Monday, 6 June 2016

Dun, Tun

It is widely accepted that the word "dunum" is another typically Celtic element in European place-names. It was, as far as I am aware, based on the sources that I have found, first recorded in the first century BC. If anyone has any example of an earlier record of a place name which contains word "dunum", please let me know, so I can update my post. 

Anyway, place names containing "dunum" were recorded from Ireland to Ukraine. 

Here are some examples:

Ireland: Two places marked as dunum on Ptolemy map of Ireland. 
France: Lugdunum (Lyons), Virodunum (Verdun)
Switzerland: Minnodunum (Moudon), Eburodunum (Yverdon)
Netherlands Lugdunum (Leyden)
Great Britain: Camulodunum (Colchester), Brandunum (Brancaster)
Spain: Donobria (Dumbría), Moridunum (Morodon), Estledunum (Estola)
Germany: Cambodunum (Kempton), Carrodunum (Karnberg), Lugidunum (Liegnitz)
Serbia: Singidunum (Belgrade)
Croatia: Carrodunum (Virovitica)
Romania: Noviodunum (Isaccea)
Ukraine: Carrodunum (?)
Poland: Carrodunum (Krakow)

Apparently the root "dunum" is actually the Proto-Celtic "*dūnom" meaning stronghold, fort, rampart.

The direct descendants of this Proto-Celtic root are:


    Old Irish: dun
    Irish: dún
    Manx: doon
    Scottish Gaelic: dùn

Brythonic: *din

    Old Breton: din
    Breton: din
    Middle Welsh: din, dinas
    Welsh: din
    Cornish: dyn

All meaning fort or town.

In Ireland, and in parts of Scotland once occupied by the Irish, there are still many place names which contain the Irish word "dún". 

Ireland: Donegal (Dún na nGall), Dungannon (Dún Geanainn), Doonbeg (Dún Beag), Doonally (Dún Aille), Dunowla (Dún Abhla), Dún Laoghaire...You can find more "dún" place names from Ireland in the database of the Irish place names.

Scotland: Edinburgh (Dùn Èideann), Dinnet (Dùnaidh), Macduff (An Dùn), Dundee (Dùn Dè), Dunnichen (Dùn Neachdain), Dunbeg (An Dùn Beag)...You can find more "dún" place names from Scotland in the database of the Scottish Gaelic place names.

In Wales we have a lot of place names which contain the word "din" meaning fort:

Din Sylwy, Dinmoyle, Carmarthen (Caerf jrrddin), Pendine (Pen- din), Dinas Emrys, Dinorwig, Dyserth (Dincolyn). You can find more "din" place names from Wales in "The place-names of Wales". 

But in Wales we also find place names which contain the word "tyn" which is actually a derivative of the Old English word "tun" meaning "enclosed land, farmstead, town". Such place names are Axtyn, Estyn, Golftyn, Mertyn, Mostyn, Prestatyn, Cychtyn. You can find more about these names in "The place-names of east Flintshire". 

In the English place names which originally had Old English "tun", the ending "tun" have later morphed into "ton" like in Elston, Tunstead, Warrington, Brighton, Coniston, Clacton, Everton, Broughton, Luton, Merton, Bolton, Workington, Preston, Bridlington, Stockton-on-Tees, Taunton, Boston, Kensington, Paddington, Crediton, Honiton, Hamilton, Northampton, Southampton, Paignton, Tiverton, Helston, Wolverhampton, Buxton, Congleton, Darlington, Northallerton...This is actually by far the most common place name type in England. 

The Old English word "tun" is said to come from a proposed Proto-Germanic root "*tūną"  meaning “fence”.

The direct descendants of this Proto-Germanic root are:

1. Old Norse "tún" meaning "a hedged plot, enclosure, courtyard, homestead"
2. Old English "tūn" meaning "an enclosed piece of ground, an enclosure or garden, the enclosed ground belonging to an individual dwelling, the group of houses on an area of enclosed land, a homestead, a large inhabited place, a town"
3. West Frisian "tún", Old Saxon "tún", Dutch "tuin" meaning “garden”
4. German "zaun" meaning "fence" 

I am not sure how many place names in Brittany have the element "din". There are several place names beginning with "din" that I have found in "Breton Settlement Names: A Geographical View": Dinan, a town whose castle is figured on the Bayeux tapestry (11th century), could mean 'little fortress' (-an diminutive). D.inard, for a long time a fishing village in the parish of St. Enogat, could be 'the high fortress'. Dineault, the name of a parish in Finistere, in Breton Dineol, is pronounced as if it included the name of the sun (heol).  If anyone knows of any other ones please let me know. 

I am not sure about the Norse, West Frisian, Dutch settlements with "tún" in their names, or German place names with "zaun". I would love if someone would help me update the post with this data.

But I can tell you that there are a lot of place names with the word "din", "tin"," tun" in the Balkans.

Many years ago professor Ranka Kujić who once taught at the Belgrade University and who was also a member of the Welsh academy, published a book "Crveno i Belo, Celtsko - Srbske paralele" (Red and White, Celtic - Serbian parallels).

Crveno i belo book cover

In this book she lists the toponyms from the areas of the Balkans which are now or were once inhabited by Serbs, and which are based on the suffixes "din", "tin"," tun" meaning stronghold, fort, settlement, enclosure.

Apatin, Bajatun, Batin, Bitin, Bitina, Blagotin, Bradina, Bradina, Bratun, Bratunac, Bršadin, Butin, Cetina, Cetingrad, Cetinja, Čokordin, Kovin, Čordin, Dekutince, Deretin, Divostin, Dobrotin, Gorčin, Gojčin, Dradina, Gradetin, Knin, Kratin, Kratina, Kutina, Laktin, Martin, Mazin, Medine, Mislodjin, Morkin, Molin, Mišorin, Motina, Negotin, Neradin, Neštin, Nikodin, Nin, Paraćin, Petrovaradin, Pomeždin, Porodin, Pretin, Priština, Pundina, Radetin, Rastina, Ratin, Severin, Slatina, Svilartin, Surčin, Sutina, Tutin, Uzdin, Varaždin, Vidin, Vitina, Vlasotince

Her proposal is that these place names are all based on the Celtic suffixes "dun", "din", "tin"," tun" meaning stronghold, fort, settlement, enclosure. This is not a surprise considering that Balkans was once a Celtic stronghold

But interestingly we also have a Proto-Slavic root "*tynъ" meaning ‎“fence”. Is it possible that the above place names have been derived from this Proto-Slavic root meaning "fence" rather than the Proto-Celtic root meaning "fort"?

The thing is, there is really no difference between these two roots. What is a fort? Well, it is a piece of land, which is surrounded, enclosed with a fence so that people can protect themselves within it. Without a fence there is no fort. Have a look for yourself:

This is an Iron age fort from Britain

This is a Slavic early medieval fort

When you see a fort, what you see is a fence. When you think of forts you think of a space within the fence, the space enclosed by the fence, the enclosure. So it is easy to see how a word for a fence and the word for a fort are basically inseparable.

Fences are of course built not only around forts. They are built around:

Farmsteads, like this reconstructed Iron Age farmstead from Butser, Hampshire

Or this present day one one from Serbia

Sheep pens, like this one from Scotland

Sheep pen, Scottish highlands

Or these ones from Serbia

Sheep pen, Serbia

Sheep pen Serbia

Or a vegetable gardens

Basically fences are built around anything that needs to be protected, like people, sheep, vegetables creating fenced off enclosures (forts, farmsteads, sheep pens, gardens).

A reconstruction drawing of an early Irish Medieval Ring-fort by Philip Armstrong

I actually believe that the original meaning of the word "dun, din, tun, tin" must have been "something fenced of, an enclosure, an enclosed space surrounded with a fence" and that the meaning fort is a later derived one. I believe that this is confirmed by the meaning of the Proto-Germanic root "*tūną" and Slavic root "*tynъwhich both mean fence. 

Even the Irish word "dún" shows that the original meaning of the Proto-Celtic "*dūnommust have been "enclosure". The word does mean "fort, fortress" but it also means "place of refuge, haven, haven for ships, secure residence, house" and as a verb it means "to close, to shut". 

The proof that the original meaning of the Irish word "dun" was "enclosure" are places like this ceremonial enclosure, on the hill of Cnoc Ailinne in County Kildare, Ireland, which is called Dún Ailinne, even though there was never any fort here, just a space enclosed with a ditch, a separated place, an enclosure.

Dún Ailinne

In the end we also find the same root "tun" in Armenian, meaning "house, habitation, home, construction, building (like palace, church), room, chamber; tent, pavilion, floor, land, country, region, inhabitants of the house, household, family, race, nation"

Old Armenian: տուն ‎(tun)
Armenian: տուն ‎(tun)

Again we can see that the meaning is "enclosed place".

So  no wonder that when we look at the etymology of the Proto-Celtic root "*dūnom" which means stronghold, fort we find that it comes from the PIE root  "*dʰuHnom" ‎meaning “enclosure”. Fort is just an enclosure whose perimeter is defined by a fence. 

So far so good. But, I would like to propose something here. :) 

I would like to propose that both Germanic and Slavic words are older than the Celtic words, and the the root of the whole cluster is "tun" which means fenced off place, enclosed space. Now the official linguistics is saying the opposite. It says that the original word is Celtic dunum meaning fort, from which Germanic "tun" meaning fence, enclosure is derived. Slavic "tyn" meaning fence is then derived from the Germanic "tun"...This comes from the old "population replacement" theory, which states that originally the whole of Europe was inhabited by Celts. Then the Germanic people came in from the East and replaced the Celts while borrowing some Celtic words, like the one for fort, and then using it for everything that is fenced off.... Then the Slavic people came in from the East and replaced the Germanic people while taking the Germanic word for fenced off place and using it as a word for a fence...

This replacement theory has been completely destroyed in recent years by genetic studies. There was no population replacement in Europe in the Iron age. Just migrations and mixing. So when we are talking about Celts, Germanics and Slavs, we can only talk about ever changing and evolving cultures, tribal alliances and linguistic horizons.  And this makes it perfectly possible that the word "dun", meaning "fort", one specialized type of an enclosure was actually derived from the word "tun" meaning "any enclosure".

But what is the root of the word "tun"? Is it possible to construct this word from smaller parts whose combined meaning is "enclosure, enclosed space"? I believe it is. 

In archaic dialects of Serbian we have these words:

to - that
tu - there
u - in, into
v - in, into
n, nj - to, in boundary, it
u nj, n, v nj - in it
tu + u + nj, n - there, that + in + it, boundary = within,  inside - tuunj - tuun - dun
tu,to + v + nj, n = there, that + in + it, boundary = within, inside - tu(o)vnj - tu(o)wn

tu + u + nj,n = tuunj = tuun - inside the enclosed space, enclosure

If indeed the word "tun" is derived from this phrase, the above process must have happened a very long time ago.  It definitely predates the first record of the words "tun", "tin"  meaning "enclosure" and "fence" and "dun", "din" meaning "fort". By the time these words were first recorded, the phrase was already fused into a single word. This fused word has been preserved in archaic Serbian as well. In Serbian villages you can still hear people saying "tun", "tune", "tuna" meaning "there", but more specifically "in there, in that specific place, on that specific place".

One other interesting thing. In Serbian the word for inside is "unutra". tu + unutra = tu + un (otra) = there inside (inside). Apparently an old form of "v" "u" meaning "in" is attested which is "vn" "un". So the word unutra = un + utra = in + inside... This is another proof that the construct "tuun" can be short for tu un and that modern Serbian tun, tune, tuna can be a a remnant of this phrase.

The meaning of the the word tun, dun would then be "place of", "place containing, harboring, protecting". Dún Aonghasa = There in is Aonghasa= Place of Aonghasa....

Is this just a coincidence? 

Maybe, but this etymology then explains this English word perfectly:

Tun - large cask, barrel, vat. From Middle English tunne, tonne (“cask, barrel”), from Old English tunne (“tun, cask, barrel”), from Proto-Germanic *tunnǭ, *tunnō (“tun, barrel, cask”), of unknown origin. Cognate with North Frisian tenn (“tun, barrel, cask”), Dutch ton (“tun, barrel, cask”), German Tonne (“tun, barrel, drum”), Danish tønde (“barrel”), Swedish tunna (“barrel, cask, tun”), Icelandic tunna (“barrel”). Compare also French tonne, tonneau (“ton", "barrel”), Medieval Latin tunna (“cask”), Middle Irish tunna (“cask”), Welsh tynell (“tun, barrel”). It is uncertain whether the Germanic or the Celtic forms are the original.

Barrel, cask, vat, "tuno, tune, tuna, tun" is a circular enclosure made of wood, which you use to put things in, to enclose them. tu u nj = tuun = there in that = where you put things in to protect them, preserve them. 

This word, just like all the above words for enclosures, fences, describe something that you can use to enclose something else, a container, something that you can put something else in for protection. 

"tun" = "tunj" = "tuunj" = "tu u nj" = "there in it" = "where you put things in, where you enclose things to protect them"...

What do you think? 


  1. I only know of two Swiss cities: Thun, Trun

  2. thankyou, your thoughtful exposition was fascinating.

  3. Being from Germany, I have never heard of a town or village name with "Zaun". If any exist they are very few and not well known.

    We do have many towns with the element "Burg". These days Burg designates a medieval castle, but in the past it meant any type of fortress or fortified settlement. For instance in: Aschaffenburg, Augsburg, Bitburg, Brandenburg, Bückeburg, Coburg, Duisburg, Flensburg, Freiburg (several), Hamburg, Homburg (several), Lüneburg, Magdeburg, Quedlinburg, Regensburg, Würzburg and many, many, many others.

    There are also placenames with "Hag" or "Hagen", which means enclosure, hedge, grove. For instance in: Drolshagen, Hagen, Hagenbach, Hagenow, Langenhagen, Meinerzhagen, Petershagen, Sachsenhagen, Statdhagen, Stavenhagen and Wolfhagen.

  4. Also Dutch Duin from Duna, sandhill. A very common natural landscape along the North Sea coast and often the only hills around. The first time this word was written down is in the 8th century, via Dutch this word spread in other European languages like French dune (12the century), English dune (18 th century), Spanish Duna (16 th century), ...

    The origin of the word Duna in Dutch is unclear and probably Celtic, maybe even "belgic", the language spoken in the low countries during roman times. But it is unclear if Belgic was Celtic, germanic or a mix as the Romans couldn't agree on it and they are our main sources. Others also say that it comes from < pie *dheu, to blow, from the blowing sand, like in old church slavonic *dunati

    Placenames with Dun in Low Countries: Duinkerke/Dunkerque (Dune church), Duinkapelle, Leusden/Lesdain from Lisiduna (a place name that appears in Belgium, The Netherlands and Northern France), Heusden from Husuduna (House dune)also in the netherlands and belgium, Wenduine (skewed dune), Loosduin (loose dune), Kaalduinen (bald dune)...

    Tun, tuin is also a common placename especially in coastal Northern France, which was also inhabited by The Belgae tribes. See by toponiemen.

    So the Belgic tribe possible knew both *dun as hill, and *tun as enclosure, and it is not known if they spoke germanic, celtic, a mix of both or even some other indo european language, the Nord west block.

  5. old type of hause on balkan (srbija, montenegro)

  6. I am from Ukraine, born in Kiev. Last several years my family go for hollydays to Transcarpathian region to Ilnytsa village. I found an article by ukrainian philologist Kostyantyn Tyschenko, where he clamed,, that one of the sreems (small rivers) there called Ialovy comes from celtic ialon. I became curios about celtic roots of these area and decided to check the strange for my slavic ear names of the villages nearby. One of them is Dunkovytsia. And google helped me to find your article, thank you very much.

    Talking about Karodun mentioned by Ptolemy, some historians think it may be ukrainian Kamyanets podilsky.

    1. Thanks Aleksandra. There is also Kordun in the Balkans :)

  7. Talking about Kordun, in Ukrainian language the word kordon means the border.

    1. English cordon from Middle French corde, from Old French corde, borrowed from Latin chorda (“gut”), from Ancient Greek χορδή (khordḗ, “string of gut, cord”).

  8. If one goes far back enough, the words Dun, Tun, Town and their myriad forms found all over Europe and the Indian subcontinent are related with the Sanskrit word "sthan" which means "a place". Thus a Temple is "Devasthan" (Deva in Sanskrit is God similar to Deus in Latin). A city can have "thane as a suffix such as Nagothane. A city close to Mumbai is Thane( pronounced tha-nay). Words such as Hindustan, Pakistan, Turkestan have the "Sthan" suffix.