The meaning of zoy

The closure of the road north from the village has meant a diversion westward, down a precarious hill, along a road with seven sweeping bends, and then skirting Middlezoy, driving through Weston Zoyland, and passing a sign for Chedzoy.

“Zoy” could mean almost anything. The local dialect has a capacity for changing words beyond recognition. The village of Stogursey outside of Bridgwater was the home of the de Courcy family, the most famous member of which was John de Courcy, who conquered Ulster in the Twelfth Century. Originally known as Stoke, the village became Stoke de Courcy, and in the vernacular of the local people slowly changed in pronunciation and spelling to Stogursey.

When I was young, we were told that “zoy” was from a Dutch word, that the “zoy” villages were on the Levels and that the Dutch had given advice on the drainage of the Levels If anyone doubted the explanation, old maps of Holland showing the Zuider Zee could be pointed at. In retrospect, it seemed a doubtful story, each village has a medieval church, surely built long before the Somerset lowlands were drained?

Pondering the names as I drove the road on a bright, icy morning, I decide that I should settle the matter for myself.

Googling the names of the villages, this evening,  produced suggestions of what “zoy” might mean. The Wikipedia entry for Chedzoy suggests, “The name of the village is pronounced “Chidgey” or “Chedzey”, and derives its name from being Cedd’s Island. The “zoy” part of the name being derived from eg or ieg meaning island”. This seemed straightforward, the word was from old English. However, the entry for Weston Zoyland says, “The name of the parish derives from its location on the “island” of Sowy, an area of slightly higher ground on the Somerset Levels between the River Cary and the River Parrett.” So, it is not “zoy,” but “sowy?” The explanation of the origin of Middlezoy seems a combination of the other two interpretations, “The name Middlezoy meaning the middle stream island, derives from Sowi, the name of Glastonbury Abbey’s major estate, sow, a British river name from a root meaning flowing. The extra i is derived from the Saxon ig for island.”

Re-reading the entries, it seems that “zoy” means something slightly different in each case. In Chedzoy, it is just “island;” in Weston Zoyland, it is “the island of sowy;” and in Middlezoy, it is “flowing island.” I think I like the Dutch version better.

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