Names and other names

Names interact with each other in many ways, and on many levels. A saint’s name may be used for a railway station (St Pancras in London, via a church dedication), an entrepreneur’s name used for a brand (Estée Lauder), or a surname used for a settlement (Renton in central Scotland, from Tobias Smollett’s niece-in-law Cecilia Renton). However, appearances can be deceptive, as with the parish name St Dennis in Cornwall, originally from Cornish dinas ‘hill-fort’, but later confused with the third-century Saint Denis, bishop of Paris. Even more striking is the island name St Kilda in Scotland (of obscure origin), where a non-existent saint has been created by analogy with genuine dedications such as the island name Saint Helena in the Atlantic, discovered on the feast day of St Helena.

Leader Water (Photo: © Eila Williamson)

In the REELS study area, many place-names are similarly based on or incorporate other types of names. Another Renton in Coldingham parish is from an Old English personal name Regna with Old English tūn ‘village’ or –ingtūn ‘village associated with’. Edrom and Leitholm contain the river names Adder and Leet, both with Old English hām ‘village’; and St Leonards in Lauder parish is named from a hospital dedicated to St Leonard. Again, though, appearances can be deceptive. Lauder itself is on the Leader Water, but early spellings indicate that the two names are unconnected; while the stream known as Philip Burn, which runs through the parishes of Abbey St Bathans and Cranshaws, does not contain a personal name but an Old English compound fugel-hop ‘bird valley’ or fūl-hop ‘foul valley’.

Horses at Grizzlefield Farm. Viewed from the road up to the farm. (Photo: © Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)
A total of 46 toponyms in our dataset contain forms resembling modern or early modern personal names or nicknames. Some are what they seem to be. Grizzlefield (Griselda) and Rachelfield in Earlston, Harrietfield in Nenthorn, Johnsfield in Duns, Maryfield in Mordington and Nansfield (Ann) in Hutton are in all probability named from eponymous local men and women. Indeed, there is sometimes corroborative evidence. Two occurrences of Georgefield, in Coldstream and Earlston, are identified in the 19th-century Ordnance Survey Name Books as the property of George Wilson and George Baillie respectively. Johnsfield, on the other hand, is more ambiguous, potentially representing a dedication, as with the settlement names St Johns and Lower St Johns in Foulden. Similarly, Maryfield might plausibly refer to the Blessed Virgin, as in St Mary’s Well, Ladykirk.
Red soil at Georgefield, Earlston. A distinctive colour due to the Old Red Sandstone soil in this ploughed field at Georgefield, seen from Black Hill. (Photo: © Copyright Jim Barton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

Like Philip Burn, other toponyms in this group have developed their modern form through folk etymology, and have no connection with the name of a local person or saint. These include Anton’s Hill in Eccles, first recorded as Anttaslau towards the end of the 12th century, which is from an uncertain first element with Scots law ‘hill’. Also misleading is Evelaw in Westruther, first recorded as Yflye c.1535, and possibly containing Old English yfel ‘evil’. As our work on the collection and analysis of historical spellings continues to progress, more such imposters may be unmasked.

Some of the above material is discussed more fully in Carole Hough, ‘Misleading personal names in Berwickshire place-names’, in Katharina och namnen: Vänskrift till Katharina Leibring på 60-årsdagen den 20 januari 2018, edited by Leila Mattfolk and Kristina Neumüller, Namn och samhälle 30 (Uppsala: Institutet für språk och folkminnen och Ortnamnssällskapet, 2018), pp. 161–166.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *