[If the text below uses any of the terms ‘hill-letter’, ‘river-letter’, ‘old-style name’, ‘transitional name’ and ‘inversion-type name’ a reader who is not familiar with those terms may wish to refer briefly to ‘The Celtic names of hillforts’, where an explanation of those terms is given].
The Celtic names of hillforts
Location: just east of Wiveliscombe, Somerset
OS map reference: ST 097 282
Celtic name: possibly Bolbelagunio or Borbeladunio
Source: Ravenna Cosmography (31) - Bolvelaunio
This hillfort stands on the summit of an isolated, steep-sided hill.
Elsewhere on this website it is suggested that Bolvelaunio is a name of the kind comprising a place-name Bolv, meaning ‘high hill slope’, and a river-suffix elavnio, the latter being a modification of alavna and comprising the river-letters l and b, the latter changed to v. Bolvelaunio would then be a Celtic river-name transferred to a Roman fort. This is possible but not entirely satisfactory since the river-letter b corresponds to the hill-letter s and the latter hill-letter was in use in this region earlier than the hill-letter l (cf. Ucsela/Ucselda/Ucselva at Cannington Park, near Combwich). Perhaps then one should not expect to see the river-letter b in a river-suffix attached to an old-style place-name in the hill-letter l. It seems much more likely that Bolvelaunio is a modification of the Celtic name of the Castle Hill hillfort. The Celtic name may have been Bolbelagunio (similar to Bladobulgio at Burnswark Hill/Birrens) comprising the old-style element Bol meaning ‘high hill’ and the transitional element belag meaning ‘high hill steep’. Alternatively, if the second element were belad (similar to the first element of Bladobulgio) meaning ‘high hill summit’, then the first element will also have been old-style but in a different hill-letter, perhaps r, this yielding the name Borbeladunio. Either name would be appropriate for the site of the hillfort. No matter whether the name was Bolbelagunio or Borbeladunio the name will have been transferred by the Romans to the fort which they built about one kilometre to the southwest of the hillfort. If the name had been Bolbelagunio then at some stage the second b changed to v, a fairly common change in Romano-British names, and the g was dropped. If the Celtic name had been Borbeladunio, then the r was replaced at some stage by l, the second b changed to v and the d was dropped. It is likely that the Wivel of modern Wiveliscombe is derived from the Bolvel of Ravenna’s name, though English scholars prefer a derivation from a personal name.