Toot Toot Tooting

England has so many odd place names that after a while it's easy to stop wondering about them all. But Jan Borchers never stopped wondering about Tooting Bec, which is near Clapham, in London.
    Jan writes: "Every day I passed that tube station I wondered what the Bec in its name might stand for... But neither could any Londoners enlighten me as an alien, nor did I find anything suitable starting with Bec in my dictionary. Acronym server (http://www.chemie.fu-berlin.de/cgi-bin/acronym) returned "BEC: Background Equivalent Concentration(s)" -- not very satisfactory either... :-) Any ideas?"


I too should have wondered because I used to see Tooting Bec on the Northern line tube all the time while visiting an aunt in Tooting Broadway, the next suburb along.
    Bec or beck, it turns out, is an archaic word for brook, and there are also several towns called Bec in France, the best known probably being the one in Normandy, the birthplace of Theobald, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1138. The archaic beck came from Old Norse, and I've been unable to find out whether it is related to the French Bec.
    So that would making it Tooting Brook originally, which makes sense.
    But perhaps Tooting Bec actually owes its name to Saint Thomas a Beckett. Historians might shoot me down in flames here, but Tooting is quite close to Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Thomas a Beckett started his clerical career in the household of Theobald, who as already mentioned was born in Bec, France.
    Thomas later became the most famous Archbishop of Canterbury of all (so far) and the Tootingers could well have grabbed part of his name and tagged it onto their (then) village name.
    If historians gang up on me for this suggestion, I expect all available conspiracy theorists to come to my defence. Now, all we need to do is find out why Tooting is so-called ...

UPDATE: One S Herbert shoots me down in flames by writing that Tooting Bec was "Held in the gift of Richard de Tonbridge by the monks of St. Mary de Bec, and therefore styled the manor of Tooting-Bec." (The History of Tooting Graveny, 1897). M/r/s Herbert goes on to say "Tooting Bec (Totyngbek) was owned by the French Bec estates in the 12th century, until the wars with France. See also Bygone Balham and Tooting Bec, J.Harvey Bloom, 1926."

Another wonderful hypothesis bites the dust, but we keep trying.

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