English Place Names

Module code: EN3167

Module co-ordinator: Dr Philip A. Shaw

This module will introduce you to the study of English place-names as evidence for linguistic and social history. You'll learn about the overall development of English place-names and the main debates in the field, and gain practical experience with the tools and approaches needed for researching place-names. You will apply this experience in undertaking a project on the place-names of an area of your choosing. You'll develop your skills in the collection and analysis of complex data, and explore the ways in which place-names can provide evidence of language use, settlement, culture, and landscape.


The module will cover the overall history of place-name formation, assessing the nature and impact of Roman occupation, Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlement, and the Norman Conquest. We will explore how place-names relate to landscape and land ownership, and what they reveal of social and linguistic patterns. Various sources of place-name evidence will be discussed, including medieval documents and early maps. You will learn how to use electronic and printed resources to assemble place-name data, and how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can be employed in the analysis of such data.


The module consists of intensive sessions that will concentrate on introducing overall patterns of place-name formation and techniques for the study of place-names, as well as a computer lab session devoted to training in using GIS. You will identify -- in consultation with the module co-ordinator -- an area of England to focus on for your project, and will use work-in-progress sessions to present your provisional findings and research issues to the group as a whole for feedback and advice.

By the end of the module, you will possess:

  • A sound understanding of the main processes of place-name formation in England
  • The ability to conduct research on place-names using a range of printed and electronic resources, and, where appropriate, by observations in the field
  • The ability to deploy place-names evidence effectively in identifying and exploring linguistic, historical, and geographical patterns


  • One 5,000-word project