SNSBI 2019 Autumn day conference

The SNSBI 2019 Autumn day conference on Vikings and Names: exploring place-names, personal names, and the ongoing legacy of Scandinavian speakers in language, literature and culture was organized by Diana Whaley and was held on 2019-10-19 at the King’s Manor, University of York.



David Parsons: ‘The Vikings and the Cross’

The English word ‘‘cross’’ reached us by a colourful and circuitous linguistic route from Latin via Irish and Old Norse. This paper will sketch the background and examine some of the epigraphical evidence for the word’s adoption by Irish Sea Vikings. Mostly, however, it will concentrate on the place-name evidence which allows us to trace its introduction to England and transfer from Norse to English contexts.

Josh Neal: 'Old Norse bý(r)-names in Britain: cores and peripheries’

This paper will introduce the principal concept I have developed during my PhD research: the division of ON bý(r)-names in Britain into ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ areas of distribution. This method, developed by creating ‘heat-maps’ using GIS software, allows for analysis outside of socio-political borders – including modern county divisions – that are somewhat arbitrary from an early medieval sociolinguistic perspective. That the distribution of ON bý(r)-names in Britain is non-homogeneous is well known. In this paper, I will assess a sample of bý(r)-name types – e.g. recurrent compounds, etc. – in relation to the ‘cores and peripheries’ of the overall distribution in Britain. I will demonstrate that some types of names are evenly distributed, while others are characteristic and non-characteristic of ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ areas.

Eleanor Rye: ‘Norðmenn and their names? Languages and dialects in contact in Viking-Age England’

Minor place-names—the names of places smaller than villages and towns—are a rich source of information about dialects in earlier periods, as they survive in great numbers and are usually highly localisable.  In this paper, I will discuss Scandinavian influence on the language used in minor place-names from two areas of Scandinavian settlement: Wirral in the northwest Midlands and (part of) Cumbria.  I will present a technique I used to quantify Scandinavian contributions to local toponymic vocabulary in the two areas, and discuss what I found out when I used this technique. I will also explore some of the patterns that emerge if we focus in on the histories of individual words in the study areas.

Pragya Vohra: 'Who do you think they were?: Using place-names to understand migration in Viking-Age Cleveland’

Scandinavian settlement on the island of Britain in the early medieval period has long been recognised; but only recently have historians and archaeologists begun to theorise the movement of peoples out of Scandinavia as migrations. Thinking about Viking-Age movements as migrations opens up the possibilities to reach for social and cultural aspects of the movement of people, which are otherwise obscured by viewing them only as settlers. However, the study of past migrations is contingent upon having sources through which they may be studied. In this paper, I would like to focus on a small and relatively understudied part of the Viking world – Cleveland in the northeast of England – and explore how looking at place-names can help illuminate migrations that leave little trace in historical textual record.

Matthew Townend: ‘The Vikings and the Victorians and dialect’

‘In the north of England, many words and phrases are preserved in the popular language, which are neither found nor understood in other parts, although they sound quite familiar to every Northman’ (J. J. A. Worsaae, 1852). Philology, the revolutionary ‘science of language’, was one of the founding disciplines of Viking studies in the nineteenth century, and the study of English dialects lay at the heart of Victorian interest in the Vikings in England. In this paper I will explore how, in the nineteenth century, local dialect collectors discovered Norse words and names in their parts of the country, and used this linguistic evidence to reconstruct the history of the Viking Age in England. The figures I will discuss will include Mary Powley in Cumbria, J. C. Atkinson in Yorkshire, and G. S. Streatfeild in Lincolnshire.

Jack Hartley: ’“He scratched those words on the rocks”: Norman Nicholson and Norse heritage in twentieth-century Lakeland’

In this paper I examine the work of the Cumbrian poet and writer Norman Nicholson (1914-1987). Analysing one poem in detail, and isncorporating some of Nicholson’s other poetry and prose, I use anthropological theories concerning landscapes and how they function through time to assess Nicholson’s presentation of Norse heritage in Lakeland. I conclude that Nicholson deploys Norse words, Norse-derived dialect words and place-names to incorporate naming processes into a narrative of heritage and memory for the region and for himself. In his poetry, he presents a landscape of philological variety, consisting of language from multiple historical moments. This linguistic diversity enables a temporal elision whereby the past and present coexist in the same landscape. Making use of real place-names and the real topography to which they refer, Nicholson asserts naming as an act of remembering, demonstrating continuity across time and space, and firmly asserting the role of Norse heritage in a sense of personal and regional memory.

Peter McClure: “When strangers became family: thoughts on the Old Norse contribution to the English personal name stock, C9th to C19th”.

I propose that inter-ethnic transference of Old Norse and Old English given names in late Anglo-Saxon England was a deliberate means of integrating Viking and Anglo-Saxon families and suggest that, although mixed marriages played a part in this process, the primary mechanism was mixed-ethnic godparenting, in which the senior godparent’s own name was transferred to the baptised person. The consequence, several generations later, was the multi-lingual given name-stock that appears in 12th- and early 13th‑century records, especially in the old Danelaw counties. As Cecily Clark demonstrated, the value of this later data is that the varying frequency of Old Norse compared with Old English names gives us insight into the varying densities of Viking newcomers within and beyond Danelaw, with parts of northern Danelaw (the north midlands) displaying the highest frequencies and non-Danelaw counties the fewest. One might have expected the modern distribution of surnames from ON given names to have a broadly similar pattern, since most surnames of all origins have stayed fairly close to where they originated. However, the modern surname distribution is surprisingly heavily weighted towards East Anglia rather than the north midlands and also has a significant presence in the south and west of England. The paper concludes by considering the factors of physical and economic geography, social class and migration that might explain the mismatch in the distributions.