SNSBI Twenty-ninth Spring Conference (postponed from 2020)

Further information will follow; the program below is not necessarily valid.

The 2022 SNSBI Spring conference will be held at the Heronston Hotel, Bridgend, Glamorgan.

Heronston is one of the interesting post-Conquest -ton places-names of south Wales. According to B. G. Charles, Non-Celtic place-names of Wales (1938), p.134, it means ‘Henry's farm’, and was recorded as Henrieston in c.1336.

The hotel is a 20-minute walk from Bridgend station, which is a mainline station with hourly connections. Bus 303 towards Barry runs hourly from the station to the hotel. The cost of the conference for SNSBI members, which includes en-suite accommodation, the coach excursion, use of leisure facilities, and all meals (excluding wine) is £370. The day delegate rate for members attending the full conference is £190. The coach trip on Sunday afternoon will be to the St Fagans National Museum of History. This world-renowned open-air museum showcases historic buildings relocated from across Wales, including a farm, a tannery, mills, and a chapel.

The conference will open on Friday night with a lecture from Prys Morgan, Emeritus Professor in History at Swansea University. Professor Morgan is co-author of Welsh Surnames, and is a specialist in Welsh history.

We must receive your full payment by 2020-02-28 to reserve your accommodation. Only paid-up delegates can be guaranteed a place. The conference cost is non-refundable unless another delegate can be found to take the room. Direct bank transfers are the preferred method. Account name: Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland, sort code: 20-09-72, account: 50676683. Cheques should be made payable to ‘Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland’. Those wishing to pay by PayPal please follow the link below. Bursaries toward the cost of accommodation are available to student members. Please contact the treasurer for further details.

The booking form is here, and the PayPal link is immediately below.


Clare Green (SOAS, University of London), ‘Naming Welsh-speaking children: case studies from London and Gwynedd’

Many factors go into choosing children's names, and for multilingual families there are extra issues to consider. Should the name represent all the family’s languages? How much should it take into account the linguistic environment the family lives in? Does the chosen name predict the language(s) a child will speak as they grow up? This paper looks at two families with a first-language Welsh-speaking parent, living in very different linguistic landscapes: one in London and one in Gwynedd, North Wales. Based on qualitative interviews with parents, it explores how they chose their children's names, the influence of their Welsh-speaking heritage, and how the decisions reflect their slinguistic attitudes and practices. This research uses names as a medium to learn about personal experiences of multilingualism and family language policy. This paper is based on research for a Masters dissertation in Language Documentation and Description.

Keziah Garrett-Smithson (Aberystwyth University), ‘Ieuan, Johannis and John: 100 years of Welsh names’

Our first names provide the foundation of our identity. They place us within our family, wider community and culture. Although we cannot directly ask people who lived in early modern Wales what influenced their choices, we can gain insight from the names themselves. This paper focuses upon the first names of the people of Cardiganshire, in west Wales, over the period 1542-1659 as they appear in the court of Great Sessions records. The Great Sessions was the highest court within Wales from its foundation under the second act of union until its abolition in 1830. Although patchy in places, these files contain a cross-section of society and reveal patterns in the way in which names were chosen. For instance, we can trace the popularity and decline of specific names. In addition to this, Cardiganshire’s topography makes it an excellent place to use as a case study. The mountainous terrain made travel arduous and although maritime trade flourished during the 16th and 17th centuries, inland communication was much slower. With this in mind, we can investigate to what extent wider influences, for example from England or neighbouring counties, impacted name choices in relation to local traditions.

Huw Thomas, ‘Caerdydd ddwyieithog’/‘Bilingual Cardiff’

Heather James and David Thorne, ‘Place-names in a 9th-century Carmarthenshire estate’

Sioned Davies, ‘Enwau lleodd yn y Mabinogi’/‘Place-names in the Mabinogi’

Rhian Parry and Ifor Williams, ‘Recent WPNS Lottery projects’

Jonathan Masters (Lancaster University), ‘The changing marshlands along the River Alt, Lancashire: evidence of minor place-names, c. 1220–1300’

The wetlands either side of the River Alt in south west Lancashire has historically drawn considerable investment from agriculturalists despite this challenging environment. Today, the landscape supports a significant agricultural and horticultural economy, achieved through extensive drainage works initiated from the late eighteenth century. However, the evidence found in local muniment collections dating from the thirteenth century suggest a considerable effort for managing and improving the wetlands was made much earlier, especially following the introduction of two competing Cistercian houses. In the absence of manorial and administrative accounts - that would record the detail of such activities and its economic yield - we must look to the evidence of place-names to demonstrate any vast improvement in land under cultivation or expansion into new locations. Significantly, the boundary clauses in title deeds often recorded minor place-names attributed to significant features used to define the limits of possession. This paper draw on the evidence of place-names and their interpretation to uncover the earliest description of these environments and explain how medieval agriculturalists set about changing and drawing value from this marshland landscape in south west Lancashire.

Jo Pye, ‘By Tre, Pol and Pen: mapping Cornish place-names in the landscape’

This paper will cover selected aspects of research undertaken for my PhD thesis in Landscape Archaeology at the University of Exeter, investigating Cornish Place-Names in the Landscape. The thesis builds on prior research into Cornish place-names by Dr Oliver Padel together with Historic Environment Record data shared by the Cornwall County Archaeological Unit. The approach uses Geographic Information System mapping to show patterns evident in selected Cornish place-name elements for medieval settlements throughout Cornwall. Over 5100 place-name elements were mapped according to their positions in the landscape in relation to natural features and settlement distributions, elevation, historical background, geology and soils contexts, and characterisation of historic landscape types. The research also covers dates of first attestation of settlement names, Domesday status where relevant, subsequent changes in name forms, and frequency of combinations with other place-name elements. The conference presentation will highlight research questions, headline findings from the research and how they have been underpinned by seventeen case studies of place-name element types. Topographical and habitative name elements were included in the sample studied, and confirm that they were originally assigned according to distinctive criteria reflecting shifting histories of settlement and language across Cornwall.

Rob Briggs, ‘Benson and hedging my bets’

Benson (formerly Bensington) in Oxfordshire is a place that makes several appearances in Old English-period written records, most arising from its status as an important centre of secular power in a frontier zone between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. The collected early spellings of its name are rather more diverse than might be expected, and for this reason the etymological analyses found in most scholarly reference works on English place-names are not reflective of the full corpus of attestations. This paper will take a fresh look at the early name-forms off the back of introducing another into the equation, one that occurs in a text of late seventh-century origin. The discussion of this evidence will highlight the importance of paying attention to the textual transmission of sources and the latest historical scholarship for political context alongside the more standard concerns of place-name studies. This “new” evidence may be suggestive, but is not conclusive. Nevertheless, the written record reveals Benson to have been not only a place of repeated political significance, but also a place-name with a more complex etymological history than previously recognised.

Keith Briggs, ‘The history of the word “beach”’

As we sit here only a few kilometres from Ogmore Beach and Merthyr Mawr Beach, it is pertinent to remember that the word “beach” belongs to that very small class of words first appearing in modern English (in this case, about 1550), which have no obvious (or even unobvious) antecedents in English, and which lack cognates in any other language. Recently I proposed a refinement of a suggestion of Ekwall that “beach” arose by semantic shift from a word of quite different meaning; in the new version of this theory “beach” is a lexicalization of a single specific place-name in Eastbourne in Sussex. If correct, this theory would make the word even more unusual; it would be a word arising from a toponym; a process not normally considered by etymologists. Reference: Keith Briggs, The Etymology of ‘Beach’, Notes and Queries, Volume 66 (2019), 370–374. online paper.

Thomas Clancy (University of Glasgow), ‘St Cadog in Scotland’

In his Latin Lives, the south Welsh saint Cadog of Llancarfan makes a journey to Scotland, founding a monastery and creating miracles. Did Cadog have a genuine cult in medieval Scotland? This paper explores the problems with this, arguing that the information in the Lives has come from Scotland, and that this is an instance of 'magpie hagiography’, Cadog having been confused with a saint of another name. But which saint? The paper will take in some problems of saints’ names and place-names, in both Scotland and south Wales.

Catherine Swift (Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick), ‘Names, surnames and epithets in the Dublin Guild Merchant Roll pre AD 1223’

DNA studies, between 2005 and 2015 in particular, have had a strong interest in surnames and surname lineages which, in turn, has helped increase scholarly interest in the topic. The Dublin Guild Merchant Roll represents an apparently ethnically diverse group of people, most of whom appear to be recent arrivals, into a much older Hiberno-Norse city with a strong tradition in maritime trade. The nearest comparator is apparently the guild roll of Leicester which was being compiled in roughly the same period and which also represents a guild in a town with strong Scandinavian roots. Comparisons and contrasts between the two rolls are therefore of interest as is the extent to which the habits visible in the Dublin merchant roll can be detected in Irish language sources during the period of the Anglo-Norman colony.

Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich (The Placenames Branch), ‘Irish surnames in Irish townland names: a potential diagnostic for hereditary professional status

Irish townland names such as Baile Uí Mhaoldoraidh “the town(land) of Ó Maoldoraidh” seem, at an early state of research, to consist of less than 10% of all townland names from Irish. Where there was Anglo-Norman settlement and subsequent re-gaelicisation the percentage of Anglo-Norman surnames in Irish language place-names seems much higher (further research is need here). Certainly, in some counties where colonisation was extensive such as Wexford, there are more Anglo-Norman surnames in the place-names of Irish language origin that there are native surnames, even in areas recovered and dominated by the native Gaelic Irish themselves. Both sets of names seem to have been created under different legal conditions. Tenure was generally more secure under English freehold – less so under the Irish system, so the name of the occupying family could not be used on a frequent basis. Most Irish surnames found in the Sligo place-names, both extant and defunct, seem to have belonged to families with professional branches, learned or military. In contrast, the surnames of the principal septs are only rarely found in the townland names in Sligo. This must to be connected with the fact that professional families received land under different terms than the general population, and even members of the principal septs. Their tenure seems to have been more permanent and therefore conducive to lending their surname to their land. Should this pattern be repeated in other counties (and a quick perusal of townland names in some other counties seem to reflect this), it would suggests that one can use the occurrence of a surname (outside of the principal septs) in a townland name is an indicator of a probable professional background—this has particularly useful implications for our understand of native Irish culture and life prior to its demise from 1600 onwards. The use of place-names containing an Irish surname to diagnose the possible professional background of that family has not been suggested heretofore.

Goabilwe Nnanishie Ramaeba (University of Botswana), ‘A semantic analysis of lexically transparent personal names in Scotland’

The presence or absence of lexical meaning in personal names has been a contentious issue for many years across societies. The general consensus from previous studies (de Klerk & Lagonikos 1995, Hanks et al. 2006) has been that names in the African context have a lexically transparent meaning while those in the European context have a lexically non-transparent meaning. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the fact that although this might be generally true, there are exceptions which need to be appreciated and acknowledged. This paper presents a semantic analysis of lexically transparent names found in Scotland and the motivations behind the names. The data for this study was collected in Glasgow for a PhD study and it indicates that a total of 353 name tokens were collected and 330 (93.5%) of these were lexically transparent while 23 (6.5%) were lexically nontransparent. The latter may be regarded as inconsequential because it is so small but it is significant as it forms part of the Scotland name-scape. The 23 name tokens are categorized into 9 semantic categories which include, Animals and birds, Months of the Year, Plants and Flowers amongst others. The sociolinguistic aspects of the names are also explored to establish the motivations behind the giving of the names and to see if these are linked to the transparent nature of the names.

Caroline Høglund Valentin Boolsen and Johnny Grandjean Gøgsig Jakobsen (University of Copenhagen), ‘Variations in Scandinavian place-names home and abroad: a comparative analysis of specifics for names in by, thorp, thweit and holm between Yorkshire, England, and Sjælland, Denmark’

Although it is well known by scholarship in both England and Denmark that a significant number of place-names in northern, central and eastern England appear to be of Scandinavian origin, relatively little has been done on either side to actually compare the toponomastic evidence found in England with that of its potential Scandinavian homeland. From a Danish perspective, an inclusion of Scandinavian (and probably predominantly Danish) settlement names in the Danelaw region would virtually double the amount of data evidence in medieval Danish toponymy. From an English perspective, a better understanding of how the Scandinavian place-names in England correspond to their namesakes in the Scandinavian homeland would improve the basis for seeing them in their right linguistic and settlement-historical context in England. This paper will take off in a new planned project to ease such comparative studies in the future by launching an online database of Scandinavian Settlement Names in Danelaw England. The paper will perform a comparative analysis of variations in the types of specifics that can be found for four groups of medieval place-names present in both Yorkshire, England, and Sjælland, Denmark: settlement names in ‑by, ‑thorp, ‑thweit and ‑holm.

Peter Kitson, ‘When did “Old European” river-names begin?’

It is generally (albeit not universally) agreed that the class of river-names called alteuropäisch are Indo-European linguistically, but there is not general agreement how early within Indo-European they began. Hans Krahe, who first identified the type, characterized it as north-west Indo-European, by a rather impressionistic relation of its phonetics to the geography of surviving branches; W. P. Schmid, analysing the morphology, put back its origins to Common Indo-European. Linguists have tended to choose between these labels according to their opinions on the perennially vexed question of where the “original homeland” of Indo-European speakers was: Krahe’s fits nicely the currently much favoured steppe theory, Schmid’s doesn’t. One obvious test to make is to compare alteuropäisch to the oldest Indian river-names to see whether they seem to go back to a common system. I ducked this in the 1990s, thinking scholarship on the Indian names was not such as a non-Sanskritist could use with acceptable control of margins of error. Work by Michael Witzel and especially Václav Blažek has remedied that situation. This paper will compare alteuropäisch river-names with the more than two dozen attested in the Rigveda. Alteuropäisch names are suffixal monothematic in structure, their phonology implies grammatically adjectives not nouns; a substantial majority are of feminine gender. Vedic river-names are overwhelmingly adjectival semantically, mostly suffixal monothematic, and almost without exception feminine. I conclude that though the visibly productive name-elements are different, alteuropäisch and Vedic river-names are indeed probably exponents of a single original system of naming landscape features. Whether or not that system goes back all the way to the Ursprache probably cannot be directly demonstrated because the Anatolian material is problematic; either way it is something decisively wider than “north-west Indo-European”. 

Carole Hough (University of Glasgow), ‘“The most English county in Scotland”: Berwickshire place-names revisited’

Famously described by James B. Johnston as “the most English county in Scotland” (1940:7), the historical county of Berwickshire was the study area for the REELS project, funded by The Leverhulme Trust from 2016-2019. Eighty years after Johnston’s pioneering publication, it is appropriate to revisit the issues in light of more recent work. An overview of languages represented in the REELS database shows a preponderance of place-names from Old English (OE) and its descendants Scots and Scottish Standard English, the northern siblings of Middle English and Modern English. Individual formations represent doublets of common compounds recognised as name-types in England, for which the Scottish evidence adds to the overall picture (OE burh-tūn, OE hōh-tūn, OE mere-tūn), as well as doublets of rarer compounds where the English and Scottish occurrences throw light on each other (OE hrīs-tūn). While there are particularly close parallels with neighboring Northumberland (OE hwīt-ceaster), others occur as far afield as Wales (OE snāw-dūn). All occurrences of OE terms in Berwickshire extend their distribution further north. Of particular interest are rare terms (OE bæc-stān, OE bēmere, OE grǣg), terms unrepresented in English place-names (OE cyrn), and terms with a meaning previously hypothesised but unproven (OE cild). Reference: James B. Johnston, The Place-Names of Berwickshire (Edinburgh, 1940).

Harry Parkin (University of Chester), ‘Surnames ending -sons: their history and distribution, and some methodological difficulties’

Surnames ending -sons, such as Johnsons and Jacksons, have received very little attention in the field of anthroponomastics. It is an unusual form that challenges expectations of by-name and surname formation, which is presumably what has led what little previous research there is to suggest it is ‘anomalous’ (McKinley 1977: 231); it appears only McKinley (1977: 231; 1990: 121) and Rodgers (1995: 223) have mentioned this ending before. This paper presents research that is a work in progress. It will look at the history, development and distribution of names ending -sons, in an effort to gain a greater understanding of this particular form. Some examples will be discussed, and possible explanations for their origins, based on known regional surnaming patterns, will be offered, while making it clear that there are considerable methodological challenges still to be overcome. Preliminary findings are far from conclusive, but there are some patterns beginning to emerge, and it is hoped that this report will stimulate further discussion and ideas around this rare surname form. References: R. A. McKinley, The Surnames of Oxfordshire (London, 1977); R. A. McKinley, A History of British Surnames (London: 1990); C. D. Rogers, The Surname Detective (Manchester, 1995).

Jess Treacher, title TBC

Jennifer Scherr, ‘Place-names in Somerset’s royal forests’

Large areas of Somerset were once designated royal forests. Major names, particularly in Exmoor, Mendip, Neroche and Selwood, will be surveyed for their relevance. In addition, names in medieval forest perambulations, will be studied.

Project reports, including the new Norwegian place-name database, and ‘Talking to the public about place-names’.