SNSBI Twenty-seventh Spring Conference 2018

The 2018 SNSBI Spring conference was held in the Kinloch Hotel, located in the village of Blackwaterfoot on the west side of Arran, 18km from the island’s main port of Brodick.

Friday 6 April

Saturday 7 April

Sunday 8 April


Peder Gammeltoft: Hebridean and Manx place-names in Old Norse -staðir

Hebridean and Manx place-names originating from Old Norse (ON) staðir m. pl. ‘place; place for an abode, settlement’ have received relatively little onomastic attention and no single study of this name type exists for this area. This paper attempts to remedy this by exploring the developments of this place-name element throughout the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. The reason for including the Manx staðir -name material is twofold – firstly, Isle of Man and the Hebrides belong to the same linguistic (Gaelic) continuum, and, secondly, source situation which is much better for Isle of Man than the Hebrides, especially the Southern Hebrides. The moderm development of ON staðir varies considerably throughout the study area, from Gaelic -staidh [-staɣ]/[-staj] in the Northern Hebrides is to a very radical development in Isle of Man to -st and -ste [-s]. The name type seems barely represented in the Southern Hebrides, although this paper will suggest that this is owing to a similar radical, but different, development to that of Isle of Man. By comparing with the Manx staðir-names and with Southern Hebridean place-names originating from ON bólstaðr, it is plausible that ON -staðir may have developed into Southern Hebridean Gaelic *-saidh/saigh [*- sa(ɣ)] (with modern reflexes like: -sa, -say, -said, -saidh, -saig, -saigh). By this approach, the place-name type shows a more evenly spread distribution pattern throughout, from the Northern Hebrides to the lsle of Man. However, since other place-name elements and final parts of place-name compounds have developed into the same modem form, pinpointing actual staðir-names is a difficult and multifaceted task which will also be addressed in this paper.

Sofia Evemalm: Viking trails  —  how prevalent are Old Norse anthropotoponyms in Lewis?

The study of Lewis place-names coined in Old Norse has long been fraught with uncertainty. Many of the names are problematic, not least because of the difficulty of firmly establishing an etymology for them, let alone identifying a personal name as an element. Therefore, when investigating place-names containing a personal name (anthropo-toponyms) in Lewis, there are many questions left to be answered. In some instances there is no scholarly consensus on the meaning of a given place-name. An example of this is Suainebost, which can be interpreted in at least five different ways, and only one of these considers a personal name (Sveini, m.) to be part of the name. On the other hand, names like Gurrabhur, potentially containing the personal name Guðrún, f., have only been studied briefly, leaving room for further investigations. In this paper, I will provide an overview of the available material and look at the wider context of these names. This includes discussing the generics found in potential anthropo-toponyms and their physical characteristics. Finally, some thoughts on the social context of these names will be raised. This includes a discussion on how the Norse anthropo-toponyms of Lewis fit into the wider Scandinavian diaspora in the North Atlantic, particularly emphasising comparative material from Scandinavia. Through this brief overview I am hoping to demonstrate that there is considerable scope for future studies into Norse anthropo-toponyms in the Hebrides.

Richard A. V. Cox: The village names of Lewis

In April 2009, a booklet entitled The Village Names of Lewis was published by Urras Leabhraichean nan Eilean (The Islands Book Trust), described as ‘A new edition of the classic work on the island’s Old Norse place-name heritage by Magne Oftedal’, but consisting of, with the addition of a few modern-day photographs, a facsimile copy of Oftedal’s scholarly article ‘The Village Names of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides’ which had been published in 1954 in the Norwegian journal Norsk tidsskrift for sprogvidenskap XVII, 363–409. As explained in its Foreword, the booklet’s publication was intended to alleviate the relative inaccessibility of Oftedal’s original article. The aim of the present talk is to open up the subject further, given the additional research and scholarship of the last half century or so.

Sara L. Uckelman: Revisiting “Puritan” names in England, 1550-1600.

C. W. Bardsley in his Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature draws a  distinction between Puritan names and naming practices and the effect of the Reformation more generally. He says (pp. 42-43):

“We must at once draw a line between the Reformation and Puritanism.  Previous to the Reformation, so far as the Church was concerned, there had been to a certain extent a system of nomenclature. The Reformation abrogated that system, but did not intentionally adopt a new one.  Puritanism deliberately supplied a well-weighed and revised scheme.”

When only English names are considered, it is certainly true that the Puritans introduced novel names and naming types (“Praisegod”, “Fly-Fornication”, etc.) However, the distinctive new trends in naming are not restricted to the Puritans alone, as can be seen when  consideration is extended to the names of non-English Protestant groups, such as those children baptised at the Dutch Reformed Church in London and at the French Protestant Church in Caen.  When baptismal registers from between 1550 and 1600 from these three contexts are considered, we find that there is a distinctively Protestant trend in given names that can be identified.  We present this data and argue that Bardsley's conclusion about “Puritan” names is too narrow, and a result of his focus on only the English data.

Alice Crook: Abram and Onesiphorus revisited: the significance of surnames as middle names in early modern Scotland

At the 2016 spring conference in Maynooth, I presented the results of an investigation into the form and usage of middle names in early modern Scotland. This study formed part of my now-completed PhD into Scottish personal names, a quantitative project drawing on 63,460 baptismal records from eleven parishes. During that paper, I mentioned the preponderance of surnames in the stock of middle names, and discussed the high proportion of mothers’ maiden names which appeared in the middle name position. Beyond an observation that the use of the mother’s name was a way of perpetuating a surname from the maternal side of the family tree, I was unable at that time to draw firm conclusions on the precise nature of these names. Two years on, I have expanded upon and refined some of my previous observations and now present new thoughts on surnames as middle names in this period. In particular, I will argue that first names and middle names are often intrinsically linked, with both of the child’s given names representing the same individual. Examples of name-sharing with clerics and other influential local people will be presented. I will subsequently argue that instances of the mother’s maiden name as a middle name are often not simply uses of a family surname; instead they can be indications that the child has been baptised with the full name of a maternal relative, reinforcing the commemorative nature of names in this period.

Ellen Bramwell: From naming to essence: personal names through the lens of anthropology

My own research in immigrant communities, alongside a broader look at personal names within anthropological studies, has raised issues around traditional scholarly approaches to studying names. There seems to me to be real differences between concepts of the personal name in European culture, where it is seen as an essentially arbitrary label, through many African and other cultures, where a prototypical name is seen as fundamentally meaningful and motivated by circumstance, to names in Inuit, Central Brazilian, and further cultures in which names are actual manifestations of the essential elements of people. This paper opens up questions around personal names and asks what onomastics can learn from looking at them through the lens of anthropology.

Aengus Finnegan: Decoding the Black Islands, Lough Ree, County Longford

The Black Islands are a group of small low-lying islands located roughly midway along the north–south axis of Lough Ree in central Ireland. The islands belong to the parish of Cashel, barony of Rathcline, Co. Longford. At first glance the names of the islands are strikingly different to the general run of townland and larger feature names in and around the lake, being entirely made up of apparently transparent English elements: King’s Island, Nut Island, Sand Island, Girls’ Island, Horse Island, Red Island, Long Island. For comparison, we need only look to some of Lough Ree’s larger islands – Inchcleraun, Inchmore, Inchturk, Inchbofin, Inchenagh, Incharmadermot, Clawinch etc. – where Irish names predominate. The name of the archipelago itself, Black Islands, sometimes shortened locally to ‘the Blacks’, follows the same pattern. The Ordnance Survey recorded no Irish-language forms of the names in the 1830s, though the language was certainly spoken in the area at the time. All, however, may not be as it seems. There is solid evidence that the names of three of the larger islands are translations, or pseudo-translations of topographical Irish names. Displacement of Irish place-names by informal English ‘translations’ was a fairly common practice in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially in the west of Ireland (e.g. ‘Backfox’ or Droim Sionnach, Co Mayo). In the case of King’s Island, the largest of the Black Islands, this change seems to have occurred in the period 1731–1808.

Diana Whaley: From Achnacarry Plantation to Youly Sike: Northumberland Names in The Ordnance Survey Name Books c.1860

Although England does not share Scotland's good fortune in having a near-complete set of Ordnance Survey Name Books, those that survive, covering the four Northern counties of England and part of Hampshire, are an invaluable resource for toponymists and social historians alike. Hitherto under-used, the Northumberland books are currently being digitised and partly transcribed in order to increase accessibility. As well as preserving a rich corpus of place-names and other objects, the books throw light on the processes by which place-names were ascertained and selected for inclusion on maps. The surveyors sometimes venture explanations of names, and by recording variants, describing features and recording local lore they provide leads towards explanations of some otherwise baffling names and name elements.  

Chris Lewis: Place-names and personal names in Domesday Book: new thinking from the Exon Domesday project

The place-names and personal names of Domesday Book (DB) and related texts are foundational to English onomastics. They cover almost the whole country and are from a securely dated context, systematically for the names of manors and landowners in 1066 and 1086, with some coverage of other types of place and other persons. Interpreting the forms given in DB has nonetheless been a fraught business because in recent years there has been no agreed, comprehensible, and convincing account of the processes of the Domesday survey that takes all the evidence into account. Interpreting the DB forms requires a clear view of how the names got into DB. Did they originate in speech or writing? With speakers or writers whose first language was English or French? Were they written in Latin all along? Did the DB scribes themselves modify the spellings? When were they writing: in 1086-7 or significantly later?

The recently completed collaborative project on Exon Domesday, funded by the AHRC, provides a new account of the processes of the Domesday survey and the writing of the Domesday texts (Great Domesday Book, Little Domesday Book, Exon, and the rest). It allows us to see much more clearly how names were first recorded for the survey, in what sort of documents, and how they were (and were not) modified in several stages of rewriting as the results of the survey were processed into their final form as Great Domesday Book.

Following the release of the online edition of Exon Domesday, and ahead of a substantial collaborative monograph about the Making of Domesday, this paper offers a summary of the project’s findings, and shows how better and safer use can be made of Domesday place-name and personal name forms when the Domesday survey is better understood.

Alison Grant: do you define a name when the name doesn’t stay the same?

Devising dictionary entries for onomastic items can be problematic in cases where names are subject to alteration. For example, regimental names frequently evolve over time. The 79th Regiment of Foot (Cameronian Volunteers) were raised in 1793, and over the next two centuries have been known as The Cameron Highlanders, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and The Highlanders (Seaforths, Gordons and Cameronians), before becoming a battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006.

In such cases, it is unclear whether the each incarnation of the regiment should be treated as a distinct entity, listed under its own individual headword in the dictionary, or whether the regiment itself should be considered as a single entity and dealt with in one large entry. In the latter case, the issue remains regarding the choice of headword. One option is the creation of a bracketed multi-version of the headword which incorporates as many versions of the name as possible, but this can be visually confusing. Alternatively, one of the forms could be selected to represent the others, but in this case it is difficult to determine whether to choose the oldest form, the most recent, or the most well-known or frequently-attested form. A third option is to list the material under one of the recurring words from these names, such as ‘Cameron’ or ‘Highlander’. However, in this case the onomastic information may be subsumed under large general entries detailing all of the other uses and meanings of these words.

Another problematic area for lexicographers is the issue of recycled names, such as amateur football teams who adopt the name of a defunct professional team, or village fetes and fun-days which adopt the name of a historical fair. It is unclear whether both uses of the name should be listed in a single entry, or treated as distinct onomastic entities.

Thomas Clancy: The saint of Shiskine and Lamlash: some problems with names and antiquarians.

Some of our earliest detailed information about names on Arran comes from the work of antiquarians such as Martin Martin and Thomas Pennant. The information they give on a variety of names has influenced local tradition and OS maps. Despite this, this information is puzzling, and internally contradictory, regarding the saint(s) associated with a number of island sites, particularly Shiskine and Lamlash. Depending on which source of information we use, we might think this saint's name was variously Mo Laise, Mo Luag, Mo Ling or Máel Ísu. A discussion of the problems, while unlikely to resolve the issue, makes clear the role of antiquarians in influencing the trajectory of place-names.

Kay Muhr: Names in the legend of Suibhne/Sweeney (with a digression on church sites)

The Middle-Irish legend of the wanderings of Suibhne, a 7th-century king of Dál nAraidhe, Co. Antrim, driven mad by a saint’s curse, involves all Ireland and parts of western Scotland, but some names surviving in it link closely to the supposed time and area of origin. Despite the cause of his derangement, Suibhne the madman takes refuge near various Irish churches, and the descriptions of these places shed light on the arrangement considered normal at the time the tale was put in writing. Shuibhne, ed. J. G. O’Keeffe 1910, Irish Texts Society vol. xii. Reprinted 1984

Paul Tempan: Tonn and tuadh/dumhach: concealing Brittonic cognates of Welsh tywyn ‘beach’ and tywod ‘sand’ in Irish place-names?

A well-known geographical triad mentioned in The Metrical Dindshenchas is trí tonna h-Érenn uile, usually interpreted as “three great waves of Ireland”: Tonn Chlidna (Co. Cork), Tonn Rudraige (Co. Down), Túag Inber (Co. Derry). Despite folklore about powerful, destructive waves, observation at these locations suggests that these names simply refer to three stretches of coastline, two of them notable for beaches and sand-dunes. Furthermore, The Tuns is the English name of a hazardous sand-bank, sometimes exposed, at the mouth of the River Foyle. It will be argued that Ir. tonn and Eng. Tuns in these names are ultimately derived from a Brittonic word referring to a beach, cognate with Welsh tywyn ‘seashore, sand-dune’. Similarly, there is a group of coastal names around N. and N.W. Ireland, anglicised as -toy, -tooey, doo-, dooey, etc. These include Ballintoy (Co. Antrim), Slievetooey (Co. Donegal), Dooagh, Doogort and Dooega on Achill Island (Co. Mayo), and various places called Dooey. Túag Inber also belongs here. Many of these names do not have an agreed origin. It is proposed that these names refer to beaches andor sand-dunes, and that they derive from a Brittonic cognate of Welsh tywod ‘sand’, which should best be spelt tuadhduadh in Modern Irish. When rendered in Irish with dumha ‘mound’ or dumhach ‘sand-bank’, the silent -mh- is unetymological. This group of place-names provides important evidence for two elements which are not found in Irish dictionaries, but are they simply loanwords into Irish from Brittonic or traces of an extinct Brittonic dialect spoken in Ireland? Both elements appear to have been re-interpreted in late medieval Irish tradition, suggesting they were no longer widely understood and that the names were coined at an earlier date.

Dàibhidh Grannd: Testing Gelling and Cole’s hypothesis; a view from the hills of Berwickshire.

This paper will introduce a new method for characterising the shape of individual hills and hill-spurs and suggest how some of the principles pioneered by Gelling and Cole may be applied objectively to large corpora in a time-efficient manner. Given their impact over the past three decades, it is striking how few have been the attempts to replicate and thoroughly examine Gelling and Cole’s influential ideas; a notable exception being Terhi Nurminen’s PhD thesis on ‘Hill-Terms in the Place-Names of Northumberland and County Durham’ in 2012. Building on that excellent study’s application of statistical analysis and tightening of definitions, I will outline how a digital-based system of topographic measurement has the potential to deliver a new strand of toponymic evidence, and thereby explore Gelling and Cole’s hypothesis in relation to southern Scotland. My thesis, using hill-data from Berwickshire, is piloting this methodology as a contribution to the Leverhulme-funded project, Recovering the Earliest English Language in Scotland: evidence from place-names.

Richard Jones: Flood warnings: exploring the relationship between river-names and riparian settlement-names in England in the early medieval period

The names given to English riverine settlements have never previously been examined in relation to the river-names on whose banks they were established. In this paper focus is placed on the capacity of both name-types to communicate vital information regarding the likelihood of river flooding in the early medieval period. How did these two sets of names work together? Many river-names originally communicated aspects of the river’s character. Here, rivers have been categorised according to the personality traits their names conveyed—as idlers, lingerers, meanderers, wanderers, and aggressors. These river-names helped to warn against the threat of flood each river posed, and gauge both the scale and type of flooding that might be expected along their courses. However, such information as each river-name might carry could offer no more than a general description of the river irrespective of whether their names were old or had been newly coined. The settling of the floodplains in the early medieval period provided the opportunity to coin new local place-names. This permitted communities to map the behaviour of their rivers at finer resolution and better described their contemporary behaviours. Where river-names transparently described their flooding nature, was this aspect of place-naming rendered redundant or were riparian settlement-names used to provide a second-tier of information that could be drawn upon by those living on the floodplains? Alternatively, where the meanings of river-names had become opaque, or where these had originally been silent on the matter of flood risk, were riverine place-names specifically coined to fill this environmental knowledge gap and if so, how and where? This paper results from the current Leverhulme Trust-funded project ‘Flood and flow: place-names and the changing hydrology of rivers in England and Wales’.

Susan Kilby: The slydinge watir: living with water in medieval Alrewas

The settlement of Alrewas in Staffordshire is located at the confluence of the Trent and Tame. The name reveals the fact that its Anglo-Saxon inhabitants were aware of the propensity for this landscape to flood and drain rapidly, and yet this did not discourage them from settling there and farming the adjacent countryside. The survival of a great quantity of later medieval field-names means that it is possible to reconstruct the ways in which local people viewed, understood and managed this occasionally unpredictable landscape. During a period in which the elements could frequently undermine peasants’ attempts at agrarian success, having a thorough understanding of a potentially problematic environment would have been essential for the inhabitants of Alrewas. The field-names bring to light this community’s close observation of their watery surroundings, revealing how they lived successfully with the ever-present threat from the incursion of floodwaters.

Keith Briggs: DDD - a new standard for document date description

There is a need for a concise (but also precise) way of expressing approximate dates and date ranges, especially one suitable for working with medieval documents. The main application area is entering place-name spellings in a database. With the system to be described, if one reads that the date of a charter is “early thirteenth century to circa 1240”, one just writes “e13C-c1240”. Similarly “nd?1h13C” is clearer, shorter, and more useful for further processing than “n.d. [?first half 13c.]”. No information is lost with these encodings, and the outputs will be consistently formatted whatever the editor wrote. The proposed system satisfies these design criteria:

  1. No loss of information, and no extra assumptions imposed.
  2. Unambiguous, but still with some looseness allowed in the inputs.
  3. Compact, to save space in e.g. long lists of field-names.
  4. Human-readable (or at least human-understandable with minimal need to refer to reference tables).
  5. Extractable from free-format text by simple pattern-matching rules.
  6. Machine-readable, in a strict sense, so that invalid specifications will be detected and rejected, and also so that code can be written which “understands” the date specifications and can process them meaningfully.

Further details here.