the latest river-letter in the river-prefix is the river-letter used by the tribe which lived around the river at the date when the river-name was coined. Now we know that the Atrebates used the hill-letter n2 (see ‘Ptolemy’s Celtic tribes: Part 2’, 12), so the corresponding river-letter, l or m, should be the latest river-letter in the river-prefix. The river-name must therefore have been of the form Matrebandion or Latrebandion (though perhaps with a different ending). This is borne out by the place-name Nemetacum (perhaps Nemedacum originally), said to be the name of a settlement occupied by the Atrebates and located up on high ground in the western outskirts of modern Arras in the Pas-de-Calais region of France. The hill-letter n2 of Nemet/Nemed is used in the inversion-type manner, i.e. it is placed at the front of the existing place-name. One would therefore expect the corresponding river-letter, l or m, to appear at the front of the river-prefix. The people of Matrebandion/Latrebandion would be called the Matrebandes/Latrebandes. This form, with loss or omission of initial L/M and the hill-letter n1, together with the common change d→t, yields the tribal name Atrebates.
[This page was last modified on 08 April 2021]