The place names of Gwent show how different cultures have played out across our border county. Martin Wade investigates.

THE place names of Gwent tell a story of conflict, invasion but also of harmony. Some are Welsh, some are English, there is a scattering of Norse and some from further afield.

The names we use every day tell of a land that has been a crossroads for different cultures and languages.

Many of our towns and villages and places of course have Welsh names, but often it's not quite Welsh to the ears of some.

These are names which are Welsh in origin but over the centuries have been changed through mispronunciation and map-makers' guesswork. What results is a slightly mangled version of the original.

Notable among these is 'Gwynllyw'. He was the fifth century ruler of the land between the Rhymney and Usk rivers, or roughly modern-day Gwent who was later made a saint.

His name was also used to describe that area 'Gwynllwg'. To non-Welsh speakers these are tricky words to say, and would have been troublesome to map-makers and anyone trying to write down using an approximation in English.

The name 'Wentloog' thus appeared and is still used by villages like St Brides and Peterstone.

In another stab at pronouncing the original, Gwynllyw's name became Woolos and is still used for the area around Newport Cathedral and for many people the cathedral itself.

Another Gwent name which shows the long and winding road from one language to another is the village of Llangattock-Vibon-Avel near Monmouth.

This comes from the original Welsh of Llangatwg Feibion Afel, or the enclosure of the St Cadog's church, sponsored by a local worthy called Afel and taken up by his sons (feibion).

By 1254, the name had been recorded as Lancadok Avel, as Lankadok Webonawel in 1350, and Llangotocke Vybon Ave'll in 1535, before arriving at the form used today.

Each time, whoever wrote the name down would use whichever letters they could to conjure up the sound of the words.

The mangling sometimes turns into mingling as words from different languages are used to form the names of places.

Peterstone boasts a Welsh element via 'Wentloog' from ‘Gwynllyw' and the nearby 'Peterstone Gout' which comes from the Old English word “gota”, meaning watercourse, channel, drain or stream. It describes the outlet to the Severn Estuary found there.

Further inland, the very English sounding Marshfield gives away the origin of a very Gwent word through its Welsh roots.

The settlement on the Gwent Levels is called 'Maerun' in Welsh, which is pronounced 'My-reen' giving a strong hint as to why drainage channels are called 'reens' in this part of the world.

Some of our place names are very old and very English. It’s fitting that the name of Gwent’s great border town should reflect how it stands as the gateway to Wales.

Although Chepstow has a Welsh name, 'Casgwent', or 'Castell Gwent', it is not a translation of its English name, which is Anglo-Saxon.

The 'Chep' comes from 'ceap' meaning 'price' or 'sale' and 'stowe' meaning ‘stockaded place’. Chepstow was one of the earliest fortified towns the English built in Wales and this is reflected in the name.

The 'cheap' part of the name can be seen in other places where buying and selling took place, such as Cheapside in London or town names beginning with Chipping.

The intriguing name of Gold Tops in Newport sadly wasn’t named after the precious metal.

Older spellings of the area, such as ‘le Col toppe’ (1568) and ‘Coldtop’ (1610) reveal it was thought of as a bit chilly. Its name simply means a cold, exposed hilltop.

It began to appear as ‘Gold Tops’ in the 19th century, one theory is that people began to associate it with Goldcliff.

Many other place names derive from Welsh, but then changed little. Two names of neighbouring parts of Newport Duffryn and Maesglas are as Welsh now as they were when coined.

Duffryn is derived from 'dwfr', water and 'hynt', a way or a course, literally a water course or a vale through which the river takes its course.

In this case it's the Ebbw meandering through this part of Newport.

In ancient Welsh laws, the word 'dyffrynt' was used to denote a river.

Following recent flooding, many residents would think it more apt than ever.

This Duffryn isn’t to be confused with other places of the same name which have a 'more correct' Welsh spelling like Dyffryn in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Nearer the city centre, there once was a ‘Maes’ or open field (as opposed to a closed field which would be a 'cae').

This can be used to signify that a battle took place there.

The 'glas' can mean blue, azure or green.

It tends to mean blue when applied to water, and green when it applies to land. So Maesglas probably refers to the green fields which once were there.

The tendency for Welsh names to move away from their ‘correct’ spelling has been reversed over the last hundred years.

The last century or so has seen a straightening of Welsh names and 'correcting' them.

So the ancient village in mid-Monmouthshire is Llandegveth while the reservoir built in 1965 is the more 'correct' Llandegfedd.

Here, as there was no other way of expressing the 'Ll' sound in English, it was retained, but the 'v' and 'th' were used for those sounds and replaced their Welsh equivalents.

There are other places whose roots, perhaps neither Welsh nor English, are obscured.

Bassaleg is one of these.

Some say that this name comes from Maes Aleg, Aleg being Welsh for Alectus the Roman general who was based at Caerleon.

A more plausible-sounding explanation links the name with its church – St Basil's.

Before the church was built there was a priory here dedicated to his name, which would have been known as 'Basili Ecclisia' (what the abbey would be called in Latin).

This would then have been contracted to 'Basil Ecc'.

There are some names which could be neither Welsh nor English.

The meaning of Pill in Newport is likely to come from the Norse for ‘tidal creek’.

Norse names, especially in Wales and the South West of England reflect how they settled only in coastal areas and islands.

Landing grounds would have been important to them from and so their name for this spot would endure.

Its full name of Pillgwenlly is another example of the varied nature of our names – one half from the men from the north and the other via yet another version of Gwynllyw.

It’s fitting that Pill, as a melting pot of peoples from across the world should have a name forged from two distinct cultures.

But place names across Gwent tell a similar story of languages meeting, sometimes in conflict, but eventually coming to a resolution.