A good article from the BBC, exploring how ten London Underground stations got their peculiar names:
How tube stations got their unusual names
Scan a map of the London Underground for the first time, and you’ll likely notice that it is more than the ground-breaking design that seems imaginative. The names of the stations, too, can seem curiously, even bizarrely, whimsical. Some seem suited better to a medieval fantasy (Knightsbridge, Queensway) or a children’s book (Piccadilly Circus, Elephant & Castle) – and others still make Londoners giggle (Shepherd’s Bush, Cockfosters).
But these names weren’t chosen simply to give city-dwellers an alternate world to imagine as they hurtle beneath the capital. Some of their origins, in fact, date back millennia.
In summary, the stations are:
Covent Garden: The name for this Tube station would be almost self-explanatory – if it weren’t for the ‘n’ that went walkabout at some point since the Middle Ages. By the 13th Century, the site was a walled-off area of orchards and gardens which belonged to the monks of Westminster Abbey. They referred to it as “the garden of the Abbey and Convent” and then, of course, as “Convent Garden”.
Elephant & Castle: This one in south London, oddly enough, most likely comes from the Worshipful Company of Cutlers – a medieval guild of craftsmen who made swords and knives. Granted in 1622, their crest included an elephant… carrying a castle. (But I’d always thought it was named after a Cockney corruption of ‘Infanta Castille’ a venerable Spanish princess from somewhere in English history.)
Cockfosters: Cockfosters was once the location of Enfield Chase, a royal park home to nearly 8,000 acres and 3,000 deer – as well as to foresters, who protected the park from would-be poachers or woodcutters. The word for the chief forester? Cock forester.
Tooting Bec: The name goes back more than 1,300 years. Tooting is Saxon in origin, and first recorded in the 7th Century, as belonged to Tota or his friends. The Bec comes from Bec comes from Bec abbey, in Normandy, who grabbed the land after the 1066 invasion.
Knightsbridge: The word ‘bridge’ comes from Old English ‘brycġ’, of the same meaning. Here, it refers to a crossing over the West Bourne River – one of the ‘lost rivers’ of London, which was re-routed through an underground sewer in the 19th Century. A ‘knight’, on the other hand, meant a boy or young man, particularly one in someone’s employment.
Maida Vale: The dip in land is indeed a ‘vale’. But Maida was a town in Calabria, Italy that became famous when the English crushed Napoleon’s allies in an 1806 battle. A pub called the Hero of Maida, named in honour of the battle, has vanished, but not before lending its name to the street.
Aldgate: Around 190, when London was Londinium, the Romans walled the city; they also built six gates, including one here. Versions of these gates (and of the wall) existed into the 1700s. This one was known as Aldgate. Why ‘Ald’ – that’s more difficult.
Piccadilly Circus: The alternate meaning of ‘circus’ refers to a round junction where several streets meet. The other half of its name, is from ‘piccadill’ a large, ruffled collar that was the height of fashion in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries.
Queensway: Of course, named after Queen Victoria. But Queensway has an especially sweet story: named in her honour soon after she ascended to the throne, the road was where she rode horses as a child growing up in nearby Kensington Palace.
Shepherd’s Bush: Once a rural byway, a ‘shepherd’s bush’ referred to the shelter that a shepherd would make by pruning a hawthorn bush.
Read the full article here.
It does mean you can call the stations on your layout absolutely anything, and still be prototypical. I’ve always rather liked ‘Queen Camel’, a village just off the A303. Wikipedia tells me that:
The name “Camel” derives not from the animal but from “cantmael”, the name of the place in the 10th century. “Cantmael” possibly derives from the Celtic words canto “district” and mael “bare hill”. The “Queen” in the village’s name is probably Queen Eleanor, the wife of Henry III, who owned land in the area in the 13th century.
Now I know – I wondered every time we drive past the signpost!