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Names and Metaphor

Posted by Carole Hough on the 3rd of May 2013

It was great to have the annual conference of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland in Glasgow this year (5–8 April), not least because the project reports session on the Saturday evening gave us an opportunity to introduce the Mapping Metaphor project to a captive audience of 80 delegates from 8 different countries. The conference programme included papers on various types of names, from place-names and personal names to the names of ships, fiddle tunes and football teams. Metaphor is common in all of them, so there were lots of links to the project. For instance, many place-names describing landscape use the landscape is a body metaphor, which has become lexicalised in terms such as river mouth, brow of a hill, and shoulder of a mountain. Well-known place-name examples include Caithness (Old Norse nes ‘nose, headland’), Drumbuie (Gaelic drum ‘back, ridge’) and Halifax (Old English feax ‘hair, grass’). New discoveries from the recently-completed place-name survey of Fife (Taylor and Márkus 2006–2012) include Catlug (Scots lug ‘ear’) and Foggy Belly (Present-Day English belly). One of the ways in which the Mapping Metaphor project is likely to impact on name studies is through the identification of further metaphors in the domain of landscape, throwing light on previously unexplained place-names.

However, the significance of the project to name studies is turning out to go well beyond that. Wendy and Ellen’s research into the fields of light and darkenss has shown that in Old English, there was a significant connection between light and armed hostility, evidenced in compounds such as hildetorht ‘battle-bright’, sigebeorht ‘victory-bright’ and wigblac ‘battle-shining’. I am wondering whether this may help to explain the occurrence of adjectives such as beorht ‘bright’ in Anglo-Saxon personal names. Examples include Byrhtric and Byrhtwald, each with six entries in the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) database, Byrhtsige and Byrhtwine, each with four, Eadberht, with forty-seven, Ealdberht, with twenty-one, and Sigeberht, with fifteen. The semantic field of warfare is one of the key contributors to Germanic personal names, so it may be possible that the metaphorical connection with the semantic field of light – a connection that has disappeared by later stages of English – is responsible for the occurrence of light terms as personal name elements.


Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England:

Taylor, Simon with Gilbert Márkus (2006–2012) The Place-Names of Fife, 5 vols. Donington: Shaun Tyas.