2021 autumn day conference Expanding horizons in name studies

The SNSBI autumn conference took place online on Saturday 23rd October. A pdf version of the programme may be downloaded here.


The round table celebrated thirty years since the launch of SNSBI in October 1991. Our panellists reflected on developments in onomastics over the last three decades in their areas of specialist interest, and looked to the future of the discipline. The panellists were Richard Coates, Peter McClure, Kay Muhr, Simon Taylor, Hywel Wyn Owen, and the discussion was chaired by Carole Hough.


Rhian Parry: Collecting and sharing toponyms in Wales

Discussions about place-names, particularly local toponyms, are prominent in the public arena in Wales. People view them as historical and cultural links with the past. They are part of the identity and character of a place and as such, people feel passionately about them. Economic and social changes impose adverse effects on toponyms, especially in rural areas. Temporary visitors such as tourists, walkers, climbers and divers, either translate names literally or make up their own (usually non-Welsh) names. These include rock climbs, lakes, peaks and caves, settlement names that are considered too difficult to pronounce. These mantras quickly replace the original names, often reinforced by published guidebooks and maps. Place-names have no legal protection. This paper explores how the WPNS has undertaken a programme of collecting minor place-names from local people since 2016 and illustrates how the society has worked alongside organisations and local communities in Wales. All the names collected are entered into a digital spreadsheet linked to a digital map which is about to be made public. The presentation will include a short demonstration.

Katie Hambrook: Promoting public engagement with place-name studies

My very personal contribution to promoting public engagement with place-name studies includes leading field-names walks in Oxford council estates and forging my own Old English charter bounds to show at early medieval reenactment events.

Nic Coombey: Finding the field-names of Borgue

A small team of dedicated volunteers have gathered 1,000 names of fields across the Borgue peninsula in Dumfries and Galloway, south-west Scotland. The names collected have been analysed to determine the meaning and possible origin of every name and a database has been used to map the fields and make the information publicly available online. This presentation will explain how this community led initiative was inspired by the PLACE in the Biosphere Project and developed by a partnership of local volunteers. It will reveal the different methods used to collect information, from interviews with land owners, farmers and farm workers to use of estate maps and archives. A variety of media was used to generate interest in field-names to a wide audience, from an artist’s watercolour field-name map to engaging with local, regional and national publications. Examples used in a successful exhibition at a local visitor centre will be used to share the stories behind some of the field-names recorded and analysed.

Aengus Ó Fionnagáin: Community-led collection of minor place-names and the Westmeath Field Names Project 2018–21

Many collections of minor place-names from the oral tradition have been made in different parts of Ireland since the late nineteenth century. The focus has mainly been on Irish-speaking or recently Irish-speaking areas, with most of the work carried out by individuals with varying degrees of onomastic or linguistic training. In the 1930s schoolchildren were asked by the Irish Folklore Commission to record field names and other place-names in their local districts. In recent years large-scale projects in Cos Meath, Louth, Kilkenny, Dublin, and elsewhere, have taken a community-led approach, with farmers and local residents asked to write down field names in their own areas. A sense of urgency has always accompanied such work – minor place-names in Ireland are often undocumented; with longstanding names of small districts and recent coinages known only to handful of people alike. Even where names have been recorded, on estate maps or other in other printed sources, recording the local pronunciation has a value of its own for the place-names scholar. The individual and community approaches have their upsides and downsides. Toponymists and other competent persons are few in number, and those working in universities can spare little time for field work. Community-led projects can collect large numbers of names, but questions always remain as to the reliability of the forms, in terms of collection, presentation and interpretation. In the Westmeath Field Names Project we have tried to marry both approaches, with the names being collected at community-level, but with verification of forms and interpretation, where possible, by the project co-ordinator, a place-names scholar. This paper will discuss this approach by examining some of the names collected so far, as well as discussing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on project field work.