What’s in a Berwickshire place name?

Coldingham Priory and grounds which have seen a turbulent history: built, destroyed by fire, rebuilt and raided by Viking, laying in ruins for two centuries, rebuilt housing a Benedictine monastery and fired on by cannons to dislodge dislodge hiding royalists eventually becoming parish church in 1855
Coldingham Priory and grounds which have seen a turbulent history: built, destroyed by fire, rebuilt and raided by Viking, laying in ruins for two centuries, rebuilt housing a Benedictine monastery and fired on by cannons to dislodge dislodge hiding royalists eventually becoming parish church in 1855

The study of Berwickshire’s place names is to take another step forward in the new year with the announcement of a specially constructed PhD programme.

The University of Glasgow is accepting applications for the doctorate in ‘Recovering the earliest English language in Scotland’.

The work will be on some aspect of the place names of Berwickshire, and will be carried out under the supervision of Prof. Carole Hough and Dr Simon Taylor.

The programme will build on the work of doctoral student Leonie Dunlop, who recently completed work on the Scottish Toponymy (the study of place names ) In Transition, with a focus on Berwickshire and the contrast between coastal and inland naming.

One suggestion for the prospective applicant is a survey of a number of parishes, accompanied by analytical discussion of prominent themes emerging from the survey.

Dr Simon Taylor said this week: “It’s just so endlessly fascinating.

“Berwickshire is so interesting because it was one of the first areas in Scotland where Old English was spoken, back in the seventh century.

“Language leaves a mark in place names.

“We have so little information, otherwise, so place names are very important.”

He went on: “Place names go back around 1,000 years, so in a way they really are the fossils of our language.

“The previous project finished in 2014, and it looked at Kinrossshire and Clackmannanshire, with a little look at Berwickshire, so t was fantastic recently to learn we were getting funding to look at it in more detail.”

The three-year programme will not see candidates stuck in the university library.

They will have the chance to make trips to the area to get first-hand experience of how place names have shaped the county, as well as delving into manuscript archives.

“Going out into the real world and actually seeing the place you’re reading about can be hugely important,” said Dr Taylor, who has been involved in place name studies for about 25 years..

“That’s a way of finding the vital clue, sometimes, as to why a place has the name that it does.

“And out in the landscape, people’s pronunciation can be a further clue as to what it originally meant.”

For more information on the PhD, visit the University of Glasgow at www.gla.ac.uk/schools/humanities/research/celticgaelicresearch/currentresearchprojects/stit/.