Why Do Shepherds Need a Bush by David Hilliam
Best for: Anyone who likes a little trivia about place names.
In a nutshell: Author Hilliam provides the history of the name of every station on the London Underground
“Interestingly, our word ‘book’ also comes from this Saxon word (boc hyrst) for a beech tree. Even before books as we know them were invented, wooden writing tablets were made of thin slices of beech wood, on which letters known as runes could be scratched. These, of course, were pieces of boc.”
Why I chose it: I saw it at the Museum of London and it seemed like a fun thing to own.
This is one of those books that you don’t actually have to read straight through; it’s more of a reference book. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading through it in just a couple of sittings. It’s probably more interesting to someone who has been to London, but if you have an interest in language, and in how words evolve over time, then you might enjoy this book.
One thing I learned is that so very many place names in London come from Saxon leaders. Like, Paddington (as in the bear, named after the Paddington Tube station), is named after a Saxon leader Padda. Padda + ingas (family or followers) + tun (village): The Village Where Followers of Padda Live.
Another interesting bit is how many names are not that interesting. They’re named for a tree that once stood somewhere, or a popular pub. I mean, I suppose that’s kind of interesting, but imagine a future where the stop on the flying car expressway is Dennys, after that super-popular restaurant in the center of town.
I think I’ve always thought of names of places in London as being steeped in history, and for the most part they are, but in reality there are the mundane names as well, and that’s kind of cool.