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Why Brummies Why not Birmies?


Carl Chinn

Why Brummagem? It's simple, the people of this city are not known as Birmies after Birmingham but instead we are called Brummies after Brummagem.

That name for the city is as correct as is that of Birmingham and is one which working class folk both here and in the Black Country have used for centuries.
The term Brummagem arose in the middle ages when the 'r' and the 'i' or 'e' in Birmingham or Bermingham were reversed in local speech. Thus in 1189 a document spelled the surname of a member of the de Bermingham family as 'de Brummingeham' and in 1200 a property transaction noted 'Birmingham'

This was a common spelling by early 15th century and Morden's map of Warwickshire in 1695 states Brimingham alias Birmingham. It was also the case that spellings of Birmingham vary between 'Birmingham' Bermingham' and 'Burmingham' Because of the shifting of the vowel and the 'r', Burmingham could then become Brummingham. Finally, we need to take account of another linguistic process - that of the change from 'ingham' to 'agem' 

This shift is indicated in 1245 when the name de Bermincham appears in a patent roll. When this variant was shortened by dropping the 'n' then Burminicham became apparent in 1317. With reversal or the 'r' and the 'u' this shortened form became Brymechem in 1402. From this developed Brummagem and by 1643 this pronunciation had become accepted widely, as made plain in a pamphlet published during the civil war which describes 'Brumagem'.

As stressed by Margaret Gelling, an authority on English place names, in Middle English many place names had two or more forms as the concept of a single correct name is peculiar to modern literate societies.

In the Oxford English reference Dictionary, Brummagem is given as meaning cheap and showy or counterfeit. This definition emerged as a result of the ill reputation gained by the forgers and false minters such as William Booth of Great Barr. In an attempt to counter prejudice against Brummagem goods, it seems likely that in later 18th century leading manufactures such as Matthew Boulton encouraged the use of the name Birmingham. This led to the belief that Brummagem was an inferior name. It is not. Its use reflects working-class loyalty to our city and we should not abandon it. Nor should we abandon our history. Birmingham's past belongs to all of us - whoever we are, wherever we are from originally and whatever our class, our colour or our creed.

We must pass on our past to our children and their children

Reproduced from Brummagem magazine by kind permission of
Carl Chinn
The Department of Modern History,
The University of Birmingham,
B15 2TT



Dr Carl Chinn MBE is a passionate Brummie born and bred. He is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Birmingham. He is a Radio Presenter with shows on weekday afternoons and Sunday Lunchtime on BBC Radio WM. Carl also the author of many books about Brum and has a new monthly magazine published called "Brummagem"




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