SNSBI Twenty-ninth Spring Conference

The 2023 SNSBI Spring conference was held at the Heronston Hotel, Bridgend/Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr, Glamorgan, from 14 to 16 April. Slides for some of the talks are downloadable below as pdf files. A poem inspired by the conference by Peter Kitson (an old tradition) is at the bottom of this page.

Friday 14 April

Saturday 15 April

Sunday 16 April


Prys Morgan The Vale of Glamorgan: a muddle of names: The fundamental layer of Vale of Glamorgan names is Welsh. But, by the end of the eleventh century, the Norman conquerors of England ventured to conquer the Vale too, colonizing it with English settlers. This created a rich second layer of names, many (such as Pendoylan, originally Pendeulwyn) adaptations of native Welsh names. Many others reflected the settlers’ names, such as Heronston originally Henrieston. The “muddle’’ in this talk comes from a mysterious third layer of Welsh names, arising from a reassertive native substratum, or from immigrants from other Welsh areas. For example Flemyngston is noted as Trefflemin by 1538. This process is visible from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth century.

Dylan Foster Evans Cardiff place-names: replacement, adaptation and translation: During the nineteenth century, Cardiff grew from a predominantly Welsh-speaking town of around 2,000 inhabitants to become an international port that was home to over 150,000 people. These developments were accompanied by the need to adopt large numbers of suburban and street names. This paper will consider how Cardiff’s place names were formed by a range of processes, including the retention, adaptation or replacement of historic Welsh-language names, as well as translation and indeed mistranslation. It will consider the complex relationship between Cardiff’s nomenclature and its claim – officially recognized in 1955 – to be the nation’s capital, and the impact of fundamental changes to the official status of the Welsh language, especially from the middle of the twentieth century. It will also explore the rationale behind Cardiff’s new place names policy (2019), which has a stated aim of achieveing parity between Welsh and English names for Cardiff streets.

Sioned Davies ‘Y lle a alwir etwa o achaus hynny…’ Enwau lleoedd yn y Mabinogi (‘The place which for that reason is still called…’ Place-names in the Mabinogi): The medieval Welsh tales known as the Four Branches of the Mabinogi tell of magic and mystery, shape-shifting and enchantment. Yet, they are rooted very firmly in the landscape of Wales. This paper will present a general survey of place-names in the Four Branches, together with their significance. Questions will also be raised as to what the place-names suggest concerning the author of the tales.

Eurwyn Wiliam From the Welsh Folk Museum to the National Museum of History: the changing story of St Fagans: When the open-air folk museum at St. Fagans opened to the public in 1948, its first head, Dr Iorwerth Peate, was clear as to its mission: to preserve, record, commemorate and present to its visitors the life of the people of Wales before that was sullied by the coming of industrialisation, urbanisation and Anglicisation.  But was that what the museum's parent body, the National Museum of Wales, had in mind? And how did the new institution develop into today's 'vital community space’ where 'everyone has a right’ to 'shape the story of Wales’ together?

Rhian Parry and Ifor Williams Cysylltu: Llechi, Siwgr a Phobl (Engaging: Slate, Sugar and People): The Welsh Place-Name Society has collected and recorded toponyms for a number or years. It has discovered that to do so effectively, it is necessary to be embedded in local communities. Heritage Lottery grants were awarded to two national projects which enabled us to make beneficial local contacts. We will give examples of how we approached the task and some of the riches found when collecting and recording minor place-names in a variety of communities across Wales.

Jennifer Scherr Traces of hunting and the royal forests in Somerset place-names: Post-Conquest Somerset was home to five Royal Forests (Exmoor, Mendip, Neroche, North Petherton, Selwood). Surviving 13th century perambulations provide place-name evidence for some of the hunting activity which took place there. Other clues, direct or indirect, can be found from the general corpus of Somerset names. Some of these pre-date Domesday (1086); others relate to later deer-parks in private hands. The largest group of names are those which may derive from OE hunta, ‘a hunter, huntsman’.

Keith Briggs The history of the word “beach”: The Oxford English Dictionary first records ‘‘beach’’ in the sense ‘shore of the sea’ in 1600 (in Shakespeare), and offers no certain etymology. OED has, however, ignored map evidence, which not only provides antedatings, but strongly suggests that the word was first used of a specific beach in Eastbourne in Sussex. This locality is recorded as Beche from the thirteenth century, and is derived from Old English bęce, a derivative (in a collective sense?) of bæce ‘brook, stream’. The new etymology is thus the result of a slight metonymy, followed by the rare process of lexicalization, in which a proper noun becomes a common noun. Changes to the coastline, especially the growth of shingle banks, have played a role in this sense development. Evidence will be presented of the spread of this new word around the English coast soon after 1600. The paper on which this talk is based is online (with more old maps). See also the paper Old English collective plant-names in place-names.

Thomas Owen Clancy A Tale of Four Maps: authority, authenticity and Iona's microtoponymy: This short paper will look at the relationship among the four different modern maps which have carried traditions of microtoponyms on Iona since the mid-19th century: the one made for William Reeves (1857) alongside his name-list; the Ordnance Survey 1st edition map of 1881; the Ritchies’ map from 1928/1930, alongside the name appendix of D. Munro Fraser; and finally the map created for the Iona Community in the 1980s, most recently reissued in 2017. The relationship of these maps to local tradition and knowledge, and the effect of maps on preservation of names in the face of linguistic and population change will be considered.

Sofia Evemalm-Graham Eilean nam Ban and women in Iona place-names: This paper will discuss Eilean nam Ban (‘Island of the women’), an island located in the Sound of Iona. One of the most enduring stories associated with it relates how Eilean nam Ban was thus named because St Columba banished all women to the island, refusing to suffer their presence on Iona.  Through an examination of early modern and later accounts I will consider questions relating to who has the authority to create and transmit etymological narratives in an Iona context. For whom and what purpose are they created? How do authors in different time-periods provide a sense of authenticity in their accounts? Detailed analysis of these accounts is particularly valuable in demonstrating the richness of early modern sources for the place-names of Iona.

Conchubhar Ó Crualaoich Native Irish surnames in Irish townland names: Pre-1600 English townland names in Ireland are most commonly of the Surname plus Town construction, e.g. Coddstown, Latimerstown, Bastardstown and Muritiustown. Hence, over 50 percent of the English townland names found in County Wexford are of this construction. On the other hand, Irish townland names containing an Irish surname count for less than 10 percent in the counties examined. Furthermore, the surnames found are largely not those of principal septs. With inordinate frequency the surnames encountered are those of hereditary learned/professional families. Such placenames can therefore possibly be used as an indicator of hereditary learned or professional status where no other such evidence exist. Townland names have rarely been explored in this manner heretofore.

Harry Parkin Suggestions on surnames ending -sons: a work in progress: Patronymic surnames ending -sons have received very little attention in the field of anthroponomastics. It is an unusual form that challenges expectations of acceptable by-name and surname formation, which is presumably what has led what little previous research there is to suggest it is ‘anomalous’ (McKinley, 1977, p. 231). This talk will look further at this unusual form through an investigation of its distribution and chronology, and by exploring its possible origins, showing that its use and development may be more complex than first thought, and that it requires further study before it is viewed as an anthroponomastic anomaly.

David Austin The landscape and names in the twelfth-century charters of Strata Florida: The inspeximi for two foundation charters exist in the National Archives: the first consists of a list of place-names which appear to identify the land given to Whitland Abbey in 1164 for the creation of Strata Florida; the second contains both named places and boundaries, many of which can be traced and which constitute the core lands of the new abbey in an act of re-foundation by the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth. The places and boundaries named raise issues of identification which will be explored in this paper, as well as insights into political and social change at the time.

Peder Gammeltoft How can quantitative methods contribute to place-name research?: no abstract received

Peter Kitson On placing ‘Old European’ names within Indo-European: no abstract received

Peter McClure A Dictionary of American Family Names (2nd edn 2022) and a tribute to Patrick Hanks: In 2020 Patrick Hanks was going to give a report at the SNSBI conference at Bridgend on the imminent publication of his revised and expanded edition of DAFN. Covid intervened, postponing the conference until this year and incapacitating Patrick. In January 2021 I took over as acting chief editor, working closely with Patrick and the dictionary’s co-editor Simon Lenarčič. My paper will provide that report on the second edition of the dictionary, illustrating its many new and improved features and its relevance to the interests of SNSBI members. I will also say something about Patrick Hanks’s remarkable contributions to personal name research and to personal name dictionaries.

Keziah Garratt-Smithson Naming culture in early modern Cardiganshire: Personal names are something which have been under-researched in Welsh historical studies outside of etymological interest in the origins of surnames. This paper will demonstrate how criminal records can be used to build a sufficient body of data to enable analysis of personal name usage over the period of 117 years. Using Cardiganshire (Ceredigion) as a case study, it is possible to build up a picture of the cultural influences that effected the population during both the medieval and early modern period.

Dr Aengus Ó Fionnagáin OS200 - digitising the Irish Ordnance Survey Name Books: OS200 is a 3-year project jointly funded by the Irish Research Council (IRC) and the AHRC. The project is collating and digitising Ordnance Survey (OS) documents to form a single freely accessible online resource for academic and public use. This includes OS Memoirs and drawings, Letters and Name Books, and 6” map marginal information. As the Name Books (OSNB) are the most complex of these documents, typed transcripts of the OSNB for just 5 counties are being digitised. It is hoped that a small sample of the original manuscripts will also be digitised. This paper will comment briefly on the nature of the transcripts, published in 1931 (74 volumes, ltd. ed. on carbon copy paper) by Fr Michael O’Flanagan, who also published transcripts of the OS Letters. It will also feature an examination of some original OSNB MSS pages (1837); teasing out the different strands of evidence compiled for each name, and the contributions of various OS personnel, viz. John O’Donovan, Royal Engineers, & others.


Queueing to get on the bus to St Fagan's (2023-04-16), and on a walk to Ewenny Priory Church (2023-04-17).

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A Biodiverse Burbling of Bridgend by Peter Kitson

Choice onomasts spring’s zephyr frees
From three-year drouth of dread disease
On Walesward tracks their ways did wend
      Until they reached Bridgend.

Aventio (she of Ewenny)
Was the guardian nymph if any;
The sign by which their souls were stirred
       Was Henry’s long-billed bird.

Their first night’s high-hearted huddle
Ploughed into a mighty muddle:
Wide impends o’er streams and bogs
       The citadel of frogs.

None could guess what gowk or dotterel
Harboured the idea of Wattrel.
A plainer cuckoo in the nest
       Planted the grange Trelluest.

From Wales’s sterner northern part
Tales of poor Branwen’s broken heart
Reached ears with black-stemmed circles hung
       Blandished by doubled tongue.

Rebarbative directors meet
In handsome Fox and smould’ring Peate.
The hoary third of them who spoke
       Pondered who were whose Folk.

Eighty-odd pools for piscine slaughter
Shimmered in Ogwen’s stagnant water,
Meeting in senatorial state
       With Penrhyn Quarry slate.

Now through the coloured counties roam
Hunters to whom the marsh is home.
In forests too, good watch they keep
       So deer can (one way) leap.

Here rise three monsters of the deep
From whose sleek sides stream waters steep.
These omens work by contraries
       As one observer sees.

An 1840s snap shows why
Good Gaelic names were hauled from Hy.
Since, input from euphemious maps
       Corrupted speech perhaps.

Women were banished thence meanwhile
In legend to Black Carlines’ Isle.
Housing enough’s not found there now
       For woman or for cow.

Ulidian kingship cruelly claims
61,000 township names.
Shrewd lawyers’ sons’ careers were planned:
       They would inherit land.

Into the buffers reason runs
Telling diminutives from sons.
Who would competing systems foster?
       Why, naturally, Gloucester.

A landscape-digger-up would trace
Many an excellenter place
High-set ’mid twelve-millennial marsh;
       His view of texts was harsh.

A Danish guest at Norsemen’s table
Proved their cadasters were not stable,
His geekish mathematick stealth
       Bolstering Iron Age wealth.

Ancestor-tale-tellers thought best
To read, mark, learn, and well digest
The varying linguistic fames
       Of adjectival names.

A double-barrelled Cardie told
When patronyms declined tenfold.
Such men as these she aimed at squarely:
       Felonious, but rarely.

Our patron on a trip by bus:
Jupiter not-quite-Pluvius,
Yet in our ears as on we move
       Zeus thunders from above.

First items which his key unlocks
Are mured in a rectangular box;
Dispersed, deserving praise in rhyme,
       A village out of time.

Llywelyn’s court all but abuts
Semi-detached round Bronze Age huts;
On the perimeter opposed,
       A “castle” (largely closed).

A west Gower farmer’s bright red house
Adjoined a byre of plywood cows
(One with a tasteful label “Food”
       If you so far intrude).

Onward the centuries advance
To dwellings like the bard’s great-aunts’
And what helped intellects bear fruit,
       A Workmen’s Institute.

The old Department of Topog.
Furnished an Irish epilogue.
To one man’s pride stiff answer came:
       Did he not know his name?

As things to a conclusion drew
A multi-volume book review
Comprised a vote of detailed thanks
       To prostrate Patrick Hanks.

Onymic jests spring from the shore
Or hinterland of Og no more.
Rumour says next year’s may be seen
       Upon a hallowed green.