Cambridge is known in Latin as Cantabrigia, and I do not recall seeing other names in use. What is the etymology of this name and how does it relate to the English one? It does remotely resemble the English name, but not quite. Based on what I have managed to find online, the English name has went through a number of different versions.

I am having hard time telling whether the Latin name is a Latinization of some English version or a translation of some sort (presumably in two parts: canta+brigia), and how old the Latin name might be. Could someone shed some light on the origin of the Latin name? Due to the nature of the university located in the city, I hope there is a fair chance for this question to be answerable with nice sources.

3 Answers 3


It is a 17th-century Latinisation of the Anglo-Saxon name for the town:

"The term is derived from Cantabrigia, a medieval Latin name for Cambridge invented on the basis of the Anglo-Saxon name Cantebrigge."

Cantebrigge, also known as Grentebrige, is itself an evolution of the earlier name Grantabrycge - bridge over the Granta.

The Roman name for the town was in fact Duroliponte.

ADDIT: Cantebrigge eventually came to be pronounced/spelt Cambridge. It was only then that the river Granta came to be renamed the Cam in order to fit in with what was, by then, the folk etymology that Cambridge must mean a bridge over the Cam. See here and here.


I don't know any specifics, but I'll present my best guess.

According to Wikipedia, "Cambridge" was known in Anglo-Saxon times as "Grantebrycge", and the river it was on was known as the "Granta".

Later, in Middle English times, the town became renamed as "Cambridge", and part of the river that went through it was renamed the "Cam", after the town.

So, here's what I think is probably a reasonable scenario: the original name was Latinized as *Grantabrigia, and when "Cambridge" replaced the original name of the town, the Latin name was accordingly adjusted to "Cantabrigia"

Now of course, this leaves unanswered why Grantebrycge became Cambridge in the first place, there being no obvious phonological motivation for the change of [gr] to [k], but I think it gives motivation for the Latin form given the change in the English name.


The “Dictionary of British Place names” writes:

Grontabricc c.745, Cantebrigie 1086 (db). ‘Bridge on the River Granta’. Celtic river-name (see Grantchester) + OE brycg. The change from Grant- to Cam- is due to Norman influence. Cambridgeshire (OE scīr ‘district’) is first referred to in the 11th cent. The later river-name Cam is a back-formation from the place name.

And similarly in a lot of other books. I fail to see, however, why “Norman influence” should have caused a shift of Gr- to C-. Perhaps dissimilation under the influence of the -br- in the third syllable?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.