An explanation of the meanings of British Celtic tribal names
1 The aim of this page is to provide an explanation for as many British Celtic tribal names as possible. Much of the material is already available elsewhere on this website, but scattered over various different pages. It seems sensible to bring all that material together on one page so as to give easier access to the information.
2 Most British Celtic tribal names are based on topographical place-names, presumably the names of the respective tribal centres. Some of the explanations offered will be difficult to understand unless one has some knowledge of the structure of Celtic place-names. The basic building-blocks used in Celtic place-names are discussed in Chapter 1. How those building blocks are put together to form compound place-names is discussed in Chapter 2. Some of the tribal names are based on river-names, so some familiarity with the structure of Celtic river-names would be helpful. That topic is discussed in Chapter 19.
3 As explained in Chapter 23, paragraph 6.1, the changeover from old-style to inversion-type place-names occurred during the second half of the 2nd century BC. For convenience it will be assumed here that transitional place-names and name-elements were coined during the ten year period from 130BC to 120BC, that old-style place-names and name-elements were coined prior to 130BC and that inversion-type place-names and name-elements were coined after 120BC.
4 The list below includes the names of some 41 British Celtic tribes. Leaving aside the names Belgae and Regni, which can be considered special cases, ten tribal names – Atrebates, Carveti, Corionototae, Novantae, Ordovices, Parisi, Setanti, Taexali, Textoverdi and Trinovantes – are based on river-names, most often river-names of the kind comprising a river-prefix or river-suffix attached to a place-name comprising one or more hill-letters. All of the remaining tribal names are based on topographical place-names, presumably the names of the respective tribal centres at the time(s) when the tribal names were coined.
5 There now follows a list of the British Celtic tribal names, each name having a link to the explanation of the meaning of that particular name. Where a tribal name is known in two different forms both forms are given in the list, but the two links take the reader to one and the same explanation.