SNSBI 2016 Autumn day conference

The SNSBI 2016 Autumn day conference on Names of north-east England and beyond was organized by Diana Whaley and held on 2016-10-15 at the Stephenson Suite in the Mining Institute, Newcastle upon Tyne.

The programme included papers on place-names and personal names, with an emphasis on north-east England and southern Scotland. Speakers were:

The day began with a brief introduction to the Mining Institute, and ended with a walk around historic Newcastle led by Colm O'Brien. The Mining Institute is in Neville Hall, a Grade-II*-listed Victorian Gothic building 3 minutes walk from Newcastle Central Station.


Paul Cullen: Locative surnames of Northumberland

This paper will introduce the surnames project Family Names of the United Kingdom (FaNUK/FaNBI) based at the University of the West of England, Bristol, before drawing on some of its materials to explore locative surnames based on place-names of Northumberland. The examples chosen will illustrate the methodology of researching surnames, the progress that can be made and the problems that arise.

Peter McClure: The origins of the north-east England surnames Surtees, Del Strother, Delafield and Delford

These surnames, along with others like the Devon name Delbridge and the Cheshire name Delamere, are explained in Reaney’s and Wilson’s Dictionary of English Surnames as topographic surnames with a fused Anglo-Norman preposition and (usually) an Anglo-Norman definite article. New evidence shows that these names are not topographic but are either toponymic (i.e. from place-names) or are disguised forms of other surnames, altered by dialect pronunciation or by folk etymology.

Diana Whaley: The naming of Northumberland forts and castles

Northumberland, “England's Border County”, is enormously rich in defensive sites of all periods. Their history epitomises the history of the region, while the place-name elements applied to them offer a kind of cross-section through its linguistic history. This paper reviews 'the vocabulary of defence’ in the historic county of Northumberland, examining problems of chronology and interpretation, with a particular emphasis on the Old English words burh and cæster and their reflexes. A bibliography follows.

Fiona Edmonds: Gaelic place-names and personal names in medieval north-east England

The Gaelic place-names and personal names of medieval north-west England have recently received renewed attention, and scholars have highlighted links to the Irish-Sea world (Ireland, the Isles and Galloway) and the kingdom of the Scots. The north-east of England (defined here primarily as Northumberland and County Durham, but with some attention also paid to Yorkshire) has received less consideration. Fewer Gaelic names appear in medieval records from this region, but there are some significant examples. One notable instance is the rogue magnate Gilla-Míchíl, whose name prompted Symeon of Durham to pun that he appeared more like a servant of the devil than of St Michael. In order to explain the presence of Gaelic place- and personal names in the region I will investigate links to the kingdom of the Scots, and ecclesiastical connections during the Northumbrian Golden Age and the twelfth century.

Simon Taylor: Busses and Carrs: Some rock- and island-names in the Firth of Forth

The Firth of Forth, besides being one of the most important waterways of medieval northern Britain, was for many centuries a linguistic and political border, and this is reflected both in the different names for the Forth itself and in the names of its many islands and rocks: Brittonic, Gaelic, Old English and Scots. This talk explores some of these, as well as a handful of Norse names introduced most likely through long-term Norse maritime engagement with the Forth, names such as Fidra and (probably) Lamb – as well as the ambivalent Isle of May, which is recorded in the Orkneyinga saga as Máeyjar ‘gull islands’, but which might be a Norse re-interpretation of Gaelic magh ‘a plain, a level place’. Carr of the title is found in the Forth, as well as down the Berwickshire and Northumberland coast, in the names of small, rocky islands, and was originally part of the naming vocabulary of Old Northumbrian; while buss is a Scots term applied to very small, tidal rocks, as in Bubbly Buss and Boys Buss, and which has become entangled with bush (Scots buss, from a different root), and which might just lie behind the Bass (see Alison Grant’s article).

A version of this talk was given at the Scottish Place-Name Society in Aberdeen in Spring 2013, with an illustrated article based on the talk appearing in Scottish Place-Name News no. 35 (Autumn 2013).

For more on the element buss, see Alison Grant’s short online article: Buss: if we shake the bushes of the sea, then two come along at once: an etymological muddle

Leonie Dunlop: Beasts of the earth and birds of the sky: motivation and narrative in the coastal names of Berwickshire

This paper will discuss the names of coastal relief features in Cockburnspath and Coldingham parishes, the two northernmost coastal parishes in Berwickshire. The Berwickshire coast comprises steep inclines and off coast rocks, making it an ideal area to examine the naming of coastal relief features. The records surviving for the names of coastal features in this area are limited, often not going back further than the first edition Ordnance Survey maps and Name Books, and latterly only in oral use. Such place-names might demonstrate occurrences of systematic name groups, either in the initial coining of the name or in its reinterpretation. In this area, rocks situated either at the foot of steep inclines or off coast are often metaphorical names taken from farm animals, farm implements, and wild animals. Higher up coastal features have predominantly literal names, many of these being bird names. This paper will therefore consider the various motivations that have contributed to the development of toponyms along this coastline. Whereas traditional scholarship tends to seek a single, ‘correct’ derivation for individual place-names, this paper argues that multiple motivating factors may be at play.

Colm O'Brien: Introduction to historic Newcastle, followed by guided walk.

The main focus of the walk will be the street pattern of Newcastle's medieval core, picking out points in the stages of its development, inherited medieval elements and more recent introductions, and of the underlying topography.