Hints from the hinterland: place-name evidence for the nature of the Flemish presence

Claire Hawes
Thursday 5 May 2016

This is the sixth posting in the series that sets out the content of sessions at the conference to be held in St. Andrews on June 16th and 17th.  Considerable work has been done on place names in Scotland in recent years, much of it undertaken by Dr. Simon Taylor.  In this session Dr. Taylor, partnered by Dr. Peadar Morgan, will explore whether the work undertaken so far on place names sheds light on the Flemish presence in Scotland.

Session Overview

Fleming settlement in Scotland in the 12th and 13th century: the evidence of place-names.

Dr. Simon Taylor 

Place-names in Scotland are notoriously difficult to date: we know when a name is first recorded, but this can be many centuries after it was first coined. There is, however, one group of names that form a notable and valuable exception to this dating problem. These are place-names that contain personal names – so-called anthropotoponyms – whose eponyms can be identified and dated from other sources. In the course of a wider study of such names in Scotland it has emerged that there is a relatively large number of individuals amongst them who, with various degrees of certainty, have been identified as people of Flemish descent. These will be presented in the session within the wider context of names containing identifiable individuals throughout Scotland.  The distribution of place-names which certainly or probably contain Flemish names will be compared with those containing Fleming as an ethnonym, as will be discussed by my Peadar Morgan. Finally some older ideas relating to Flemish people and place-names in Scotland will also be revisited.

‘Fleming’ as an ethnonym

Dr. Peadar Morgan 

Fleming is one of the hardest ethnonyms – name of an ethnicity – to identify accurately in place-names, given the identical, similarly derived, surname. It’s significance once identified is hardly clearer, but hints appear when the distribution of the names, along with a few known tenurial links, are viewed as a whole. This part of the session, illustrating the use of place-name evidence, presents mapped conclusions dividing the surname from the ethnonym.  The implication of this is that Fleming was not, as might have been expected, used to name places colonised by Flemish people. However, it apparently became applied as an occasional marker in two patterns of Flemish involvement and settlement: links with wool production for a number of monastic institutions in Southern Scotland and in Cumbria, and for a small number of early weaving-related settlements.

Session participants

Dr. Alex Woolf is chairman of the session.  He is a senior lecturer in History at St Andrews.  He has written four books and numerous articles on themes in Scottish history.   He has a particular interest in place names and supervised the PhD studies of Paedar Morgan who will be speaking in this session. 

Simon Taylor is a lecturer at the University of Glasgow specialising in Scottish onomastics (name-studies), with special emphasis on toponymy (place-names). He has published extensively on the subject including five volumes of the place-names of Fife (2006-2012) and individual volumes on the place-names of Kinross-shire and Clackmannanshire (forthcoming). He helped found the Scottish Place-Name Society in 1996, and was its convener from 2006 to 2011. Since its inception in 2007 he has been an editor of the annual Journal of Scottish Name Studies, the first academic, peer-reviewed publication devoted to Scottish onomastics.

Dr Peadar Morgan completed a part-time PhD in 2013 with the School of History at the University of St Andrews. His thesis identified, and looked at the significance of the names of the many ethnicities appearing in the past and present place-names of Scotland and the Border counties of England.