Porth Joke. Credit: Charles Winpenny, Cornwall Cam
The element PORTH is extremely common in Cornish place-names. It is very tempting to associate it with the English word port. Indeed, there are a few names where the element turns up as PORT. Port Isaac, recorded c. 1540 as Porthissek, is an example. The name means “corn-rich cove”.
However, the basic meaning of this element appears to be “entrance”. It is true that it is often used to mean “cove” or “harbour” and thus overlaps with the meaning of POL. That it doesn’t always have one of those meanings is demonstrated by the the name Bosporthennis (pron: bəzˈprenɪs). This place is not far from here and is in the centre of the peninsula, quite a long way from the sea. The name means “dwelling at the entrance to Ninnes“. Ninnes derives from an ennis, which means either “the island” or “the isolated place”.
The problem with PORTH is that it quite often has changed into POL, and vice versa. Polperro, which I left hanging at the end of the last posting is an example. This name was recorded in 1303 as Porthpira. The second element is either a personal name or the name of a stream. Just to scramble your braincells a little more Polperro is situated on the River Pol.
Another example of the PORTH – POL confusion is the place in the picture. Porth Joke has an alternative local name Polly Joke. There is disagreement about the meaning of the second element. Some say it means “jackdaw”, others say it means “rich in plants”.
An example of the change from POL to PORTH is the wonderfully named Porth Kidney. This is situated not far from here near St. Ives. The name was recorded in 1580 as Polkymyas. The second element means “permission (to land goods)”.
So now you see why I titled this and the previous posting Place-name Merry-Go-Round. And I haven’t finished yet.