2022 Spring conference  —  Saturday April 09

The SNSBI 2022 spring conference was held online. Look under the titles below for links to “pdf slides” for downloadable copies of the presentations.

10.00-11.00 Session 1: English place-names

James O. Butler, Chris Donaldson, Fiona Edmonds and Ian Gregory: The influence of the Ordnance Survey on the Lake District’s namescape

This talk explores some of the key findings of the British Academy-funded pilot research project ‘Envisaging Landscapes and Naming Places: the Lake District before the Map’. This project is led by Edmonds as Principal Investigator, with Donaldson and Gregory as Co-Investigators and Butler as Research Associate. The project’s findings demonstrate the formative influence of the Ordnance Survey (OS) on the historical namescape of Grasmere.  Our research has revealed the decisive effect that the OS had on place-name spellings – and particularly standardisation – in this Lake District parish. Our sources include digitised versions of two of the OS’s Westmorland Name Books, and our work with these sources contributes to the renewed critical interest in such volumes. Our paper considers the extent to which Victorian developments and priorities – as well as errors in the OS’s cataloguing process – influenced the maps through which people have experienced the Lake District for more than 150 years. We discuss the choice of authorities for the names listed in the OS Name Books, and we shall assess what those choices reveal about Victorian society in the Grasmere area. We also demonstrate the spatial stylometric and qualitative relational prioritisations that underpin the analytic methodology for the spatial humanities elements of our project, highlighting the value of incorporating topographic forms in localised namescape analysis.

Masaya Takuma (Tokyo Future University): Is Misdon in Devon a really “misty” place?

pdf slides

According to The Place-Names of Devon (EPNS 1931: 150), the etymology of Misdon (SX57351 98236) in Inwardleigh Civil Parish is “probably 'mist hill’”. This paper examines the validity of this statement from a meteorological point of view in comparison with Inwardleigh, the core settlement of the parish where the parish church is located. Data for the examination have been collected from the Met Office’s daily weather forecast for Okehampton and Hatherleigh, both of which are automatically suggested by the Met Office as ‘nearest forecast locations’ to Misdon and Inwardleigh, respectively. The webpages of these two places are accessed every day, between 23:00GMT and 0:00GMT, in principle, and the data dealt with this time cover 6 months, ranging from 2020-12-01 to 2021-05-31. The speaker attempts to show to what extent Misdon might have been mistier or foggier than Inwardleigh in the last winter and spring.

11.15-12.15 Session 2: Irish place-names

Russell Ó Ríagáin: Finding the Dál Riata in Ireland: the evidence of named places

This talk was cancelled due to illness. A recording will be provided later.

Much valuable work has been done in recent decades on deconstructing and reconstructing the foundation myth and subsequent history of the Dál Riata, a group of lineages spread across the early medieval North Channel. The story of the western portion of northern Britain being settled at some point around AD500 by three sons of Erc from an area across the North Channel on the northern coast of Ireland can no longer be taken at face value in the light of critical examination of the layers of origin legends associated with this group. However, the different strands within it are very informative in relation to the contexts of the production, transmission, redaction and reception of origin legends, the texts in which they appear and the uses to which they were - and are - put.

This paper seeks to build on this by exploring the contribution that the study of named places appearing in medieval source material relating to the activities of the Dál Riata in northeast Ireland can make to rethinking the socio-political dynamics of the early medieval North Channel. The approach will be three-pronged. First, the named places will be discussed in the context of a source-critical treatment of the texts in which they appear, including the Irish annals, genealogical collections from Britain and Ireland, synthetic histories, and hagiographies, especially those on Patrick and Colum Cille. Second, the survival of these toponyms in the landscape will be assessed, using high/late medieval and early modern secular and ecclesiastic administrative documents, early modern and modern maps and the standard toolkit of the toponomist. Thirdly, the outcomes will be placed within the wider body of critical research on the Dál Riata as a historical phenomenon and narrative–dynastic complex, the resilience of toponyms in their landscape settings, and the limitations of using documentary sources to construct arguments about the past.

Justin Ó Gliasáin: Fearann in minor place-names in the Civil Parish of Kildare

pdf slides

Thomas Emerson’s 1674 survey of the Manor of Kildare throws up a wealth of minor place-name data. Perhaps the most notable feature amongst the names recorded by Emerson is the prevalence of the generic element fearann (‘land’) in the area. Fearann is a common element in administrative names in the south of Ireland, but it is rare in County Kildare, with only one townland name containing fearann in its original Irish form. This paper aims to examine the use of fearann as an element in the Civil Parish of Kildare using examples collected from Emerson’s survey, historical maps, and land deeds. Comparisons are also be drawn with its usage in place-names in other parts of Ireland.

13.15-14.15 Session 3: Scotland

Colin Mackenzie: Lake as a stream-name in southern Scotland

pdf slides

There are around 30 place-names in southern Scotland (predominantly in Dumfriesshire) where “lake” is used as a stream-name. Many of these are substantial burns which form parish boundaries. These 30 or so names provide strong evidence for the continuation of OE lacu 'stream’ in Scots. Although this fact has not gone entirely unremarked - the supplement to A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue notes three examples - this meaning of “lake” has not yet been widely incorporated into studies of Scottish place-names or literary texts. The Place-Names of the Galloway Glens database proposes a misreading of *Lane for Beggar's Lake, Kells (Kirkcudbrightshire) on the grounds that the burn doesn't resemble a 'lake’, and Ralph Hanna's (2014) edition of the Buke of the Howlat glosses laike (which collocates with rever) as 'a body of water’. The paper discusses the distribution and significance of these place-names.

James Brown: Nic and Mac: Gaelic lingering in eighteenth-century Carrick

Carrick, the southernmost of Ayrshire’s three distinct regions, was hived off from Galloway in 1186. Both jurisdictions can be considered culturally as part of the Highlands – otherwise known as the Gàidhealtachd, or Gaelic Scotland. However in modern times the powerful influence of Robert Burns has fostered the perception that Ayrshire is Scots language territory to the disbenefit of Carrick’s Gaelic heritage. The belief that the last native speaker of Gaelic in Carrick died in 1761 when Burns was two years old, is challenged by this paper which uses original, unpublished documentary evidence of how the Gaelic prefix Nic (daughter of) in women’s names was almost written out of history in favour of Mac (son of) through careless handwriting and possibly, linguistic and political prejudice.

14.30-15.30 Session 4: Churches and houses

Andrea Bölcskei (Károli Gáspár Református Egyetem): Settlement names of ecclesiastical reference in the Hungarian and English languages: a comparative perspective

pdf slides

In the Middle Ages, bestowing settlement names of ecclesiastical reference became a widespread practice in the Christian countries of Europe.  These toponyms might indicate how ecclesiastical buildings modified the landscape; or they might also refer to the changes in land ownership, emphasizing the role of the Church as a feudal landowner. The paper focuses on similarities and also on some (minor) differences in the ecclesiastical references of these place-names in the Hungarian and English languages, e.g. types, features of the buildings mentioned, saints venerated in the relevant settlement names. Special attention is paid to the lexical, structural and referential features of settlement names reflecting ecclesiastical possession.

Laura Wright (University of Cambridge): Sunnyside

Laura Wright talks about the surprisingly old antecedents of the house-name 'Sunnyside’ in northern Britain. The introduction to Laura's book can be read here.

15.45-16.45 Session 5: Entertainment and ceremony

Keith Briggs: The names of medieval minstrels

pdf slides

There are very few records of names of medieval minstrels who performed at specific events, with perhaps only two documents (both unpublished) from the 13th century recording these names.  One of these documents contains the accounts for the wedding of the daughter of Edward I in Ipswich at Christmas 1296.   Here many details of the entertainments provided are recorded, along with the names of the minstrels who performed.  Some of these are of one-word nickname type, a precursor of the current fashion amongst popular musicians.  Others are of the occupational surname type, telling us about the types of instruments played. In this talk, I give the background history of the Ipswich wedding, and describe the results of my researches into the types of names used and their meaning.

Jeremy Harte: Gospel truths: Rogationtide processions in place-names

pdf slides

Down to the 1820s, with sporadic revivals thereafter, Rogationtide processions were held each year to impress parish boundmarks on the memory of the young, with gospel readings followed by a chance to scramble for cakes, scoff figs, collect tags, or watch a more gullible friend being given a Chinese burn by his elders. Repeated each Ascension Day, these rituals were linked by contemporaries to place-names beginning with Procession and Gospel. Modern onomasts have gone much further, associating the custom with religious qualifiers from Genesis to Amen by way of St. Paul’s Epistle, but even after judicious pruning the corpus is large enough to prove something unexpected: first attestations are overwhelmingly post-Reformation, with a few fifteenth-century outliers. Why should a medieval ceremony be represented by mostly modern names? The answer lies in the transformation of the custom from its origins as a prayer for blessing of the fields into a chance to police parochial boundaries: this was the ritual fudge that let the practice survive within the Anglican Church. Traditions of Gospel Oaks were handed down in the onomasticon, not because they were holy places, but because they would be useful as territorial markers.

2000: online social event

Hosted by the one-and-only Alice Crook!

  • Lizzie Gutteridge entertained us with live performances of some 13th-century music, played on reproductions of some of the instruments mentioned in Keith Briggs’ talk.
  • break-out rooms to chat about the day's talks, and ask questions of the speakers.