Thame Local History
Where Does the Name 'Thame' Come From?
The town of Thame takes it name from the river Thame, which flows
through the Vale of Aylesbury to Dorchester-on-Thames, where it meets
the river Isis, or Thames, and flows on towards London.
There are several rivers flowing into the Thames in the South Oxfordshire area, and these have Celtic names.
Rivers such as the Cherwell, Ock, Evenlode and Thame have names that derive from a Celtic language, although the spelling and pronunciation of these names have been considerably Anglicised.
The majority of villages in the surrounding area have names that date from the early Anglo Saxon period. These have common early English place name endings such as '-ton', '-den', '-worth', '-wick' and '-ham'.
Thame however, by virtue of taking the name of its river, has a Celtic name.
Celtic river names generally described the characteristics of the river, and the origin of 'Thame' lies in the Celtic for a dark, slow flowing river.
There are several other rivers in Britain that have the same or similar name, derived from the same Celtic root.
There is a river Tame that flows through Staffordshire, through Lichfield and Tamworth.
The town of Tamworth has had an English ending attached to the Celtic river name, something that did not happen to Thame in Oxfordshire.
(It is intriguing that the seventh century king of Mercia, Wulfhere, who is thought to have founded a royal minster at Thame, had his own palace at Tamworth, on the Staffordshire river Tame.)
There is a river Tame running through Greater Manchester, close to Dukinfield and Stalybridge, within the Tameside Metropolitan Borough.
There is a river Teme that flows down from the Welsh midlands towards Worcester.
There is also of course the river Tamar, that forms the border between Cornwall and Devon.
We must not forget the river Thames itself. Many regard the name Thames as the literal union of Thame and Isis, just as the two rivers themselves converge. This may or may not be the case.
The Celtic language that was once spoken in Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Manchester, Worcestershire, Devon and Cornwall can best be called 'Brythonic' and was spoken in those areas up to around 500 AD (much later in Cornwall).
When it began to be spoken is a matter of some debate. It may have been at the start of the Iron Age some thousand years before, or it may have been earlier.
The name of Thame is at least two thousand five hundred years old, it may be older.