Nadder Terrace, Salisbury, Nadder Terrace, Wilton and Nadder Lane, Quidhampton

Adder.JPG Image: Highlandtiercel - Own work, Public Domain, Link

There is a Nadder Terrace in Churchfields, to the west of Salisbury, and another in Wilton. Nadder Lane is in Quidhampton, close to where the Nadder meets the Wylye.

All three roads are named after the River Nadder, which starts near Shaftesbury, joins the Wylye at Quidhampton, and then joins the Avon in Salisbury.

According to Rex Sawyer in his book ‘Nadder - Tales of a Wiltshire Valley’:

The Nadder derives its name from the Saxon naedre meaning a snake.[1]

Etymology of the word 'Nadder'

Nadder is an older version of today’s ‘adder’.

The ‘n’ in the phrase ‘a nadder’ migrated from the start of the word ‘nadder’ to the end of the word ‘an’.

This process seems to be much discussed by linguists. Mervin R. Barnes calls it the ‘nasal shift’ in a paper called ‘A nadder/An adder: The nasal shift[2].

As Mr Barnes notes, the ‘n’ can shift in either direction:

An ewt –> a newt

A napron –> an apron

An otch –> a notch

An ekename –> a nickname [3]

Other examples, from the line Etymology Dictionary, include:

A numpire –> an umpire

a neilond –> an island

a narawe –> an arrow

a noke –> an oak

a nappyle –> an apple[4]

Why is the river called 'The Nadder'?

The obvious reason for the river being named the ‘Nadder’ is that it twists about like a snake.

I’m sure this is true - I think it’s mentioned in Rex Sawyer’s book - but I don’t find it entirely satisfying. It’s similar to the derivation of ‘ham’ to mean a bend in the river, as in ‘Harnham’. My problem is that these definitions aren’t very definitive. All rivers are a bit like snakes - they are longer than they are wide and they tend to twist and turn. Similarly, at any given point you aren’t far from a bend in the river.

I would be interested to know whether any other rivers have names which are derived from words for snake.

The adder

The adder is the only poisonous snake in the UK.

Deaths from adder bites are rare - at the time of writing nobody has died from an adder bite in Britain for 20 years [5]. However, it can take up to a year to fully recover from an adder bite [6]

They eat small rodents, lizards and frogs - annually they eat ‘the equivalent of 9 voles each year’[7]

The adder’s lifespan is probably up to 20 years.

The biblical snake in the Garden of Eden is described as an adder in old English versions of the bible. [8]


[1] Nadder. Tales of a Wiltshire Valley Rex Sawyer, Hobnob Press, 2006. Page 2

[2] SpringerLink - Journal Article

[3] SpringerLink - Journal Article

[4] Online Etymology Dictionary, “adder | Search Online Etymology Dictionary”, Link: Retrieved: 10 January 2020

[5] Forestry Commission - Adder

[6] Wikipedia, “Vipera berus - Wikipedia”, Link: Retrieved: 10 January 2020

[7] Forestry Commission - Adder

[8] Encyclopaedia Britannica, “1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica/Adder - Wikisource, the free online library”, Link: Retrieved: 10 January 2020