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The « Chaussées Brunehaut »: toponymy and etymology
By Eric Capron
The toponym Chaussée Brunehaut can be circumscribed to a definite geographical territory.
Chaussées Brunehaut are found in the following areas: Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Somme, Val-d’Oise,
Oise, Marne, Belgian Hainaut, Belgian Lorraine. Historically, those areas were part of the Frankish
kingdoms of Neustria and Austrasia. This brings the question of why a queen of Austrasia –
Brunhilda, or, in French Brunehaut- gave her name to neustrian roads. Equally curious is the fact
that the name Brunehaut was not used on all the territory of the former kingdom of Austrasia.
Therefore, any supposed link with Queen Brunhilda is dubious.
The areas cited above fit the limits of the kingdom of Soissons and kingdom of Reims. Those
entities correspond with the core of the Frankish kingdom – set in 511 when Clovis died... If we
examine the toponymy from the end of the Western Roman Empire to the outset of the Frankish
Kingdom, we find a different etymology.
As we did with the French lieu-dit Les Helembis1, we may split the word Brunehaut in two parts:
1) Brune2) -haut
In “Brune” we can isolate –run- (as in the English verb to run), from the root –er-: to move quickly.
The Chaussées Brunehaut often follow the alignment of ancient roman roads, which were at the
time the fastest way to travel. In the second half, “-haut”, we recognize the element –haupt-, from
the root –kap-, that is: chief, main.
Finally we can restore the original Frankish name: Runhaupt, which translates as “main road,
fast travelling way”. Successive alterations changed it into Runehaut, then Brunehaut. This
etymology seems to us the most logical today.
1 Eric Capron, To be done with Vicus Helena, PDF document
Bibliography on toponymy research:
Éric Capron, Remarques étymologiques sur Vicus Helena, Linguistique Picarde
Eric Capron, Litus Saxonicum and Quentovic, Linguistique Picarde
For a finer analysis:
Chantal Capron, “A propos de Quentovic”, Linguistique Picarde, 35ème année, 3éme
trimestre 1995, fascicule n°135
Eric Capron, To be done with Vicus Helena, PDF document
(Translation by Eve Capron)
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