> I did a little more research on the spelling of "Belchamps", and
> in fact
> it was spelled in the Domesday Book as "Belcham", without the 'p'.
> Looking at the situation of the town, it is located some 20 miles from
> the Cam River (which flows through Cambridge). That is kind of far
> away to definitely be tied to the River name, but it could be that
> this was once the name of the region, rather than the river (which is
> no more crooked than any other river).
Celtic *kambo- "crooked" is very frequent in river names (see Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, 100). There is even one hereabouts in northern Austria, today
called "Kamp" (the p is due to the Old High German sound shift).
> The more interesting thing is that the River Cam is also called the
> River Rhee (King's River?). This might give some support to the
> notion that "cam" implies "noble". Adjacent communities include
> Kingston, Duxford, and Royston. However, one website I visited
> suggests that Rhee is from the Celtic "rea", meaning 'water'. I could
> find no such word among my resources. Can you comment?
Well, I never heard of "rea" "water". Seems to be esoteric web-wisdom. It's difficult to talk about place-name etymology without knowing when and where specific names
are attested. But if the etymon of the River Rhee were Celtic/Brittonic *ri:gyos "kingly" or something like it, I guess the great English vowel shift would have turned it into
something like "Rye" /ray/. There is a river Rye (spelling?) in Ireland, BTW, flowing north of Maynooth and forming the border between Leinster and the Uí Néill area in the
Middle Ages. Its OIr. name was "Ríge" "kingly".
But even if Rhee went back to a Celtic word for "royal", this would have no implication for Cam. The two would just be two different names for one river. Still, *kambo- means
"crooked" in Celtic, without any positive or noble connotations.