SNSBI Twenty-fifth Spring Conference

This meeting was held at Maynooth University, April 15–18, 2016. The program, abstracts, and some photos are below. A postgraduate workshop was also held.


Dé hAoine/Friday 15 April

Dé Sathairn/Saturday 16 April

Session 1: Scottish & Irish personal names

Session 2: Irish personal names & surnames

Session 3: Irish place-names

Session 4:

Session 5: Project reports

Dé Domhnaigh/Sunday 17 April

Session 6: English place-names

Session 7: Place-names & streetnames

Session 8: Hydronyms

Dé Luain/Monday 18 April


From Abram Meassone Mansone to Onesiphorus Tyndall Bruce Nivison: the usage of middle names in Early Modern Scotland

Alice Crook

Very little research has been conducted into the usage of middle names in Early Modern Scotland. Genealogists have briefly discussed the topic, but what is stated tends to be unsupported or vague; for example, Bigwood writes that “sometimes a middle name was included, often the maiden name of the mother or grandmother or surname of another relative” (The Scottish family tree detective: tracing your ancestors in Scotland, 2006: 60). This paper, based upon a subsection of my PhD, will attempt to redress this gap in knowledge and offer a more precise understanding of the usage of middle names, based upon a substantial dataset of over 64,000 baptismal entries. These entries have been collected from the Old Parish Registers for eleven parishes, and cover the period 1680-1839. Parishes were chosen to represent a range of geographical and social variables. Using this large dataset, this paper will provide insight into the usage of middle names during this period, with reference to aspects including:

  1. the number and proportion of middle names found in the dataset
  2. regional and diachronic differences in usage
  3. the form of the names given
  4. the stock of middle names, and its overlap with the stocks of first names and of surnames
  5. the prevalence of multiple middle names, as opposed to singular

Research has also been conducted into whom names were given for. As stated by Bigwood above, it is generally understood that middle names were given to honour a particular person, commonly the mother or grandmother by usage of her maiden name (2006: 60). I will discuss the implications of my study for this theory, and also present other potential avenues from which middle names were obtained

Theorising the study of personal names as place-name elements in a Lewis context

Sofia Evemalm

Although personal names as place-name elements are frequently studied and invoked, they are often confined to the periphery of onomastic theory in a British context. The aim of this paper is to address this issue. I will be looking at three aspects of onomastic theory: the linguistic and social context of the place-names in question, the issue of defining proper nouns which will be the primary focus of this paper, and the use of a name-semantic approach. This will be discussed primarily from a Lewis perspective and place-names of both Old Norse and Scottish Gaelic origin will be considered. Ultimately, the aim is to create a theoretical framework for the study of personal names as place-name elements which can be applied, not only to Lewis and the Western Isles, but also more generally. By doing this, the need to pay particular attention to methodological aspects of the study of these names will be highlighted.

Morose and mirthful: adjectival epithets in Irish personal names

Liam Ó hAisibéil

This paper will examine the role and structure of adjectival epithets in Irish personal names. Adjectival epithets are qualifiers added to a personal name which indicate a particular quality or physical characteristic, e.g. Aodh Ballach ‘Freckled Hugh’ or Tomás Carrach ‘Rough-skinned Thomas’. A number of these epithets are attested from a very early date in Irish-language sources, and the frequency of these attestations increases significantly from the 12th century onwards, in both Irish manuscript sources and in sources associated with the English administration in Ireland during the Tudor period. These documents indicate naming practices among various social groups in Ireland during the medieval period and indeed, aspects of these practices are still in use today, primarily within Irish-speaking communities in Ireland. This paper will provide examples of these epithets, explore their possible functions, and ask what these epithets might reveal about naming practices in Irish society during the late-medieval period.

Personal names and surnames in Wicklow as found in the 16th century Fiants

Conchubhar Ó Cruabhlaoich

The talk for the most part deals with native Irish surnames and personal names in County Wicklow as attested in 16th century Fiants. It will be seen that many surnames not normally associated with Wicklow evidently have deep roots there. In the case of personal names, the Fiants provided evidence that often mirrors the contemporary popularity of various names among the native Irish of County Wexford, but there is also evidently some divergence from this. This work is based on on-going research of the townland names in Wicklow by the Placenames Branch.

Personal names and surnames in the barony of Coleraine

Niall Comer

A view of the family and personal names, predominantly from the Gaelic tradition, but with evidence of Norse and English/Scottish influence, in the townland names of the Barony of Coleraine.

Towards a database of Irish surnames

Brian Ó Raghallaigh, Michal Boleslav Měchura, & Katie Ní Loingsigh

This paper presents a preliminary outline of a database schema for capturing and collecting Irish surnames. The term “Irish surnames” refers to surnames which have both Irish and English forms, that are in use in Ireland, and are of Gaelic (i.e. Irish, Scottish Gaelic, or Manx) or Anglo-Norman (i.e. Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, Danish, Flemish, Breton, or Welsh) origin. Irish surnames came into use gradually from the middle of the tenth to the end of the thirteenth century and have been of interest to both scholars and the public alike from at least the seventeenth century to the present day. Despite this interest, a multifaceted database of Irish surnames has yet to be produced. This paper aims to outline a suitable methodology to create such a database which could be used as a foundation for future research in the field of onomastics. The database schema will enable us to capture Irish surnames and their grammatical forms (in the case of Irish­language surnames), to cluster instances of the same surname, to provide canonical Irish­language forms, to record any other relevant information, and to link related surnames based on multiple criteria (e.g. historical equivalence, linguistic similarity, geographic proximity, etc.). The database will use the Irish Surname Index dataset, developed as part of the Dú project, which contains 2,018 surname clusters (i.e. a set of instances of a surname), and comprises 9,773 surname forms, as its basis. Once a suitable schema for capturing Irish surnames has been devised, it will be implemented in an xml-based database and made available on the web. This paper gives an overview of a suggested methodology to collect, record, and link Irish surnames in a database, and outlines future developments and research possibilities in this field.

Some fishery names on the River Shannon

Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill

In 1963 the Placenames Branch collected the names of various ‘draws’ and sections of the River Shannon which were used by net fishermen in the vicinity of Limerick City. In this paper I will analyse the names, many of which are derived from Irish and I will also consider some further names associated with the Limerick fishery.

Dú as a toponymic resource

Conchúr Mag Eacháin

Dú is a project to digitize the National Folklore Collection of Ireland. The Schools’ Collection is the first to be digitized - a collection compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in every parish in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939. This paper will discuss its usefulness as a resource for those researching local place-names.

A turf-bank of toponymy: Mayo place-names and the publication of Logainmneacha Mhaigh Eo

Fiachra Mac Gabhann

In 2001, Fiachra Mac Gabhann began an extensive study of the townland and minor names of Ireland’s third-largest county. This research was ultimately published in a limited-edition, ten-volume work in 2016. In this talk he will summarise the genesis and growth of the study, review source materials, summarise important findings and outline recent, further research.

Ubbe, Gök and Fjäder. Personal names within place-names in the county of Jämtland, Sweden?

Josefin Devine

The presentation will cover settlement names that end with -åsen in the municipality of Berg, county of Jämtland, Sweden. There are 34 of them, of which one is a simplex: Åsen. The first elements of the rest of the names can be categorised in four different groups. They can be connected to some kind of human activity, their position related to another settlement, or describe a terrain characteristic. The biggest category (with 15 names) is the one with first elements interpreted as a personal name. These interpretations can in some cases be questioned. Here will follow a few examples of the common pattern personal name + -åsen, where three obvious personal names will be compared with three cases where the interpretation is more uncertain.

Project report: Cognitive Toponymy: People and Places in Synergy

Carole Hough

The RSE-funded research network Cognitive toponymy: people and places in synergy has been investigating toponymic evidence for human conceptualisation of place, focusing geographically on Scotland and Denmark, and thematically on direction, religion and visual appearance. It concludes in June 2016, just as another Glasgow-based project is getting underway. The Leverhulme-funded project Recovering the earliest English language in Scotland: evidence from place-names aims to use place-name evidence to investigate the Old Northumbrian dialect of Old English and its development into Older Scots. This will be achieved through detailed survey of six parishes along the Anglo-Scottish border, and analysis of all Berwickshire place-names on the OS Landranger map.

Project report on - The Placenames Database of Ireland, and Meitheal

Justin Ó Gliasáin & Mairéad Nic Lochlainn

The project report will focus on the outputs of the current phase of the project (2015-2016), e.g. links between and the project to digitize the National Folklore Collection of Ireland, Dú, Meitheal (a repository for onomastic details) and partnership links with other organisations.

New approaches to old roads: travel and communication in Anglo-Saxon England

Eleanor Rye & Stuart Brookes

Our knowledge of the routes by which people travelled in the Anglo-Saxon period is rather patchy. There have been numerous studies that have identified evidence of what might be termed ‘Anglo-Saxon travel infrastructure’. Physical remains of routeways have been discovered though archaeological excavation or exist as relic features in the landscape, whilst place-names indicative of tracks, landing points, crossing places and so on, and the records of these features in Anglo-Saxon estate boundary perambulations provide further evidence. However, previous studies of this material have either been limited in terms of area covered or the type of evidence analysed. We are synthesizing and analysing this material as part of a three-year project, Travel and Communications in Anglo-Saxon England, one of the outputs of which will be an online atlas of early medieval routeways. The availability of software that enables geographically localised information to be recorded and analysed, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), means that disparate types of evidence can be visualised and analysed at regional and national levels. This paper will outline the approach we are taking to record, integrate and analyse evidence for Anglo-Saxon travel ‘infrastructure’, and will present some initial findings from Worcestershire and South Oxfordshire.

The specificity of generics: semantic development and differentiation in some East Midland field-name elements

Rebecca Gregory

It has been convincingly argued by various scholars that the elements used in English major place-names frequently have very precise meanings. This is most easily demonstrated, perhaps, in landscape terminology, but is also the case with elements indicative of travel, industry, and defence, among others. Research on English microtoponyms has been a more recent focus, with a constantly increasing corpus of attestations (both published and unpublished), and the work which has been conducted using field- and minor names is naturally selective, and often localised. My own research on field-names in a small area of Nottinghamshire has created a corpus of roughly 6,000 names and over 10,000 attestations. This paper will use these data to examine whether the same semantic specificity can be found in these Nottinghamshire field-names as in England’s major names, using as examples several of the most commonly-occurring generic elements in my corpus.

Heaney Country: celebration of place-names in the poetry of Seamus Heaney

Pat McKay

Many of Seamus Heaney’s poems reflect the poet’s deep sense of attachment to his native area of south Derry and names of local places are often used as a source of poetic inspiration. The paper will look in detail at a number of relevant poems and examine their significance in terms of celebrating local identity and also from the point of view of the place-names scholar.

St. Patrick – born in the Pas-de-Calais?

Graham Collis

Nobody knows for sure where St Patrick was born. In his own work The Confession he tells us that his father Calpurnius had an estate near the village of Bannavem (Ta)berniae from which he was captured when nearly 16 and then taken to Ireland. Later in The Confession he writes that he would ’… make the journey to Britain … and I had been very willing for this because (it was) to my country and kinsfolk and not that journey only but even as far as Gaul …’. This has led most modern scholars to search for his birthplace somewhere in Britain and probably near the sea with candidates ranging along the West coast of Britain (Dumbarton, Cumbria and Caerwent amongst others).  There are older traditions however that St Patrick came from Gaul and it is these traditions that will be examined in this paper. William Fleming proposed that his birthplace was Boulogne-sur-Mer and as a result a local school and a café have been named after Ireland's patron saint. Is this tourist-board opportunism or a real possibility ? This paper will examine the historical and onomastic evidence to try and throw some light on this puzzle and take part in what one French medieval historian has called a ‘combat sport’.

Irish-language street-names pre-1900: sources and functions

Liam Mac Mathúna

One of the first successful public campaigns of the Gaelic League led to the erection of Irish/English dual-language street-name signs by Dublin Corporation just a decade after the organisation was founded in the city in 1893. This paper explores the evidence available with regard to the pre-revival situation, in an effort to clarify the extent and context of Irish-language street names usage in that period.

The river-names of Suffolk

Keith Briggs

A high proportion of Suffolk’s river-names are back-formations, such as Alde from Aldeburgh. The process is well-known from many parts of England, but there has been insufficient investigation into the motivations and causes involved in this type of naming. In the case of Suffolk, many of the back-formations can be blamed on William Harrison (1535-1593), and there is a surprising Irish connection here, as many of Harrison’s unpublished notes and papers are now in in the library of Trinity College Dublin, and his books are in the Derry & Raphoe Diocesan Library. These reveal the chaotic and hurried state in which he prepared his Description of Britaine, in which the back-formations first appear. It seems that Harrison simply invented names whenever he was unable to determine the “true” name in time for his publisher’s deadline. In this paper I will outline Harrison’s working methods, and also give some new information on such genuine old (not back-formed) names as Orwell and Waveney.

Gaoth – a Brittonic element in Irish hydronyms?

Paul Tempan

The Irish element gaoth(masc.) is found in a number of Irish place-names, principally in the northern half of Ireland. It is a homonym of gaoth (fem.) meaning ‘wind’. While the word is rarely used as a common noun in Irish, it is clear from place-names that it refers originally to a water-feature, often the estuary of a river, e.g. Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore, Co. Donegal), Gaoth Sáile (Gweesalia, Co. Mayo). The relevant names have been studied by Dónall Mac Giolla Easpaig (Scathlán no. 3, 1986). No clear etymology has yet been advanced to my knowledge. A Brittonic origin for gaoth is proposed here (which also applies to the sense ‘wind’), deriving it from the Celtic root *WEKT- seen in Vectis, the Celtic name for the Isle of Wight. It therefore shows the characteristic Brittonic change W->gw-, rather than Irish f-. It is likely to have passed through an early Brittonic form *gweith (cf. Inis Gueith, Nennius’ name for the Isle of Wight) before being borrowed into Irish as gaoth. The element has several Brittonic cognates, the best attested being Breton gwazh. The basic meaning of the root appears to be ‘current, movement’, cf. Latin vehō and vector, developing to ‘wind’ (‘current of air’) and ‘river, estuary’ (‘(tidal) current of water’).



Maynooth castle walking tour 2016-04-16


Maynooth castle walking tour 2016-04-16


Trim coach tour 2016-04-17


Trim coach tour 2016-04-17