Pennard Hill. On the Way to Glastonbury in southwest England is Pennard Hill. Waves of conquest (and language change) have rolled back and forth across this area. The Britons, speaking Gaelic (a branch of Celtic), were here before the Romans came. When the post-Roman Welsh of the Arthurian era controlled the area, speaking another branch of Celtic, they must have asked what that landscape feature over there was, and the Gaelic-speakers explained “that’s the hill,” (ard, in early Gaelic).(1) Not knowing this word, the Welsh thought this was a name, and called it Ard Hill. A hill is Welsh is pen,(2) so the hill was now Pen Ard. When the anglo-saxon speaking people moved into the area and asked after the name of that feature over there, the natives explained it was Pen Ard, so the new arrivals called it Pennard Hill, or “hill hill hill.” This is the only one I know of in English that has gone to a triple redundancy, but England has numerous Avon Rivers–and Avon just means “river” in Celtic. The Town of Derby is another example, since “-by” means “town” in Danish. (A “bylaw” is a law of the town. Strangely, though, “byway” and similar words are believed to just combine “by-“ (to the side of) to connote a secondary or subsidiary thing.)
A marvelous story is attributed to the late Finnish linguist Pentti Aalto about a lake in Karelia, which is now an area of Russia on the Finnish border. The locals called it simply “järvi,” “the lake.” Then the Russians came and asked what the name of the lake was. They were told, so the name in Russian became Ozero Järvi, or “Lake Lake.” Then the Germans came and asked what the name of the lake was and were told and so the name of the lake became Ozerojärvisee (“Lake Lake Lake”).
1. Rather, àiridh, in MacBain, An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language.
2. Related to pinnacle, etc.