An etymological question

Graham and I drove a fair few miles around France in recent years as we looked for our new home.  In so doing we passed through, or by, a large number of towns and villages whose names ended in “gnac”, or “nac”, or “ac”.

The prevalence of this apparent suffix intrigued me.  “Googling” the term got me nowhere, unless you count the “Great Northwest Athletic Conference” as an answer, which it clearly wasn’t.  Having failed to learn the correct answer myself, I reverted to friends for help over dinner one night.

I, optimistically, thought that there was a simple explanation.  But I was wrong (about which I was perversely glad).  Somewhere ‘twixt main course and cheese/dessert I asked the question “OK, I’ve seen oodles of towns and villages: Cognac, Julliac, Paulliac, Montignac, and so on which all have a commonality of last syllable.  Am I right in thinking that it must mean something and, if so, what?”

Well, to my astonishment, no-one knew.  Not the French language teacher, not the French citizens.  So I asked if perhaps someone could find out for us.  A week later I enquired as to whether we had any ideas.  We didn’t, but a phone call was made to the linguist/historian husband of a fellow musician. Douglas, whom I have yet to meet, said ” In the pre-Roman days places would have been called “Julliacco”, which meant Jullius’ home.  The Romans came along and transformed it into Julliaccum, which was more pleasing to their ears.  In time, as they left and their influence waned, the “um” was dropped, leaving Julliac – still Jullius’s home, but changed.  That’ll be €300!” and he hung up the phone.

And so, we learned a little more about our adopted home.  Thank you, Douglas.

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