GIFFARD versus GIFFORD
There is some dispute as to the "correct" form of the name of the village, which is variously spelt as Aveton Gifford or Aveton Giffard.
The modern name is clearly Aveton Gifford; it is the name used by the residents, by the church, by the school, by the parish council, by the Ordnance Survey and by the local authority. It is also the form that has been used throughout the period covered by the parish registers, which go back to about 1600.
However, the Gifford part of the name derives from the fact that "Walter Giffard held the manor in 1242" (English Place Name Society), and indeed the manor was held by the Giffard family from about 1100 to 1270 (Shaw), so the historically correct form of the name would be Aveton Giffard. However, the English Place Name Society records that the name was spelt with an 'o' as early as 1546, although they use the ancient name in their parochial index.
The historically correct form of the name led Shaw to entitle his book "A history of the parish of Aveton Giffard", although he says in his preface "This volume is offered to the members of the Parish of Aveton Gifford (sic) and to passing visitors in the hope that this study of the roots of the village may help to give us all a sense of unity and common community life. In the title of this book the word GIFFARD (sic) is used because it appears from this study that this was the original spelling. I have no authority from the Parish Council for this use." This last comment gives some indication of the objections that were raised about his spelling. Publication of the book was largely funded by advertisements taken out in the book by local traders - these all use the spelling Aveton Gifford, as do all the quotations in the book taken from historical documents, although some 20th century scholarly works have insisted on the ancient form.
The first part of the name is derived from the Celtic words for River (Avon or Awn) and Town (ton). The river is still shown on maps as the Avon or Aune; it rises on Dartmoor at Aune Head, and discharges into the sea near Aunemouth. Whence the phonetic form "Awton Gifford", which is how the name is pronounced by residents.
It is perhaps worth noting that the Gifford name causes problems elsewhere. Weare Giffard, in North Devon, was held by the same Giffard family. It is shown on modern maps as Weare Giffard, but the English Place Name Society uses the form Weare Gifford, while making almost identical statements about its origin as they do for Aveton Gifford, which they call Aveton Giffard!
20 Mar 1998, Chris Burgoyne.