Origin of the name
omething that may never be proven, is the origin of our city's name. The theory that some historians subscribe to, is that Coventry
has evolved from the name Cofantreo
. It's supposed that an early settler in the area by the name of Cofa
, marked his boundary with a tree
, (not an uncommon thing to do in Saxon times) hence the name "Cofantreo" which is thought to have meant "Cofa's tree". [Footnote 4
Although, at first, the 'n' in the middle of the Cofa-n-treo
appears out of place, I am grateful to researcher Rob MacDonald for informing me of the Old English usage of an 'n' in the genitive case, (similar to the modern possessive 's
) therefore implying that the tree
belonged to Cofa
. However, with reference to it first seen in 1053, Cofantreo was not the first spelling of the town's name. Neither is there any firm evidence that "Cofa
" was ever a name used by the Saxons, but despite the lack of any compelling evidence, this remains the preferred origin by many.
The earliest reference to our settlement was actually Couaentree
. Information from David McGrory's book "A History of Coventry" tells us that the first part of the word, Couaen
(and sometimes spelt "Cune
") refers to a meeting place of waters. The river Sherbourne was thought to have originally been named the Cune, and used to meet with Radford Brook where they flowed into the Mill Dam
, once part of the larger Bablake, so Couaentree may have referred to the "settlement at the place where the waters met". [Footnote 5
The name was spelt in many different ways during the first few centuries, and variations include the following:
Couaentree, Couentre, Coventria, Cofentreo, Cofantreo, Cofentreium, Coventrev & Couintre.
In the latter few centuries, spellings used have been;
Covintry, Covingtre, Coventrey & Coventre
before evolving into what we are familiar with today.
Please note; Old English didn't use the letter v
, so therefore in the early spellings where a letter u
was used, it might have been, in fact, pronounced as a v
, and wouldn't have sounded as alien as it looks when printed. Similarly, the letter f
was pronounced v
by the Saxons, therefore, for instance, Cofentreo
would have been pronounced Coventreo
. (This usage is still commonplace today - think about the word 'of
There are many other theories about the reason for the name too, holding varying levels of credence. Some legends associate the town with the Celtic-Roman water goddess, Coventina, but perhaps a leading contender for the original meaning is Coventre
derived from the words "Coven"
, meaning "Convent" and "tre"
, a celtic word meaning "settlement" or "town", giving rise to "Convent Town". [Footnote 6
] This was certainly the view taken in the 18th century as engraved on the official 1749 survey map, and many leading historians over the last few centuries have also held this opinion. Bearing in mind the town's probable origin - a settlement surrounding an early Saxon abbey - this argument is my personal favourite, too.
With so many feasible theories about the name, I imagine that the discussion will continue for some time....