Conference part 3

Several people liked my cat photo from the last post. She is adorable, isn’t she? She’s called Sandy and she’s 11.

Anyway, back to the conference.

Much to my utter shame and embarrassment, I barely took any notes at all during my friend Rob’s talk, because I was that blimming sleepy. So, ok, fine. Here is his academic profile, here he is on academia and here is his blog, which is like 100,000 times better than mine. People should go and read all of his stuff, and then I might feel a fraction less guilty. Actually, people should really genuinely go and read this blog post of his, which discusses how questions of British ethnic identity are easily warped by nationalists and other flavours of right-wing.

So, ok. Conference. After Rob’s talk – he got grilled by the questioning! Hey, Rob, if you’re reading this, did you ever manage to remember half the things people were telling you about up there?? After Rob’s talk it was lunchtime. Now, during break I had got up to say hello to my BA Old English lecturer, Professor Diana Whaley. (The photo for this post is me and her at my undergraduate graduation!) She was busy organising things, but did say hello and how was I, and was as lovely as ever. I walked away pretty satisfied with that.

But at lunchtime she helped me figure out if my lunch was included in the conference price (it was) and when I ended up sat with her she made a real and concerted effort to introduce me to people at the table, mentioned my undergraduate coursework as if it was worthy of merit, and generally involved me in the conversations. That was the first time in that day that I stopped feeling like an interloper – quite a feat given the pedigrees of everyone at that table! Even though I had stuck to the wonderful Rob Briggs like a burr all morning, (LOVE YOU) I was still constantly aware that as a PhD student he was “supposed” to be there, and I was not. I am so very grateful to Diana for getting rid of that mindset – and there’s a message there for all of us to try and involve the newbies when we see them in our groups and cliques and lives. It really does make a massive difference.

Ok, next up!

Change in the bynames and surnames of the Cotswolds in 1381-1600 by Harry Parkin.

One of the first points that Harry made here was one which slightly blew my mind. I’ve been taught several different possible ways to group place-names for studying over the years, such as by language (Old English, Celtic, Norman French etc), by topographical (land) feature (like my postgraduate study of Scandinavian river names) or by habitative (housing) feature (names ending in -wic for example), or by location. And when it came to location, I had really only ever looked at place-names on the county level. This is of course because my place-name studies have been fairly 101 and the best available place-names volumes are organised by county.

Harry’s first point was, paraphrased: A county is an unsuitable unit for studying names because it is an artificial administrative creation.

(Interestingly we’ve already seen a perfect example from John Baker of how counties were created and shifted around, thus screwing up the place-names, in yesterday’s post.)

Harry instead proposed that we should look at names from smaller areas with strong cohesive regional identities. In this case, the Cotswolds.

Next he covered some explanations of stuff, which I shall also go over here.

Byname. This is a “second” name which is not inherited. It describes something about the bearer. Maybe they are John Smith if they are a blacksmith, or John Johnson if their dad is called John, or John Hardwick if they have moved to somewhere new from Hardwick. Etc. Maybe they are all three at once – I’ve never looked into whether people could be known by multiple bynames.

Surname: Yeah, we know this one. Just what it is today. Inherited “family name”.

It’s generally thought that most people had hereditary surnames by about 1350 in southern England, and by 1450 in northern England. (The switchover is incredibly variable by region so take that with more handfuls of salt, as usual with sweeping statements.) Therefore we can also say that between the 11th century and the 15th century, people’s surnames are or have until very recently been descriptive. This means that we can use their surnames to gather information about their lives.

Harry used the 14th century poll tax returns and the 1580-1620 Baptismal Registers. (I also have 1320 Subsidy Rolls and 1608 Muster Rolls written down in the margins so he probably used them too?)

He complained about how late the names are (remember the earlier you can go in name studies, the more reliable your conclusions are likely to be). I sympathised from my own limited experience: when I looked at Scandinavian river-names in Cumberland and Westmorland I also had to take first attestations from the 16th century. Lack of documentation sucks, that is all.

Harry transcribed (looked at actual manuscripts then copied them himself) and then compared the names from these two time periods. The method which he used to get results was completely new to me: it’s called the Banwell Ratio.

% of name in Cotswolds / % of name in whole county

It measures how common a name is all over the place. Results of around 1 show that the names were pretty equally common everywhere, so not specific to Cotswolds (and so less useful for region-specific information). Results of less than one showed that the name was more common in the Cotswolds than elsewhere.

He found 4 exceedingly Cotswolds specific names in both periods, at about 0.05%!

One of his results referenced the wool trade. (Like Kishli’s interesting look at sheep names from part one!)

The surname Shepherd had a Banwell result of 3.45% in 1381 – so, really common throughout the county – and a Banwell result of 0.76% in 1600. That shows a massive decrease in the number of people surnamed Shepherd.

Harry said that this could have been due to big changes in the raw wool industry which had happened over that time period. If this is true, though, it suggests that Shepherd was only a byname which was lost as people stopped being shepherds, instead of staying constant as it would have been more likely to do as an inherited name. This suggests that the Cotswolds may have seen a much, much later switch from byname to surname than those broad dates up there initially suggested.


Hope you found this blog interesting! Thanks to all who have commented on here and Twitter, and to those of you who just read silently – believe me, I’m watching the “Views” counter like an obsessed hawk.

Night all!

Conference part 3

3 thoughts on “Conference part 3

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