Goon and Gumpus

A couple of Cornish placenames today. The first, which you can see in the picture, is Woon Gumpus Common, which is only about 3 miles from where I live. The name derives from Cornish, and in Kernewek Kemmyn (Common Cornish) would be goen gompes [ɡu:n ɡɒmpəs] “level moor/downland”, which seems a pretty accurate description of the place. The W in the placename is the mutated form of g used after the definite article when a noun is feminine, which goen is. The definite article is no longer part of the placename, if it ever was. Placenames seem to be a law unto themselves when it comes to initial consonant mutations. There are quite a few Woons about, but just as many Goons. Thus we have, to list only three of each, Goonbell (“far down”), Goonhilly (“hunting down”) and Goonlaze (“green down”), but Woon Bellas (“oats down”), Woon Smith (“down” + English name), Woon Summer (“down” + English word).

Woon Gumpus Common
A soggy day on Woon Gumpus Common
Used under a Creative Commons Licence: David Medcalf

The other name is Ventongimps. This is not in Penwith, but a bit further north. The first element is the word fenten, another feminine noun with a possibly naughty mutation, meaning “spring, well”. The second element is a corruption of kompes, so the name means “spring at a level place”

4 thoughts on “Goon and Gumpus

  1. Also Gun (Gunwalloe) and Un as in Boscawen-un (bos scawen an wun – dwelling by the elder on the downs);and Chun (house on the downs) not forgetting of course Noon as in Noongallas (green down?). It’s like a hundred words for snow!

  2. In Welsh too we get some of these pre-mutated names even when the definite article is normally omitted from the name. So, near Aberystwyth, there is Borth (from ‘y’ + ‘porth’), together with Porthmadog further north, together with Borth-y-gest! Gaer in Newport (though officially ‘Y Gaer’ in Welsh), Groeslon in Gwynedd (again officially the ‘y’ is used in Welsh), and Bontddu and Bontnewydd in Gwynedd both from ‘pont’ meaning bridge.

  3. Lin,

    Thanks for those. I had forgotten the uns and the noons. The two dictionaries I have of Cornish placenames which list Noongallas both give the derivation as an un gales = “the difficult/hard down”.

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