8.2.1 Named Places

We are fortunate in the SESARF region to have a relative abundance of historical and toponymic information for early medieval settlement. Late Roman sources provide us with some names of places and peoples, which can sometimes be shown to have survived into the medieval period (see SESARF Roman Chapter – coming soon). Compilations of genealogies, historical writings and literary works surviving in Latin and Old Welsh, such as Y Gododdin and the Historia Brittonum provide glimpses of the ‘Old North’, but their historicity is heavily debated (Koch 1999; Clancy 2000). Some of the place-names and events can be corroborated with events in the Irish or English annals, such as a siege at Din Etin (Edinburgh) in the Annals of Ulster for 638, or Coludesburh (Coldingham) in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 679 (Alcock 2003).

handwritten manuscript on parchment
Manuscript of the Annals of Ulster 500–1000AD

Various Northumbrian textual sources of the 8th century onward also provide accounts of events in the SESARF region, though weighted primarily toward ecclesiastical sites and the activities of clergy. For instance, the Vita Sancti Cuthberti describes the movements of the titular missionary-saint through the Borders region and as far north as Fife, while Vita Sancti Wilfrithi shows the presence of bishops at Dynbaer (Dunbar) (J Fraser 2008, 2009). Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum, completed in 731, adds many more early names such as Mailros (Melrose), Coludanae urbis (Coldingham), Aebbercurnig (Abercorn), and a fortified place named Giudi, which has been variously located at Cramond, Blackness or Stirling. The 9th-century list of properties belonging to Lindisfarne adds still more church names in the SESARF region, including Gedwearthe (Jedburgh), Pefferham (Aberlady), Aldham (Auldhame) and Tiningham (Tyninghame).

Photograph of the view of Crammond island from the mainland. In the foreground, there is a sandy beach.
Cramond island from the causeway in the Firth of Forth (one of the possible locations of ‘Giudi’)
© M J Richardson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

These names tell us about the use of language in the early medieval period, and how it changed according to political and other factors. Even during the period of Northumbrian control, when Old English would have been the language of power, important churches and royal residences retained British names or elements. Names like Pefferham capture a mixture of Celtic and Germanic elements, while the church and settlement retained the British name Aberlady.