Sunday, December 16, 2018

Brummagem name

Birmingham folk are not known as Birmies after Birmingham, rather we are called Brummies after Brummagem. This is the name used by working-class people both in Birmingham and the Black Country. In her article entitled 'Towards a rehabilitation of Brummagem', the late Margaret Gelling, a renowned expert on place names, explained that developments in the spelling and pronunciation of Birmingham have left us with a 'correct' form Birmingham and a 'vulgar' form Brummagem. This dichotomy arose because of a number of factors. First of all the 'r' and 'i' in 'Bir' were reversed. This occurred often, for example the word bird was 'brid' in Old English. Thus in 1189 a document spells the surname de Brummingeham and in 1200 a property transaction notes Brimingham. This was a common spelling by the early fifteenth century and Morden's Map of Warwickshire in 1695 states Brimingham alias Birmingham.
Secondly, early spellings of Birmingham vary between 'Bir', 'Ber' and 'Bur'. Finally, there is the addition of 'agem' for 'ingham'. The 'dg' substitution for 'ng' is not unique to the case of Birmingham and indeed is frequent in names where 'ing' is followed by a final syllable beginning with 'h' or 'w'. Sometimes 'ch' took the place of 'ng', as in 1245 when de Bermincham appears in a patent roll. When this variant was shortened by dropping the 'n' then Burmicham became apparent in 1317. With the reversal of the 'r' and the 'u' this shortened form became Brymecham in 1402. From this developed Brummagem and by 1643 this pronunciation had become accepted widely, as made plain in a pamphlet published during the Civil War which describes 'Brumegem'. As Margaret Gelling stresses, in Middle English many place names had two or more forms as the concept of a single correct name is peculiar to modern literate societies.
In the Oxford English Reference Dictionary, Brummagem is given as meaning cheap and showy or counterfeit. This definition emerged as a result of the ill reputation gained by forgers and false minters such as William Booth (see Great Barr). In an attempt to counter prejudice against Brummagem goods, it seems likely that in the later eighteenth century leading manufacturers such as Matthew Boulton encouraged the use of the name Birmingham. This led to the belief that Brummagem was an inferior name. It is not. Its use reflects working-class loyalty to our city. As Margaret Gelling affirms, the use of Brummagem is as correct as that of Birmingham and 'long may it flourish'.


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