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 Whitehaven

Historical Forms

  • Qwithofhavene c.1135 StB
  • Hwithothavene 1203 FF
  • Whithofthaven c.1240 StB
  • Whitouthavene c.1260 ib
  • Quitonthavene (sic print) 1304 Cl
  • Whitofhaven 1323 Pat
  • Whittofthaven in villa de Kirkeby 1329 StB
  • Withofhavene c.1140 StB
  • Witehovedhafne c.1140 StB
  • Wythodauene, Wythothauene 1279 Ass
  • Wytetavene 1323 Cl
  • Withoue c.1180 StBA
  • Witenhauen 1278 Ass
  • Wythauene, Whytehauene 1279 Ass
  • Wytehauen c.1280 StB
  • Whitehhavene 1334 Cl
  • Wittehauen early14th StMaryY
  • Whithaven 1535 VE
  • Whithauin 1576 S
  • Swartahof c. 1125 StB
  • Suuartahoft c. 1135 (early copy) Lowther
  • Swartof c. 1170 StB
  • Suarthoved t. Ric i (1308) Ch


The origin of this name is correctly stated by Denton (25): “Whithaven or Whit-toft-haven is a creek in the sea at the north end of a great bergh or rising hill there which is washed with the flood on the west side where is a great rock or quarry of white hard stone which gives name to the village and haven.” This rock was known as 'white headland' (ON  hvíthǫfuð). Before 1150 a harbour had come into being under the headland and had given rise to the triple compound hvíthǫfuðhafn , of which the second element was early lost.The word 'haven' is of Scandinavian origin (Björkman, Scandinavian Loan-words in Middle English , 242). It is not recorded in England before the 11th century, and Whitehaven is a remarkably early example of its appearance in an English place-name. Cf. also Kyrkbyhaven supra 431.

In contrast to this 'white headland,' a second promontory on this stretch of coast, which cannot now be identified with certainty (it has been suggested by the Rev. J. Wilson (StB 31) that it may be Swartha Brow between Whitehaven and Hensingham), was known in the 12th century as the 'black headland,' from ON  svart and hǫfuð . The name appears in the 12th century as Swartahof c. 1125 StB, Suuartahoft c. 1135 (early copy) Lowther , Swartof c. 1170 StB, Suarthoved t. Ric i (1308) Ch, and survived at least until the reign of Henry VIII in the form Swarthow (AOMB ).