SNSBI Twenty-fourth Spring Conference  —  March 27–29, 2015

The SNSBI 2015 spring conference was held at the University of East Anglia in conjunction with the Centre of East Anglian Studies (CEAS).

The theme of the meeting was East Anglian places and people. The program and abstracts are below, and in those cases where the author has given permission, the title is a link to a pdf copy of the slides. Some feedback has been: Thanks very much for such an enjoyable and useful conferenceMany thanks for a wonderful and inspiring conferenceThanks again to both of you for your fantastic work on the Norwich conference. It was an excellent programme, and everything went surprisingly smoothlyThank you for a great conference, it was really great to see Norwich and to hear all the interesting talks givenExcellent conferenceThank you for organising a splendid programmeThank you for inviting me – I enjoyed it immenselyThanks for an excellent conferencecongratulations on an excellent, well-organized, and enjoyable conference.


Friday 27 March

Saturday 28 March

Session 2: English toponymy

Session 3: Toponymy elsewhere

Session 4: East Anglian personal names

Session 5: Scandinavians in East Anglia

Session 6: Short project reports

Sunday 29 March

Session 7: Scandinavians in England

Session 8: Microtoponymy & landscapes

Session 9: English toponymy


Some Suffolk place-name puzzles

Keith Briggs

The parish names of Suffolk are mostly purely English and of well understood common types such as names with generic -ley, -ham, -ton, -ford, -worth, etc., with either an OE personal name or an adjective as specific. However, there are a surprising number of names in which the specific is either completely obscure, or has some unusual features demanding a linguistic explanation. There are also a few names apparently ancient (e.g., of Domesday date) but belonging only to farms. This talk will mainly just raise open questions about such names, with a selection from Bealings & Belstead, Bergholt, Beyton, Bulcamp, Harkstead, Hengrave, Livermere, Orwell, Purton Green, Wenhaston, and Wordwell & Worlington.

The secret life of the fields: extraordinary ordinary landscapes

Susan Kilby

Within current scholarship, field- names are predominantly considered from an etymological perspective on the one hand, and to aid in the reconstruction of the physical landscape on the other. Although problems have been noted with both approaches, researchers have struggled to find an alternative methodology. This paper seeks to address this issue by considering late medieval field-names from the world-view of the peasant, resulting in a more phenomenological application. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, and using a wide range of sources that include documents and material evidence alongside the landscape itself, a group of Northamptonshire field-names is re-interpreted using an anthropological framework that considers the landscape as a repository for folklore, myth and legend. Taking this approach, a seemingly ordinary late medieval environment is reconstructed and presented as a possible memorial to perceived historical events.

The Scottish Maidenwells

Carole Hough

In a paper read at the Society’s Falmouth conference in 2009 and subsequently published in Nomina 33 (2010), I presented a case for ‘The Name-Type Maid(en)well’ to be interpreted as a dedication to the Virgin Mary, paralleling other recurrent place-names such as Lady Well and Mary Well. I also drew attention to the geographical distribution, which appeared to be restricted to southern Britain, with none of the corpus of 21 occurrences situated further north than Lincolnshire in England. More recently, additional occurrences have come to light in Scotland, partly through work on the AHRC-funded project Scottish Toponymy in Transition at the University of Glasgow (2011-2014), and partly through the availability of the Ordnance Survey Name Books on the ScotlandsPlaces website. This paper will present a brief analysis of the Scottish corpus, and discuss the implications of the revised distribution pattern.

The -ingahem names of the Lumbres Canton (Pas-de-Calais)

Graham Collis

Lumbres Canton is situated between St. Omer and Boulogne and in the early Middle Ages was part of the Germanic speech area which at that time extended at least as far as the Canche estuary and the great trading emporium of Quentovic. The -ingahem names are very common in the North and West of the Pas-de-Calais and are attested from the seventh century AD and the Lumbres Canton is very much a part of this overall distribution. These names extend in significant numbers along the coastal strip of Flanders up to the Scheldt estuary and of course are also found in England. Reviewing previous research this paper will attempt to see whether we can learn anything from these names and in particular from the Lumbres Canton with its lovely rolling countryside.

Toponymy: a sociolinguistic study of selected place-names in Nigeria

Idowu O. Odebode

Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa with about 200 million people, thirty-six states and 450 ethnic groups, of which the three major are: the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. The nation houses the longest river in West Africa (the River Niger), the largest city in West Africa (Ibadan) and the twin capital of the world (Igbo-Ora). These three, among others, foreground the present study as they play principal roles in Nigeria's toponymic import. The study takes a critical look at the historical and oral accounts behind six place-names (Niger, Ibadan, Igbo-Ora, Jos, Lagos and Ile-Ife), and, argues that rather than resonating mere illocutionary act of describing, the names impact on the history, religion, economy, politics, customs and traditions of their immediate communities. A thorough dissection of the names will generate further onomasticity, historicity and narrativity attesting to their socio-cultural significance in the lives of the people.

East Anglian surnames

Patrick Hanks

The first edition of the Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland (FaNBI), containing 46,000 entries, is now complete in draft form. Copy-editing is in progress. The work will be published by Oxford University Press in 2017. Surnames (family names) are less stable than place-names, a fact that affects the choice of research techniques. Philological expertise alone is not enough. New resources are now available, in particular large electronic databases of census returns, parish registers, medieval and early modern tax records, probate records, and other data. These resources enable us to address questions about the geographical distribution and history of surnames as well as their etymology, often yielding explanations of names never previously explained or, in other cases, improvements on previously accepted explanations. By way of a case study we asked: what are the surnames most associated with each of three counties (Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex) in the 1881 census, according to Steven Archer’s British Surnames Atlas? We then compared Archer’s 1881 data with medieval and early modern records. Specifically we asked: how many surnames are there more than 70% of whose bearers in the 1881 census are located in just one of these three counties? There are 82 such surnames in Norfolk, 24 in Suffolk, and 36 in Essex. Did all of these names originate in or near the county with which they have such a strong 1881 association, or are some of them the result of migration? How stable is the population of these three counties? Of the 36 names most associated with Essex, 16 (44%) originated in Essex or an adjacent county. Other Essex surnames are of Norman French origin (Bloyce), Huguenot (Pertwee), Dutch (Outten), or Irish (Bohannon). Some are polygenetic and have ‘become’ monogenetic through survival of only one ancestral line. Of the 24 names most associated with Suffolk in 1881, 16 (67%) originated in Suffolk or an adjacent county. Others come from further afield, e.g. Laflin and Muddock, which are evidently from Scotland. Of the 82 names most associated with Norfolk, 48 (59%) originated there or in an adjacent county. Specifically Norfolk forms of surnames found in other spellings elsewhere include Shackcloth (<Shacklock), Thouless (<Thewless), Crotch (<Crouch), Ebbage (<Ebbs), and Arthurton (<Atherton). The paper gives details of new findings and mentions cases where further work is needed, for example the distinctively Suffolk surname Clutterham, which is one of several that appear to be from an unidentified place-name. Unexplained and uncertain Norfolk surnames include Larwood, Arnup, Feek, and Bessey.

Locative surnames in East Anglia

Paul Cullen

This paper will attempt to identify the provenance of some problematic locative surnames whose modern distribution is chiefly East Anglian, and to identify some originally East Anglian locative surnames which have now wandered away. It will also weed out a number of surnames from other categories which today appear in locative disguise.

The moneyers’ name of the St Edmund memorial coinage

Veronica Smart

In 869 Edmund, last English king of the East Angles, was killed by a Danish invading army. Some 20 years later when East Anglia was under the rule of Danish settlers, a coinage appears which invokes Edmund as a saint. It bears no living ruler’s name, but the reverses contain about seventy personal names, presumably the moneyers. Almost all these names are of continental origin and no attempt has been made to anglicise them. Although the design of the issue follows English practice, other continental features suggest that at least scribal input was involved in the organisation of this coinage. This paper discusses where the coinage was struck, and under whose authority, including the possible involvement of the abbey at Bury St Edmunds which was at the heart of the cult. Various suggestions as to the presence of these continental people and their associations with the Danish army are considered.

East Anglia and Jutland – a comparative place-name study across the North Sea

Peder Gammeltoft

It is well-known that the eastern parts of England and Denmark have had prominent periods of contact. For one thing, the Viking Age with the establishment of the Danelaw saw a large influx of Scandinavian, presumably mostly Danish, settlers. Similarly, it is possible to see a massive but short-lived English influence on Denmark and Danish around the reign of King Canute. However, the contacts between eastern England and Denmark are not just tied to historical events – the North Sea also binds East Anglia and Jutland together as a potential contact area, as both areas do share a common Germanic ancestry. This paper investigates if there are any toponymic similarities between these two areas. Questions raised will be: What are the similarities? What is the character of similarities? and What is the origin of these similarities?

The geographical context of Scandinavian place-names in East Anglia

David Boulton

This will be a presentation of my work in progress on the geographical distribution and landscape settings of the different types of Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian place-names in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. It will utilise GIS technology to display the local landscape contexts of the settlements associated with the Scandinavian-influenced place-names (including their underlying terrain, geology and soil-types) and their wider landscape locations (such as their proximity to rivers and the sea, other settlements and towns, and royal estates). It will seek to differentiate between the geographical contexts of place-names with Scandinavian or Anglo-Scandinavian personal-name specifics and the remaining Scandinavian place-names, particularly those containing Scandinavian topographical elements as specifics. It will consider what this evidence might suggest for the possible origins of Viking settlement and formation of Scandinavian-influenced place-names in East Anglia.

Thorps, soils, churches and rent: an interdisciplinary approach for place-name studies of settlement structure in medieval Denmark with comparative aspects for the Danelaw region

Johnny Grandjean Gøgsig Jakobsen

This paper is based on my studies over many years of the interaction between place-names, settlement history and the physical landscape. The presentation has two aims: firstly, an exemplary aim to present, discuss and try a series of different source types and methods to investigate the chosen theme of the analysis; secondly, a concrete usage of these sources and methods on a particular case-study area in Denmark, the north-western quarter of the island of Sjælland. The source types include the Danish land registers of 1662 and 1688; place-names; forest clearance; parochial church buildings and their late-medieval enlargements; parish- and vill structures; parochial taxations (14th century); and number of tithe payers (16th century). These data are analyzed in comparison to variations in the physical geography (soil and terrain), all of it with the aim to clarify how settlement- and landscape-development in the period c.800-1700 in a typical East-Danish region may have differed in correspondence to variations in the physical geography. Within this context, the study takes special interest in formation of by- and thorp-settlements, i.e., Scandinavian place-name types also present in the Danelaw region, in order to – hopefully – increase the comparative potential of the paper. If anyone should be interested to read more about my studies described in the paper, they can do so via this link to my thesis: Agriculture and Settlement in Medieval and Early Modern Zealand.

The Scandinavian vocabulary of north-west England’s microtoponymy

Eleanor Rye

In the study of English place-names, at least until relatively recently, it has been customary to label place-name vocabulary according to the etymological source language. This paper will argue that such etymological labelling can obscure the analysis of place-names coined in Middle and Modern English and our understanding of the usage of place-name elements in these periods. Drawing on research into Middle English naming practices in areas of north-west England settled by Scandinavians in the later part of the first millennium, the body of the paper will consist of case‑studies of lexemes used by Old Norse speakers in England and/or borrowed from Old Norse into Old or Middle English. These elements have generally been labelled as Old Norse, despite the recognition that in many cases the elements were used in place-names coined in Middle English. It will be argued in this paper that certain elements are better considered ‘Middle English’ or ‘Modern English’ than ‘Old Norse’. The consideration of place-name elements in their later contexts, and the comparison with lexical evidence, can in some cases inform place-name etymologies (excluding the need to postulate spurious ghost forms) and in others contribute to our understanding of diachronic and synchronic variation in the vocabulary used to label the landscape.

East Anglian landscape history and place-names

Edward Martin

An archaeologist’s view of some of the ways place-name evidence has aided the understanding of East Anglia’s complex landscape history. The initial focus will be the areas of common pasture known as greens or tyes that are significant features of the region’s historic landscape. The evidence for their origins and the significance of their distribution will be examined. This will lead on to a wider view of the historic field systems of East Anglia and the identification of a previously unsuspected cultural and linguistic division in the region that does not conform to existing county boundaries. Lastly, there will be a consideration of the occurrence and nature of ‘hall and church complexes’ and the some of the dating evidence for rural tenement names.

Nottinghamshire nomenclature: dialect and development in some Trent‑side field‑names

Rebecca Gregory

The study of microtoponymy is widely acknowledged to be a valuable tool for dialect research. Using minor and field-names collected from several Nottinghamshire parishes, this paper will discuss the different language influences apparent in the local dialect as represented in its naming vocabulary and some of the problems in identifying these, as well as the longevity of names and the productivity of elements, with a particular focus on some of those elements usually classed as “generics”. It has long been apparent that place-name elements can have different meanings and connotations when used in minor names from their use in settlement-names, dependent on local topography and context. It is therefore reasonable to expect an even more specific usage of vocabulary when considering minor names in a local context. Numerical analysis will be used to explore the relationship between elements deriving from different languages which, despite near-identical equivalent terms in Modern English, are each productive in Nottinghamshire names from the Middle English period, and attested into the twentieth century. Based on this analysis, the suggestion will be made that, in some cases at least, the Old Norse or Old English elements may indeed have acquired dialect-specific meaning in their Middle English forms, and that thorough and systematic analysis of microtoponymy is essential to further investigate this vocabulary in other regions.

From deer to ducks and toponymy to archaeology in medieval Gloucestershire

Kishli Laister

The evidence for the central importance of animals in the medieval period is spread across multiple disciplines from archaeology to place-names, and historical sources to literary works and art. In particular, the scientific developments made in zooarchaeology in the last 20 years has revolutionised the input of archaeology to any discussion of the myriad roles animals played in medieval culture. Trying to reconcile this scientific approach with more traditional historical approaches can be extremely rewarding in creating a holistic picture of this subject, but it is not without its drawbacks, and using place-names as evidence within this framework poses its own challenges. This talk will highlight some of the issues which can arise when trying to reconcile these different types of evidence, and some of the questions which occur when approaching this complex topic. The focus will then move to a discussion of preliminary results of the range of animals appearing in place-names in medieval Gloucestershire, both chronologically and geographically, and how these results might enhance our understanding of the area during this period when viewed with other types of evidence.

East Oxford place-names and field-names

Katie Hambrook

The Oxfordshire parishes and townships of St Clements, Cowley, Iffley and Littlemore have become the eastern suburbs of Oxford, containing the housing estates of Rose Hill and Blackbird Leys.  This paper is based on research undertaken to complement the archaeological investigations of Archeox, the East Oxford community archaeology project.  It will look at what the place-names and field-names of the area can reveal about the local topography and about the development of land use in the medieval period, picking out some of the less common field-names.