2023 SNSBI autumn day conference

The Society's 2023 autumn conference took place on Saturday, 4th November 2023 from 1030 to 1500, online via Zoom. The conference was held jointly with our friends and colleagues from the Scottish Place-Name Society.


1030-1040 Welcome

Alan Macniven, Convenor, SPNS

1040-1110 All that glistens: gold, hoards and history in place-names

Jeremy Harte

Onomastics has a long record as handmaid to archaeology, so that place-names in “gold”, hord and the compounds goldhord and dracanhord have been signalled as places where ancient hoards might reward the excavator – if not the ancient dragons that protected them. Unfortunately by the time treasure enters the historical record, it’s usually been dug up and carried away, but at least we know what we missed. Or do we? On close inspection, the recurrent simplex goldhord makes very little sense as a record of places where treasure was once found. Instead, the names suggest enclosures by major roads, often with a farm nearby, so that they became a prolific source of topographical surnames. Old English hord overlapped with ModE “hoard” but not enough to make us confident that we are dealing with buried riches. Like the supernatural guardians to which it was assigned, the element “gold” can mislead as well as reward.

1110-1140 St Andrews in Wales: the medieval dedications

David N. Parsons

The paper examines dedications to St Andrew in Wales, and considers their likely historical context. More broadly, it also discusses the challenges offered by this category of evidence which, in Celtic-speaking regions, so often goes hand-in-hand with the names of places.

1140-1210 Make Me Rich, Mount Hooley and other verbal place-names: a different kind of naming

Diana Whaley

In an article of 2008, Simon Taylor explored some minor names of Fife that he termed ‘verbal place-names’: those containing verbs. Enjoying a modest vogue in the Early Modern period, names of this type are both syntactically and semantically eccentric, departing radically from the norm of place-names that contain well-attested place-name elements and either describe sites or identify their stakeholders. This paper aims to supplement the Fife examples of this name-type and to reflect further on its nature, its kinship with certain other name-types, and its distribution in time and space, by seeking material first in the historic county of Northumberland then (briefly) more widely. Time permitting, there will be a request for attendees at the conference to share potential examples known to them.

1210-1300 lunch break

1300-1340 Dwelling, travelling, and telling: place-making on Rannoch Moor through landscape archaeology and place-names

Michael Given

Rannoch Moor was a key route between Highlands and Lowlands for travellers, raiders and soldiers; it was a haven for stolen and legitimate cattle, and an inspiration for Gaelic songs and stories. Place-names and new archaeological evidence show that it was also a landscape where people lived and worked, particularly in the 17th–18th centuries. This is in great contrast to an ongoing and powerful mythology that portrays Rannoch Moor as waste and wilderness. In this paper I will combine archaeological, environmental, toponymic, historical and literary evidence to interpret Rannoch Moor as a lively and dynamic landscape full of interaction among people, plants, animals, topography, and place.

1340-1410 Glasgow’s Gaelic place-names

Alasdair C. Whyte

This paper presents new research from the University of Glasgow from the recently-published book Glasgow’s Gaelic Place-Names (Birlinn, September 2023). The book, which features contributions from University of Glasgow colleagues Katherine Forsyth and Simon Taylor, tells the story of Gaelic in Glasgow based on the toponymic evidence – a story which takes us back around a millennium. The paper will focus on: the earliest sources for Glasgow’s Gaelic place-names; language contact between Gaelic, Northern Brittonic and Scots; the Gaelic origins of place-names such as Auchenshuggle, Gartnavel, Keppochill and Teucharhill; and place-name evidence within 19th-century Gaelic song.

1410-1440 Ásleifarvík or Hálseyjarvík? The Norse place-names of Scotland’s west Coast in Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar

Peter Randall

Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar is an indispensable source for the historian or toponymist of Scotland’s western seaboard. The saga, which recounts the life of Hákon Hákonarson (r.1217-1263), is thought to have been compiled c.1264-5. This makes it almost contemporary with many of the events described. The saga’s compiler Sturla Þórðarson (d.1284) provides several Old Norse place-names for locations south of Cape Wrath, some of which are otherwise unattested. Through a re-evaluation of these place-names, their limitations as sources for the linguistic history of the Hebrides become apparent. However, new value can be found in how they reveal Scandinavian naming practices and geographical conceptions of Scotland's west coast.

1440-1500 Sum up

Jennifer Scherr, SNSBI President