SNSBI Twenty-eighth Spring Conference 2019

This meeting was held at the University of Nottingham. The program, abstracts, and some of the slides are below.

Friday 26 April

Saturday 27 April

Sunday 28 April


John Beckett (University of Nottingham) Opening lecture: ‘Laxton (Nottinghamshire): England’s last open field village’

Laxton is unique. It is the only village in England which still has a working manor court, protected by legislation (1977). It has never been fully enclosed, and so it offers us an opportunity to studying the pre-enclosure landscape, fields, furlongs, strips and names galore. John Beckett has been researching and advising on the history of the village for thirty years. He is President of the Laxton History Group, and a trustee of the village’s Visitors’ Centre. In this talk he will be telling us something about the village and its history, and also about the current position, where the owner, the Crown Estate Commission, is trying to sell the property but to ensure that the historical traditions at Laxton are maintained.

David Parsons (Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies, University of Wales) ‘Rolly, Judith and The Snogs: some place-name puzzles from Oswestry’

In an undemanding early morning paper, I shall discuss some puzzling place-names from a bilingual border area. In some cases I have solutions or suggestions to offer; in others I am simply looking for help.

Justin Ó Gliasáin (Fiontar & Scoil na Gaeilge, DCU) ‘Microtoponyms in the baronies of Offaly East and Offaly West, County Kildare’

This presentation will give an overview of my PhD research which focuses on microtoponyms in the Baronies of Offaly East and Offaly West in County Kildare. Details will be given of the overall aims of the project as well as on the sources used to gather microtoponym data. Examples of some of the microtoponyms collected to date will also be given.

Jennifer Scherr ‘Ford names in Somerset’

A corpus of some 140 names in -ford has been gathered from the 1:50000 OS gazetteer whilst collecting for a dictionary of Somerset place-names. To this have been added some names mentioned in charter bounds and elsewhere. An attempt is made to classify these according to Gelling & Cole's The landscape of place-names (2014) and to identify their significance in the landscape. Some individual names with uncertain meaning will be looked at in more detail.

Ann Cole ‘John Blair’s clusters and the directional tūns’

In Building Anglo-Saxon England, John Blair noted that places bearing certain -tūn names tend to cluster together, among them the Burtons and Charltons plus some functional tūns such as Stratton and Drayton. It was too big a topic to cover in Building, so John decided to discuss it in a separate book. He invited me to join him in the project and suggested that I look at the directional tūns (Aston or Easton, Norton, Sutton, and Weston) to determine their distribution and function – if any – in the clusters. Meanwhile we have been on the lookout for other topographical-element-plus-tūn names which might be functional, the prime suspects being hōh-tūn and halh-tūn. By dividing the four sets of directional tūns into DB/parish and post-DB/non-parish groups it has proved possible to get some idea of their function and from what places they take their directional names.

Richard Coates (University of the West of England) ‘Naming Shirehampton and the name Shirehampton’

Using the example of the place-name Shirehampton, I explore (1) the complications involved in understanding the history of a particularly difficult place-name and in the history of the naming of the place in question, (2) some practical consequences of different understandings of the place-name at different points in history, and (3) the historical transfer of this name into other onomastic categories. Some new understandings of the name and its history are proposed. The paper can be taken as a demonstration of the lexical-semantic and phonological difficulties of historical onomastics (and therefore as academically routine), but also in the pleasures of travelling unexpected byways in the history of onomastics and in cultural history. I endeavour to affirm by example, in case it needed to be done, the case for historical onomastics as a discipline which ranges more widely than establishing the etymology of a name.

Fred Puss (Estonian Biographical Centre) ‘Estonian peasant surnames of English origin’

Estonia has historically been under the rule of Denmark, the German Order, Sweden, Poland, Russia, but never under Great Britain. The higher class has since the 17th century been mostly of German, in lesser numbers of Swedish and Russian descent. This is also the reason why in the 1820s and 1830s, when Estonian peasants, after having been recently released from serfdom, during the general name-giving process received very many German surnames in addition to Estonian ones. The peasants were often not asked about their own choice for a surname, but those were assigned by landlords or clergymen. There are a few places in Estonia where surnames of clearly English origin appear. For example, in one area the peasants received surnames like Bastard, Drink, Karpenter, Muddy, Potter etc, in another area Bristol, London, Lieverpohl etc. Several of those surnames are still being carried by Estonians (London by 80 people, Bristol by 41 etc). It is the subject of this paper to discuss how those names came to be, what could be the reason of giving those specific names to peasants and who were the persons who made up those names. Author applies prosopographical-territorial method to find answers to those questions.

Peter McClure (Institute for Name-Studies, University of Nottingham) ‘The English surname detective: recent encounters with phantoms, doppelgängers, shape changers, impostors and victims of mistaken identity’

The experience of editing the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland has brought to light numerous examples of surnames whose deceptive appearances can lure surname historians and etymologists into mistaken conclusions about their origins. This paper illustrates the skills and methods that are needed to identify and unmask a myriad of surname disguises.

Eila Williamson (University of Glasgow) ‘Place-names on the Scottish border’

For the past three years the Recovering the Earliest English Language in Scotland: Evidence from Place-Names (REELS) project has been investigating place-names on the Scottish border through its focus on the historical county of Berwickshire. As the project enters its final stages, this paper will present an overview of findings to date, the methodological challenges encountered, project fieldwork and outreach, and implications for the wider Survey of Scottish Place-Names and cross-border comparative work.

Mícheál Ó Mainnín and Frances Kane (Queen’s University Belfast) ‘Scottish influence on the place-names of Co. Antrim’

The Scottish influence on Irish place-names is most often considered in the context of the Plantation of Ulster from 1609; the settlement of large numbers of Lowland Scots in Ireland from that point is manifest in the presence of Scots elements (such as burn and brae) in the toponymy of Ulster and a further dimension of this influence can be seen in the employment of Scottish surnames in Ulster place-names (see McKay 2009). This paper seeks to establish if there is any other evidence for connectedness with Scotland in the place-names of east Ulster in view of the geographical proximity of County Antrim to the south-western highlands and the early connection between the two countries (going back to the fifth century at least) in terms of a shared Gaelic language. It will consider the elements most commonly found in County Antrim and seek to establish if any of these are distinctive within the Irish context and shared with neighbouring parts of Scotland. It will also look at other evidence for Scottish influence such as the presence of Albanach ‘Scot(tish)’ in place-names and the presence of what might possibly be Gaelic surnames of highland origin.

Liora Bigon (Holon Institute of Technology) ‘Enhancing place names studies acumen: historiographic reflections between (Urban) Africa and Israel/Palestine’

Embracing a synoptic perspective, we shall analyse research tendencies in place-name studies (toponymy) regarding sub-Saharan Africa, in light of their wider interference with other area-studies research traditions in toponymy, that is, of Europe and Israel/Palestine. While the last two decades are characterised in a “critical turn” in place-name scholarship and self-conscious engagement with critical theories of space and place, only meagre number of references touches sub-Saharan Africa (and Latin America and Asia). In addition, the recent research is over-concerned with the understanding that place naming reflects the power of modern political regimes, nationalism and ideology. The preoccupation with political power's control over both landscape and history is especially true for publications in English, which tend to be centred on the West and Eastern Europe, with only few geographic exceptions. The Euro-centrism is even enhanced considering the manifested uni-directionality of some of the research, such as that on street-renaming policies in European cities following revolutionary changes of political regimes, often disconnected from bottom-up responses on the part of the urban residents. It is also enhanced because of the classical methodological problem within the field of human geography, of the reliance on maps and gazetteers to study place names, on the expense of participant observation, interviews, and ethnographic methods. Similarly, in the case of the highly ideological and contested environment of Israel/Palestine, the Jewish-Arab conflict has engendered not only a divided and split space along status, ethnic and national lines ‒ but also split place-name historiographies with a remarkable contextual arrogance. By referring to some recent pioneering collective projects in place-name studies regarding the global South and by showing their potential enriching quality in terms of methodology and content, we strive to contribute for a de-Eurocentrisation of toponymic scholarship. This is through pointing on some inspiring and inclusive research directions, highlighting urban histories and colonial legacies.

Rob Briggs ‘A new lease of life (or three) for understanding the Old English -ing4 connective particle’

The fixation with chronology evident in a lot of Old English (OE) place-name studies, especially in the late 20th century, has too often been at the expense of due appreciation of the context in which early name-forms occur. Documentary sources have been mined for early attestations without adequate thought being given to their political, legal, or social backgrounds, and what these factors may contribute towards understanding the operative meanings of the name elements in question. So it is with the OE -ing4 connective particle, as classified by A. H. Smith more than 60 years ago. Identified as not being among the name-forming elements in earliest use in OE toponymy, it appears to have come into use after the advent of reliably-dated documentary sources in the final third of the 7th century CE. Despite the possibilities this affords for obtaining a detailed understanding of what it signified and why it was used, the particle tends to be translated in a very general manner (“associated with”). This paper will begin by surveying the documentary sources to establish when and where -ing4 first came into use in the OE toponomasticon. It will then move on consider the broader context, in particular legal and tenurial institutions, in order to offer new suggestions about the origins and most appropriate translation of the element. Slightly later textual testimony will also be noted that appears to represent either evidence to the contrary or a development in the significance of the -ing4 particle within a number of decades of its emergence in the extant documentary record. The research to be reported in this paper is incomplete, and the paper is intended to act as a catalyst for discussion and further research into the issues raised. Ultimately, it is hoped that it will demonstrate the potential for (re)considering certain OE place-name types and elements in relation to the different forms of tenure known to have operated during the Anglo-Saxon period.

William Patterson ‘The place-name Romanno in Peeblesshire’

The name which is now Romanno appears on record in the 12th century, in a grant de terra de Rumanac of land in feudo de Rothmaneic, to Holyrood Abbey (1165). Thereafter there is an alternation generally between Rumanach and Romanoch, till loss of final consonant as is typical of Gaelic place-names in middle to later Scots; Rothmaneic is thus an outlier, the only form containing the apparent first element in full. The name is generally explained on the lines of ‘monks’ earthwork or high status dwelling surrounded by an earthen rampart’ (Scots Gaelic ràth < Old Irish ráith < early Celtic rātis) + manach ‘monk’ in genitive plural). There are many ancient earthwork ‘forts’ and ‘settlements’ on the map, including a particularly impressive one at Whiteside Hill. This ‘monks’ rath’ has long seemed problematical, for reasons including that the francophone linguistic milieu of Holyrood Abbey and the aristocratic grantor would not have favoured such a Gaelic naming for a new property, the lack of any record, tradition, or archaeology supporting the possibility of an earlier monastic presence to justify the name, and conversely that other Gaelic place-names are a significant part of the linguistic mix in the locality. The search for a more satisfactory explanation looks at other manifestations of ràth (or close cognates) in Scotland, at other possibilities for the second element of the name, and at factors that make the location of Romanno rather special. It is in an area where ancient NE-SW and NW-SE routes intersect; where accordingly there was considerable activity and investment by the Roman military; and where important hoards of pre-Roman metalwork including items created far from Scotland have been found. Reflections on this feature of the area prompt a very speculative scenario linking those finds with the more famous hoards from Blair Drummond, Stirlingshire, and Broighter by Lough Foyle, Ireland; and offering a motive for the naming of the River Teith, for which a straightforward etymology has been in plain view but semantically difficult to justify.

Lesley Abrams (University of Oxford and University of Cambridge) The Cameron Lecture: ‘Vive la Différence? Place-names and Scandinavian settlement in England and Normandy in the Viking Age’

Scandinavians established themselves in a number of places outside their homelands during the Viking Age. This lecture will compare how place-names have been used in the construction of historical narratives about two of these locations, England and Normandy. Many factors – some institutional, some ideological – have helped to create contrasting attitudes to the impact of the Scandinavians. My lecture aims to explore these differences, focusing in particular on the role place-names have played in understanding the Scandinavian settlements in England and Normandy and on the forces affecting assessments of their historical value.

Keith Briggs ‘The surnames of thirteenth-century Ipswich’

By 1200 Ipswich was well established as one of the foremost English seaports. The town government produced numerous records which survive from about 1255 onwards, yet nearly all remain unpublished. They are a rich resource for the town’s history, and in this talk I will describe my work on the surnames in these records – town court rolls, recognizance rolls, charters, and deeds, which I have cross-referenced to national records such as the lay subsidy rolls which record many of the same people. The surnames reveal much about social structure, occupations, and place of origin of the local population. Amongst the names are several hard etymological puzzles which I offer to the conference for solution.

Jeremy Piercy (University of Lincoln) ‘Mint genealogies: moneying families in late Anglo-Saxon England’

The institutional cohesion of the minting structure in England during the tumultuous periods surrounding 1016 and 1066 is often used to bolster the idea of an Anglo-Saxon ‘state’. But, what if it was not so much the actions of the ‘state’ or royal administration, but the unity of the family and the persistence of hereditary practices that saved that institution and contributed to this idea of continuity? Through the examination of epigraphic records, this paper addresses familial insularity in the craft of minting. The moneyers operated within a skilled craft and passed on their operations to their progeny for generations until the mints themselves were formally consolidated in the thirteenth century. The naming practices of the moneyers maintained the Anglo-Saxon practices of using the forename element of the father in son’s and grandson’s names long after the practice had started to decline in much of England. The outcome of this was a group of skilled labourers that could respond to political and social upheaval with relative ease because the training and cohesion of their craft was maintained within the family. Therefore, the mints operated under traditional, centuries-long processes which circumstantially supported the historicized argument for an Anglo-Saxon ‘state’. This paper will look at the specific examples of this practice taking place at several different mints in order to illustrate a widespread pattern across the entirety of England for the eleventh century.

Mairéad Nic Lochlainn (Fiontar & Scoil na Gaeilge, DCU) ‘Project report on and Meitheal’

The project report will focus on the outputs of the current phase of (the Placenames Database of Ireland) and Meitheal (a crowdsourcing project for minor placenames in Ireland).

Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill (Placenames Branch) ‘Irish place-names associated with death’

My paper will outline some of the common generics associated with death in Irish toponymy, such as various words for burial mounds, graves and tombs, as well as some of the interesting specific elements for fratricide, death, soul and hell. I will consider the terminology from the point of view of distribution and meaning as well as highlighting significant aspects of a number of the names.

Thomas Clancy (University of Glasgow) ‘The names of the parishes of the Galloway Glens’

This paper emerges from work that the speaker, along with his colleagues Simon Taylor and Gilbert Márkus, is currently engaged in as a project for the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership. This is a full place-name survey of seven parishes in Kirkcudbrightshire, to be disseminated in the first instance via an online database, but ultimately leading to a survey volume. This paper deals, however, with the names of the parishes themselves, concentrating on the five that are named in 1274-5 as constituting the deanery of the Glenkens: Dalry; Kells; Trevercarcou (now Balmaclellan); Balmaghie, also known as Kirkandrews; and Parton. These names themselves provide a compressed perspective on the linguistic history of the area, incorporating names from British or Cumbric, from Gaelic, and arguably from Old English. Equally, however, these names reveal important aspects of the chronology of these languages–potentially late Cumbric coinages, rather than early British ones, the persistence of new Gaelic coinages into and probably beyond the late 13th century; and issues of the continuum between Old English and Scots.

Jeremy Harte ‘You’ll never walk alone: haunted roads and goblin names’

‘‘The names of fierce, fabulous creatures are coupled with wild dismal places’’, wrote Kemble in 1852 and since then we have tended to agree, even if we prefer the tamer word ‘‘liminal’’. But the supernatural presences of medieval toponymy are not so easily shunted to the margins. Streets named after uncanny company can be found even – perhaps especially – in urban areas, making us think again about these goblin qualifiers. Up until now, we have practiced close reading in early place-names by focussing on durable facts and things, such as hills and land-ownership. What should we think of those names which refer to intangible and ontologically dubious entities? Do they represent one person’s strange experience, or the village’s common wisdom about the otherworld? Are we sure that they are literal statements – or are they just imaginative fictions? Puck Path and Hob Lane lead us to some unexpected places in semantic history.