English Place-name Society

Survey of English Place-Names

A county-by-county guide to the linguistic origins of England’s place-names – a project of the English Place-Name Society, founded 1923.


Major Settlement in the Parish of Dorchester St Peter & All Saints

Historical Forms

  • Durno(no)varia 4 AntIt
  • Durngueir 893 Asser e11
  • (villa regali qui vocatur) Dornwerecestre 833 ShaftR(S277) 14
  • Dornuuarana ceaster 847 BCS451 m9
  • Dornwaracester 863 Add(S336) m12
  • Dornwaraceaster 864 SherC(S333) 12
  • loco qui appellatur Æt Dornwara ceastræ 868 Add(S340) m12
  • Doracestria 843 ASCharters 843 BCS739
  • Dorn(e)ace(a)ster 937 12 937 13 ib
  • Do(r) 991–1059 Coins
  • Dor(e)c(e)(s)(t) 1009–1133 ib
  • Do(r)i 1074–1127 ib
  • Dortcei 1074–7 ib
  • Dorecestre 1086 DB
  • Dorecestra Exon
  • Dorecestr(e) 1195 P 1244 Ass
  • Dorcestr(e) 1194 P 1447 Cl
  • burgus Dorcestr(e) 1275 RH
  • Dorcester 1291 Tax
  • burgo Dorcestrie 1363 Ilch
  • libertatem ville Dorcestrie 1409 DorR
  • Dorkecestr' 1210,1212 P 1244 Cl
  • Dorkcestr(e) 1261 ib
  • Burgus de Dorkcestr(e) 1280 Ass
  • Dorsecestre 1211 P
  • Dors(c)estr(e) 1244 Ass 1257 Cl
  • ville de Dorseter 1268 Ass 1439 Pat
  • Dorseter 1268 Ass


Henry Bradley's improbable explanation of this Brit name in E & S 114 as meaning literally 'fist play', from durno - 'fist' (cf. Welsh dwrn ) and war - (cf. Welsh gwarae 'play'), with reference to the sports carried on at the Roman amphitheatre of Maumbury infra , has been widely accepted (as by e.g. Fägersten 2, Ekwall DEPN, Gelling NTCB 83, cf. Zachrisson RomK 79 note 1 who suggested that if durno - 'fist' indicated the shape of a hill-fort, Durnovaria may have originally referred to Maiden Castle in Winterborne St M. par. infra ). Professor Jackson in Britannia 1 72 dismisses the variant reading Durnonovaria and agrees in taking the first el. of Durnovaria (Brit  *Durno ar ā ) to be PrWelsh  *durn 'a fist' (probably also 'a stone of the size of a fist', and found in Cardurnock Cu 123 and in the Scottish p.ns. Dornock in Dumfriesshire and Dornoch in Sutherland, all *durnāco - 'site covered with fist-sized pebbles'); however (loc. cit ) he admits the second el. -varia (Brit * ar a ) to be obscure, and (by letter) totally rejects the meaning 'fist play'.

The Brit name (whatever its meaning, perhaps originally referring to Maiden Castle as suggested by Zachrisson loc. cit .) may have been adopted by the English in a reduced form Dorn - to which was added OE -ware (gen.pl. -wara , alternative wk. gen.pl. -warena ) 'dwellers' and ceaster '(Roman) city', Dornwaraceaster meaning 'city of the men of Dorn', cf. the county name which was OE  Dornsǣte 'the Dorn people'. However it is probable that -wara - (-were -) represented in the first place simply an OE sound substitution for Brit  -varia which was then treated as the el. ware . On the OWelsh form Durngueir in Asser, v. Jackson 239, and on the Brit  change Durn - > Dorn -, v. Jackson 259, 274–5, 278, 681. The forms in Dork (e )- may show influence from or confusion with Dorchester O 152 which has such forms 1086 et passim but which has a quite different origin.

Places in the same Parish