Exonyms and endonyms in the naming of UK sporting stadia, or: ‘Where the fuck is the iPro Stadium?’

While listening to an excellent paper on the concept of exonyms and endonyms at ICOS 2014 last week, my simple mind wandered from the important role being played by the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names in creating guidelines for the use of exonyms, to the role played by Ageas in annoying the hell out of me for three days during the third test between England and India.

The Rose Bowl, Southampton, now called the Ageas Bowl.

I’ll get back to Ageas in a moment, but first I’m going to try and explain what endonyms and exonyms are (onomasts are brilliant at coming up with obscure terminology that’s difficult to understand, like, well, the term onomast, for example). Anyway, to put it simply, an endonym is a name given to a place or feature of the landscape used by the people of the community in or around that place or feature of the landscape. In contrast, exonyms are names used by people outside that community to refer to the same things, or names that are bestowed upon them by an external force or higher authority.

For example, England is an endonym used by the people of England to refer to the country they live in, while Angleterre, Inglaterra and Anglia are names used by people from France, Spain and Poland to refer to the same place. Similarly, Calcutta, Bombay and Bangalore were English exonyms used by British colonists to refer the Indian cities of Kolkatta, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

These don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. Plenty of exonyms become endonyms, as long as the community sees them as legitimate and are given time to get used to them. People are quite happy for John F. Kennedy Airport to be called John F. Kennedy Airport, and don’t insist on calling it Idlewild, even though its new name was given to it by the US government and not one created by the inhabitants of New York. (Officially, before it was called JFK, it was New York International Airport, but no-one actually called it that).

In other cases, when the use of a name has no obvious connection to the place it refers to, or where there is no reasonable justification for the imposition of a new name, it can cause problems. Some of them are serious (I won’t go into these). Others are just annoying for people who have to listen to the Sky commentary team say ‘…here at the Rose Bowl…sorry, the Ageas Bowl’ about a million times a day for three days while they’re trying to concentrate on watching the cricket…sorry, writing a thesis.

That’s because, other than having given Hampshire Cricket Club a big chunk of sponsorship money, the company Ageas has no connection to the ground that now takes its name. Most sports grounds have traditional names that were created in the same way as other toponyms. Some locate the point a ground fills within the landscape. For example, many grounds often just appropriate the name of the area they are found in: Hillsborough, Old Trafford, Anfield; the street they are located on: Gigg Lane, Elland Road, Bootham Crescent; or the park they are found in: Ewood Park, Sophia Gardens, Goodison Park.

These are all, if we’re being quite honest, pretty boring names. There is nothing about them in themselves that represent the clubs who play at them, other than the fact they have become associated with those clubs over time and have become a part of their history. (The only grounds I’m aware of that are named after clubs are Villa Park, which actually resides in Aston Park, and Celtic Park which is in Parkhead). Even names which sound interesting usually aren’t. The Hawthorns is so called because, before they could build the ground, they had to clear away the hawthorns that were growing there. Seriously. That’s it. There used to be some hawthorns there.


There are some interesting ground names. The Dripping Pan is named due to its historical use in the salt-making industry run by the Cluniac monks of Lewes Priory, and also its sunken position in the landscape, created during the building of Lewes’ first castle by William de Warenne.

The Dripping Pan, Lewes, sits in what is believed to be an excavation pit created during the construction of an early motte and bailey castle in the 11th century.


So, in and of themselves, the traditional names of sports grounds usually have little more merit that the names of corporate sponsors, other than the fact than they are already there, and have been for, in some cases, for a hundred years or more. Their names have been used by the people who have walked through their gates and stood in their stands, week-in, week-out, for generations. They’ve become part of the mental map of the local community and the club’s supporters, as well as the wider sport-watching public.

My mental map is filled with the names of grounds, parks, streets, rivers and seas in cities I have never been to and have never seen with my own eyes — both in England and all over the world. I know the River Taff runs behind Sophia Gardens. I can picture where Radcliffe Road, Kirkstall Lane and Vauxhall are in relation to the cricket stands which bear their names. And I know that the skyline behind Sabina Park in Jamaica is dominated by the Blue Mountains. So, while these names don’t necessarily carry any significant meaning themselves, there is usually a good, if often, mundane reason for them. More importantly, the grounds and their names have become intertwined with the identity of the clubs, their fans and the wider community. They are a part of something — and they have a recognisable place in the world of the people around them.

All of this means that, no matter how many times people repeat it, the Ageas Bowl sounds so bloody stupid. And it’s not even an old ground. Nor is its old name The Rose Bowl, a particularly special name. The ground was built in 2001 and its name supposedly taken from its bowl-like shape and the fact that there is a rose on the club’s crest. (Although the fact that there is already a famous sports ground in California with the same name which held the 1994 World Cup Final probably had something to do with it).

Even so, the name has been there from the start, and people are used to it. Parachuting a sponsor’s brand into it sounds strange and makes it difficult to remember. And replacing Rose with Ageas actually sounds MORE weird than simply changing the name completely. At least the fantastically nondescript Etihad Stadium, iPro Stadium and SWALEC Stadium don’t violate the integrity of previously held names. They are shit — but they are shit in their own right.

Some names barely adhere to the basic rules of naming. Lancashire and Durham cricket clubs now have grounds called Emirates Old Trafford and Emirates Durham. They don’t even sound like names! They are a bunch of words that don’t go together and don’t create anything name-like. Is Emirates describing Durham — or the other way round? I have literally no idea.

Even small, amateur club grounds now often bear the incongruous names of local businesses. I currently play cricket at Sandygate Wandisco and regularly play against a team whose ground is called The Life Skills Bowl, regardless of the fact that the ground is rectangular and generally boasts players with very few life skills.

The imposition of new names on old grounds most commonly results in annoyance, confusion and the assumption that a club is happy to sell off part of their history in pursuit of profit. Yet, oddly, as shown by the Rose Bowl, as well as other new grounds like the Madjeski Stadium and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, this is not the case when clubs move to completely new grounds. It seems like the best way to get your name associated with a sports ground is to be there at the beginning — just ask Thomas Lord. Being the first name associated with a new ground usually means it will stick around for a long time, even if the sponsorship doesn’t.

Lord’s is named after the first owner, Thomas Lord (so don’t forget the apostrophe).

In my mind, Leicester City, Bolton Wanderers and Huddersfield Town still play at the Walkers, Reebok and McAlpine stadiums, when in reality these grounds now all have new sponsors whose names I can never remember. (A part of me will always think of Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium as The Cellnet).

New names for new grounds take hold more easily, partly because there are no existing names to replace, so people can quite happily incorporate them into their mental map without creating confusion or conflict. But it’s also because they seem more legitimate to the people actually using them. Knocking down a venerable old ground, building a new stadium on an ex-industrial site and plonking the name of a corporate sponsor on it is hardly more respectful of a club’s history than renaming an existing ground for a few years. But the construction of a newer, bigger, better ground is generally seen by a club’s fans (eventually) as a sign of progress, even if the motive is usually just as profit-based. Any new name, no matter how corporate, is therefore more likely to be seen as legitimate.

It is this legitimacy that is key for a new name to take hold. Exonyms imposed upon local communities from outside, or above, are clearly much more likely to be opposed. But if they are seen as being in keeping with the traditions of that community, or fulfil a useful function, there is no reason they won’t be accepted. We see stands at sports grounds being renamed all the time, usually to commemorate the achievements of someone associated with the club. The Rose Bowl now has a Shane Warne Stand, Stamford Bridge has a Matthew Harding Stand and, wonderfully, the Kensington Oval in Barbados has a 3Ws Stand, after the great Walcott, Worrell and Weekes. These are much more easily accepted, due to their clear connection to the clubs, grounds and fans.

The Worrell, Walcott and Weekes Stand at the Kensington Oval, Barbados — commonly known as the 3Ws Stand.

But legitimacy can’t be created just by paying a few million quid and slapping a name on the wall. People will only use that name if they want to, if it means something to them, or it if it useful in some way that the previous one wasn’t. The majority of names become legitimate through time and repetition. Perhaps the only way to get around this is to not actually try to get around it, but to be in it for the long haul — long enough for people to get used to the name, but more importantly, actually believe that the name represents something important to or about the club. Perhaps if the owners of iPro continue to sponsor Derby County for the next fifty years their brand will become as synonymous with the club as the old Baseball Ground was — and I might actually remember where they hell it is. But I can’t imagine they, or I, will.