The origin of any place name is open to debate. The town of Gravesend and the Borough of Gravesham are no exception. It has been remarked that the Borough name of Gravesham - adopted in 1974 - is a version of the town name Gravesend. But that is by no means so!
In fact, one of the earliest records of the town is in the Domesday Survey of 1086, where it was called Gravesham. Later, during the Middle Ages, it was a known interchangeably as Gravesend or Gravesham. Thus, the name has a very firm base in history.
There are two main schools of opinion as to the true origin of the name itself. The view with which most scholars agree was expressed as early as 1576 by the historian, William Lambarde, in his book entitled “Perumbulation of Kent”.
Lambarde claimed that: “The original cause of the name of this place lies hid in the usual name of the Officer lately created in this town - he is commonly called Portreve, but the word anciently and truly founded in Portgereve, that is to say, the limit, bound or precinct of such a rule or office.”
The early scholars who subscribed to Lambarde’s view added as a crowning statement that the word ‘ham’ meant a homestead or village that would have inevitably grown gradually into a town. So we have Grevesham.
The second - and slightly less popular theory - is that the prefix of the place name ‘Grave’ probably came from the word ‘Greva’ used in the Domesday Book. This signified a coppice or small wood or grove - as in the Latin ‘Grava’. Either theory completely rules out any possibility of the name Gravesend being linked in any way with the town’s waters being the furthest point for burials at sea, or Gravesend having any connection with the Black Death when, it was suggested, bodies of plague victims were brought to the area to be buried to avoid spreading the disease in London.
"Discover - Facts on Gravesend - What's in a name Gravesham or Gravesend?", leaflet available from Towncentric.