House names

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Poingdestre Farm, Mont au Pretre, St Helier, named after one of Jersey's oldest families

This article by Joan Stevens, one of the acknowledged 20th century experts on Jersey houses, was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966

When you build a house one of the important decisions is what to call it, second only in importance to the names you choose for your children. If you buy a house you may want to change its name, or you may wonder what the name means, and if it is a recent or an old established name.

People so often ask: "What was the old name for this house? They are right to wonder, and to wish to restore an original name if possible.

Field names

In the case of a new house, perhaps the nicest of all is to call it by the name of the field in which it is built. The field name may not always be suitable, but when it can be used it may preserve an ancient place name from extinction.

In the case of the old house, one may say that if the name is in English, it is not very old, probably not more than a century. If the house is older than that it may have had an older name, but it is equally likely that it never had one at all.

Before the days of postal services, what need was there for a name? With small close-knit communities, each with its parish allegience, what need was there for differentiation? Every man knew his neighbours and where they lived, and the house would be described as La Maison de Monsieur Tel et tel, or a group of houses would be known under the name of the locality, such as Le Rondin or Le Marais, or perhaps a family group such as Ville es Gaudins or Ville es Normans.

Old contracts tantalisingly refer to sa maison but scarcely ever give a clue as to what house is meant. Occasionally there is an indication. such as sa maison a la Queruée and one may be lucky in finding carved initials of the same date which made identification almost certain. In the case quoted, the house was that known as Green Farm, St Martin.

If a house had some particular attribute such as Le Puits, La Pompe, Le Pont, Le Blanc Pignon, or La Ronde Cheminée, it might be so called; or it might be referred to as La Veille Demeure or Le Vieux Menage or L'Anciennété if it was older than others near by.

Named after owner

Often a house would take the name of a one-time owner; an example is Badier in St Lawrence, though it has not yet been discovered when a man named Badier lived there, but probably before 1684, when Jean Remon put up his own initials.

Another example is Bandinel, named after its long association with that family, and other instances are La Maison Maret, in Trinity, and La Ferme Morel in St Lawrence. La Maison de la Rocque in St Helier, was referred to in a document of 1746, as M Mathieu de la Cloche pour sa maison de la Rocque.

Maison Pelgue in St Saviour was so called from its association, which goes back to 1671 at least, with the Pelgue family, Les Aix in St Peter is an unusual example of a house which has born a distinctive name for a very long time. La Citadelle in St Lawrence has baffled all attempts to discover the reason for its unique name.

The name La Blanche Pierre suggests the site of a pre-historic menhir or standing stone, which may still he nearby.

La Hougue and La Houguette, or Le Houguillon, are likely to he near the site of a pre-historic mound or stone circle, even if the earth mound and actual stones have disappeared in the course of time, and the stones used as building material.

Houses called La Chapelle often, but not always, give the site of an ancient chapel, and La Croix usually indicates the position of a wayside cross, smashed by religious zealots in about 1550.

Family names

Another group of house names was formed from the family who were one-time owners, rather than an individual owner, such as La Gruchetterie, La Palloterie, La Fevrerie, La Guillaumerie and La Gabourellerie. La Sarsonnerie, derived from Richardson, was the home of the late Rev George Balleine, Jersey's loved and distinguished historian. In a contract of 1858, the adjoining property of La Valleuse (La Valleure in some contracts) is a mention of La Richardsonnerie.

Among the most common of names is La Fontaine, water being of supreme importance. The oak and the elm figure in a large number of cases, in various forms like La Chesnaie, La Chene, La Chenee; these are often translated into English, witness the numerous forms of oak in names, and a place such as The Elms, in St. Mary, until recent years called Les Ormes.

Perhaps the most frequent of all is La (or Les), Chasse. This is a word which may in origin have indicated an area designated for hunting, with an access road across it. In the course of time the word came to mean the road only, and by 1700, and perhaps somewhat earlier, it had taken on its present meaning.

This does not mean that every house called La Chasse had its private hunting ground, but that when the house was so named, the word had come to mean a drive or avenue. A chasse or cache, appears in almost every contract of sale, indicating a lane leading to the house, or access from one field to another.

Perhaps the most famous one in the island is La Cache es Demoiselles at St Martin, and in that case one explanation offered is that the young girls of the village used to walk there in the evenings, after church, and hope to meet their young men. The word is known in Normandy, with the same implication, of a small lane, but not elsewhere in France.

Although the name of your house may be of no importance, and no age, and merely the whim of a one-time owner, it may, if you are lucky, be of great interest and of some age. If you're thinking of changing it, think carefully before you do so, lest you lose some fragment of local history.

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