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 Bray

Historical Forms

  • Braio, Brai, Bras 1086 DB
  • Brai 1156 P
  • Braya c.1160 RSO 13th
  • Brai Regis 1167 P
  • Braye 1220 Cur 1234–5 FF 1247 Cl 1316,1428 FA


This name is explained in DEPN and in Elements as OE  brēg 'brow (of a hill)'. The complete absence of spellings with -e - is against this etymology, and the topographical objections to it are serious. Bray occupies ground of exceptional flatness beside the Thames. For an area of two square miles round the village the O.S. spot heights vary between 72 and 97, and the view from the village and its outskirts gives only the slightest impression of ground rising away from the river. The etymology must be left open. In France and Belgium there is a common p.n. Bray(e), derived from an Old French word known from the 12th cent. which means 'mud'. It has not been possible to obtain an authoritative opinion on the origin of this, and it is probably rash to postulate any common root going back to pre- English times; but it is perhaps just possible that Bray is a post- Conquest p.n., derived from the French word. The appearance of a French p.n. in DB can be paralleled by Montgomery in Wales, though the two cases are not analogous, as one is the name of a castle, the other a topographical term. Malpas Ch is first recorded in c. 1125, however, which suggests that some French names descriptive of the site did become established fairly early in the Norman period. Cf. also Boulge Sf, which DEPN derives from OFr  bouge , and which occurs in DB.

The forms for Bray D (D 57) are very similar. It is not certain whether that name was originally applied to the River Bray, or to the village of High Bray, but in either case the topography is quite different from that of the Berks place. High Bray is on the side of a marked hill, and the river is not a marshy one. The Devon names, and the two Cornish ones mentioned D 57, should probably be regarded as distinct from the Berks name, and may well derive from Celtic *brigā 'hill'.

Places in the same Parish

Early-attested site

Other OS name