Getting to the root of Getinges: tribal memory and group identity in Early Anglo-Saxon Surrey

Recently, I uploaded a revised version of my Nottingham MA dissertation under the Work tab. To sum up its purpose and content in a sentence, the dissertation constitutes a predominantly-linguistic reassessment of all place-names in the historic county of Surrey which might derive from Old English (OE) -ingas or -ingahām, two related place-name elements with (potentially) significant social implications. It was originally written over the course of Summer 2014, and, ever since the marked version was returned to me a couple of months after it was submitted, it’s been on my slate to sit down and work through the corrections. That it took me so long to find the time to do this turns out to have been for the better, as the intervening months gave me the time to work through some lines of enquiry I was unable to investigate (or did not adequately appreciate) in the course of the original research. Inevitably this research will never be 100% DONE, and I had to call time on it at some point. However, because I can’t just let things lie and walk away, I’ve caved and written this post.

Here, I want to look closer at the composition of the earliest recorded -ingas place-name in Surrey (and very possibly the whole of England): Getinges, which occurs in a much-interpolated charter now dated to the years circa 670 x 675 (S 1165; Kelly 2015, 89-104). John Insley (2005, 139) has provided the most recent authoritative etymology of the name, identifying it as an -ingas formation based on the personal name Gēata ‘only known from genealogies and poetry, but cf. Old Norse Gauti‘. Getinges has been connected to the extant minor place-name Eaton Park/Farm in Cobham, for reasons I’ll discuss presently. I deliberated over whether to include the following reevaluation of the make-up and significance of this place-name in the updated dissertation rather than here; I ended up fudging the issue with a short paragraph on page 38 noting the very interesting implications of the place-name vis-à-vis royal genealogies and regnal lists, but holding back from working through them for fear of wandering off topic.

Eaton Farm from Taylor 2003

Eaton Farm, Cobham, as it exists today (or existed in the very recent past). Photo taken from Dr David Taylor’s book Cobham: a history, page 10 illustration 11.

By way of context, one angle I’m working on in my PhD research is investigating how the origins and identities of -ingas groups represented solely in place-names might be better understood through -ing-formations with royal connections: plural ones that identified lines of kings (Bede’s Oiscingas and Wuffingas being the best known) and singular ones that are employed in genealogies to denote the son and heir of a king. This is not to say every -ingas group was royal, or saw themselves as such, but there do seem to be hints of a correlation with elite status that I want to pursue further. The instances of the singular -ing constructions I highlight in my discussion of Getinges (Godulf Geoting in the genealogy of the kings of Lindsey, and Godwulf Geating in that of King Æthelwulf of Wessex) have aroused a considerable amount of scholarly interest in terms of what they may signify as to the importance of Geot/Geat (sometimes Geata) as an ancestor figure. What has not been factored into any of these discussions is the evidence of the place-name Getinges and others understood to derive from the name(s) Gēat(a).

Genealogies and Geot/Geat

The most influential (and arguably still the single most important) work on the Anglo-Saxon royal genealogical texts is Kenneth Sisam’s 1953 essay (republished as Sisam 1990, which I’ve used/cited throughout this post). It provides a treatment of the texts that is both extensive and intensive, and a summary of the whole piece would be tricky and unnecessary. His survey of the relevant texts identified the ‘Vespasian group’ as the key genealogical source, with the earliest extant manuscript having in his opinion roots in Mercian royal patronage of the late-eighth century. So far as Geat is concerned, the key points of note concern his characterisation as a god, first on page 165 and then in more detail on pages 171-72, where Sisam cited the testimony of the Historia Brittonum and Asser’s Life of King Alfred (the latter probably borrowing from the former) as evidence for this deific status.

In Sisam’s wake, David Dumville produced two penetrating studies: the first on what he dubbed the ‘Anglian collection’ within the Vespasian group (a name that’s stuck and is used here: Dumville 1976), the second on the general topic of European early medieval geneaologies and regnal lists (Dumville 1977). He tweaked Sisam’s dating (backwards in time to the period 765 x 779) and provenancing (to Northumbrian) of the Anglian collection, but in many other ways was accepting of the arguments presented in the earlier scholar’s essay. Dumville discusses the place of Geot in the Lindsey lineage in both works (Dumville 1976, 45-47; 1977, 90), some of which I will appraise in detail below, but it is worth noting here the link made between the possible godly figure of Geat and the Gothic ‘racial eponym’ Gapt or Gaut, a tribal ‘hero’ according to the sixth-century historian Jordanes (Dumville 1977, 96).

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Excerpt from the late-10th-century B-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle annal for 856, that includes the sequence ‘godulf geating . geata tætwaing‘ = “Godwulf son of Geat(a), Geat(a) son of Tætwa” (BL Cotton Tiberius A VI f. 17r)

The matter of Geot/Geat was revisited and its scope expanded by Richard North in his 1997 book Heathen Gods in Old English Literature. He sets the genealogical/ancestral references in the broader context of Classical and Late Antique historical writings and Germanic religion, beginning with the eye-catching (not to mention rather complex) argument for the name to have originated as ‘an ancient epithet of [the god/god-like figure] Ingui or Ing‘, either within OE or transposed from the Gothic cognates Gapt (< gáut) and Enguz (e.g. North 1997, 133). Beyond identifying the context for influences of Gothic history-cum-legend on Anglo-Saxon England (a phenomenon he proposes could have commenced as early as the mid-seventh century: North 1997, 154), the book’s key contributions are twofold. First, to see the earliest OE instances of the name, ones from which all others were derived, as the second element in Anglian dithematic personal names ending -geot; pre-dating the late eighth century, but – as early and not-necessarily-real ancestral figures tend to be – otherwise not especially well rooted in time (North 1997, 153). Second, to suggest a context in the mid-ninth century for the appearance of Geat in the West Saxon genealogy of King Æthelwulf and also in the poem Deor to be bound up in the politics of the time, with ‘the deified founder of the Goths’ having a significant and desirable role to play as a purported ancestor (North 1997, 154-71).

Putting the West Saxon genealogy to one side for the moment, there are now major question marks surrounding the dating of the Lindsey genealogy’s compilation to the late-eighth century. A lot rested on the identification of the latest name in the lineage, Aldfrið, as one and the same as the Ealfrið rex who witnessed a confirmation of an earlier South Saxon charter during the last 10 years of the reign of Offa of Mercia (S 1183). Whereas Sisam and Dumville were satisfied with the equation of the two, first proposed by F. M. Stenton, more recently a succession of Anglo-Saxonist heavyweights (Simon Keynes, Susan Foot, and Susan Kelly) have concluded that the charter witness’s name is a corrupt form of Ecgfrið, Offa’s son (Kelly 1998, p. 54). This was taken up by Caitlin Green, who developed Foot’s proposition that Aldfrið was the last (mostly) independent ruler of Lindsey/Lindissi to argue for the genealogy to be a largely authentic text/tradition of the late seventh century, at least as far back as Woden (Green 2012, 99-100; she was kind enough to confirm for me that this remains her preferred interpretation of the genealogy).

The question thus becomes whether the generations back from Woden to Geot also belong to a seventh-century archetype, or were they invented and introduced in the late eighth century? As detailed by Sisam (1990, 165-72), the same sequence of names appears elsewhere: in the Historia Brittonum, a work generally dated to the late 820s, but this time in relation to the lineage of the kings of Kent (Sisam 1990, 167-68); in the late-ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle A-text annals for 547 (Ida of Northumbria) and 855 (Æthelwulf of Wessex); and in Asser’s Life of King Alfred, written around the same time. All are doubtless derivative of earlier sources. It was demonstrated by Dumville (1976, 45) that the Historia Brittonum pedigree is based on a lost geneaological collection similar to but earlier than the earliest extant version of the Anglian collection, which pushes it back in time a little bit, but there’s still upwards of a century between this and the reign of Aldfrið if, as seems wise, we choose to accept the new, earlier dating of his reign.

Now here’s where things get really, brilliantly technical. Sisam (1990, 185) argued for a symmetry among the royal genealogies in the Anglian collection with the notable exception of the kings of Lindsey. In his eyes, their pedigree ‘seems to be a later addition’ to the collection, and I read the implication of his subsequent comment that ‘as if to make up for the deficiency [of its abnormally-short length], it alone was carried back to Geat’ to be that he understood it to be an introduction of the late 700s. Dumville addressed and developed this point to what I consider was conclusive effect. Having witheringly noted how Sisam’s thesis of genealogical symmetry ‘is not a notably useful conclusion, taken by itself’, he proceeded to set out a codicological case for the pre-Woden generation to be applicable to all the royal lines, but became appended to the Lindsey lineage by a ‘subsequent copyist or reviser … [perhaps] for the sake of symmetry’ (Dumville 1977, 89-90). This decouples the dating of the continuation back to Geot from the likely date of Aldfrið’s kingship.

As a consequence, in purely historical terms, the place of Geot/Geat as a royal ancestor can be traced no earlier than the late eighth century, unless you attach weight to the uses of -geot as a deuterotheme in a number of early names in the Deiran, Bernician and Mercian genealogies, but these are highly dubious pieces of evidence with little if any anchorage in reliable chronology. This is of course not to say that Geot/Geat was not a figure of currency and significance well before the period of the earliest written pedigrees, and place-name evidence may serve to show that this was the case.

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Before finally getting around to discussing Getinges as a name formation, I want to throw a curveball into the mix – Jane Acomb Leake’s 1967 monograph The Geats of Beowulf. Her book is one of those rare things: a “lost” work on an early medieval topic that’s scholarly rigorous, as opposed to the sort of landfill cod-histories that clog up the shelves of bookshop History sections. I know of it only thanks to Catalin Taranu, who used it extensively for his 2015 Leeds IMC paper ‘The “Germanic” Origins of the Anglo-Saxons in the 9th Century’ (or at least that’s the title I jotted down). Leake’s book was apparently unknown to Dumville and North, and the brief citation it does receive from Andy Orchard actually ignores its fundamental thesis (Orchard 1995, 110 footnote 106).

That thesis concerns the identity of the Geats, or Geatas in OE, and an (over)long argument for their being the Getae or Getes of Classical literature, the mythical ‘founding nation of all Germanic people’ (Leake 1967, 133). Part and parcel of this is that the Geatas were ‘an unreal people’ (Leake 1967, 7), meaning there’s no point trying to pin them down to the Scandinavia as might be suggested by the references to them in Beowulf and the attested tribe of the Gautar, or the lands of the Goths with who they became confused. While some elements of Leake’s case perhaps overstep the mark (I swear at one point she tries to do away with Bede’s Iutarum as Jutes), in general it’s a work that could really do with a full critical reappraisal in light of the near half-century of work that’s emerged since its publication. For the purposes of this post, I merely note the superficial resemblance of Getae and Getinges, and the possibility that the latter might be directly related to the former rather than through an intermediate OE name in Gēot-, Gēat-.

The Chertsey place-name tradition

The place-name spelling Getinges is found in three diplomas: S 1165, S 353 of 871 x 899, and S 420 of 933. These texts, along with all other pre-1066 Chertsey muniments (most of which contain little or no material contemporaneous with their stated dates), were copied into the mid-13th-century Chertsey cartulary (BL Cotton Vitellius A. xiii). All were edited in Susan Kelly’s recent Charters of Chertsey Abbey. Through her meticulous research, Kelly advanced a sequence of charter fabrication that would place S 1165 as the earliest, with the other two following in chronological order (see Kelly 2015, 39-45, for full discussion). Moreover, in contrast to previous authors who have seen Getinges as an “outlier” of the main Chertsey estate, she proposes that ‘it is at least a possibility that only the four places named in Alfred’s charter [S 353] (Chertsey, Getinges, Hunewaldesham and Woodham) were originally mentioned in Frithuwald’s charter [S 1165]’ (Kelly 2015, 103). This raises the strong possibility that S 1165, or rather the original diploma at the core of the received text, was the source of the spelling Getinges.

The trouble is Getinges isn’t convincing as an OE spelling, let alone one of the late seventh century. But it looks even less like one of the later 13th century, as the 1294 attestations Ethinge and Etynge 1294 prove. Time to go back to basics.

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Signs of trouble? To judge from Google Maps and Street View, Eaton Farm is stuck somewhere along Eaton Park Road, a private thoroughfare but at least one that Joe Public is able to access on foot, in case you wanted to go look for the farmhouse yourself.

The -inges ending is consistent with an Early Middle English (ME) rendering of the OE nominative/accusative plural ending -ingas. The other half of the name on the face of it could derive from an OE personal name Gēat, Gēata, or the noun geat, ‘gate, gap, pass’. (Of course, we may be dealing with a name in Gēot, Gēota, but for the purposes of the following I’ll keep things simple and stick to references to the “conventional” form(s) alone.) It’s worth noting that Insley’s citation of Gēata alone (potentially a hypocoristic or shortened form of a name beginning Gēat-) is too prescriptive if the recensions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are any guide. As noted previously, the 855 annal of the A-text gives Geat, Geating, whereas the late-tenth-century B-text has GeataGeating (shown above), and the 11th-century C-text the geminated GeattGeatting (below), both as part of the annals for 856. (The mid-11th-century D-text fluffs it somewhat with the inconsistent Geat, Gating in its annal for 855, though a later scribe added a tiny superscript -e- to indicate the error of their predecessor.) Thus, the prototheme of Getinges could be a monothematic personal name Gēat as much as it could be Gēata.

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Excerpt from the C-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle annal for 856, including the sequence ‘godulf geatting . geatt tætwaing‘ (BL Cotton Tiberius B I f. 129v)

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Excerpt from the D-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle annal for 855, showing its scribe’s rather haphazard attempt at reproducing the West Saxon royal lineage – ‘fingo dulfing . godulf gating . geat tætwaing‘ – valiantly emended by a later annotator (BL Cotton Tiberius B IV f. 32r)

Turning to analogous place-names, we find (as is noted on page 38 of the dissertation) Yate in South Gloucestershire to be an early-recorded example of a place-name derived from geat, and the word has also been suggested to form the first half of Yatton on the Welsh borders as well as its near-namesake Yatton Keynell in Wiltshire (CDEPN, 709). The personal-name alternative has been suggested for a handful of place-names including, in the strong form Gēat, Yatesbury in Wiltshire, and, as weak diminutive *Gēatela, Yetlington in Northumberland (CDEPN, 709, 711). The combination of Gēat(a) and -ingas (in its genitive inflection -inga) has also been suggested for the Berkshire place-name Yattendon (full list of historic spellings here: CDEPN, 709).

The rule of thumb seems to be that place-names for which -e- is the predominant initial vowel in ME spellings come from Gēat(a), because of the long vowel (i.e the e with the flat hat on, pronounced something closer to “ay” than the “eh” sound of the short vowel), and those with mostly -a- spellings are from geatLate and few as the ME forms might be, the data for Eaton points towards Gēat(a) rather than geat being the first element in the name formation, as per Insley and others before him (e.g. PNS, 88). (For those wondering about the initial G-, it stands for a sort of short “yuh” sound; [j] is you’re being fancy and phonetic.) 

Kelly’s study of the Chertsey charters is excellent (my own review of it is currently under construction) but still leaves room for future research in several areas. One aspect in which the book could be seen to be lacking is in its discussion of the place-name spellings contained in the various charter texts. As I note on page 57 of my dissertation, despite the Chertsey charters showing considerable evidence for ME-period tampering and fabrication, a spelling like Piccingauurþe 1062 in S 1035 is likely to be an essentially accurate transcription of an OE-period written form. The “original” portions of S 1165 contain eight Surrey place-names, which show a mixture of OE- and ME-looking spellings. These, along with the provincial name Sunninges (another -ingas name formation), are listed, reconstructed, and tabulated alongside other early dated spellings below:

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Surrey place-names (plus adjoining provincial name) found in S 1165, alongside reconstructed OE forms and attestations in S 353 and other dated sources. Note Sonning and Sunninges are not strictly speaking the same thing, but do derive from the same group-name formation. S 1165 and S 353 spellings are from Kelly 2015, 89-90 and 131 respectively; other spellings are drawn variously from PNS, CDEPN and Kelly 2015.

It should be pretty clear from the above that there are place-names for which the S 1165 spellings pass muster as ones of OE origin (Cerotesegt/Cirotesegt, Muleseg, Huneuualdesham) and others which are clearly ME-era revisions or interpolations (Torpe/Thorpe, Chebeham, Egeham, Wodeham). The two -ingas names, Getinges and Sunninges, occupy an uncertain middle ground. They lack the same authentic look of the twice-occurring Fullingadich (whose middle element is commensurate with an accurately-reproduced OE genitive plural -inga), but still preserve a terminal -s which was often lost during the 13th century (cf. discussion of Tooting on pages 48-49 of my dissertation). The reduction of -ēa- to -ē-/-e- is an entirely development between OE and ME (compare attestations of Beddington quoted on page 60 on my dissertation with the spelling Bedintone found in the Chertsey charters S 1181 and S 420, both of highly dubious authenticity, and many times after).

There are a small number of examples of Anglo-Latin Get- for expected OE Gēat- spellings: Geta in a copy of the Historia Brittonum believed to be derived from a late-10th/early-11th-century English manuscript (see Leake 1967, 112-13, 141) and Getis in the Liber Monstrorum (Leake 1967, 143; Orchard 1995, 109). One could go all in with Leake’s argument to read these as unadulterated forms of the name of the Getae (or the eponymous tribal figurehead thereof = *Geta?). However, she also set out a very different argument based on sound-changes that suggests a different means of explanation (Leake 1967, 117-19). By this, Primitive Germanic (PGmc) *Gautoz developed into a West Germanic (WGmc) stem *Gat-, whence came Primitive OE *Gæt-. In turn, this yielded Early West Saxon *Geat- (Leake didn’t always use macrons to indicate long vowels, so this should probably be rendered *Gēat-) and, more relevantly, Anglian and Kentish *Get- (on the basis that diphthongization didn’t occur in these dialects). Given S 1165 is a charter with strong Mercian connections as well as pertaining to a region likely to have lain within the Kentish dialect zone, this might be considered significant, even more so in light of Anglian-cum-Kentish spellings like Huneuualdesham (cf. my discussion of the specific of the name Warlingham on pages 63-64 of my dissertation) and several names in the charter witness list (e.g. FritheuualdusEbbi).

Dumville’s account of the linguistic context indicates a different sequence which somewhat undermines the applicability of Leake’s proposal (Dumville 1976, 48 including footnote 2). He gives a sequence running from a WGmc root *Gaut- > POE *Gǣut > *Gǣot (written as *Geot) > *Gǣat (in all OE dialects save for South Northumbrian, and rendered as *Geat). Thus Getinges could well stand for *Geotingas, not *Geatingas. But, to take it a step further, could it be a textual example of Anglian smoothing of -eo- > -e- to yield *Getingas (see page 30 of my dissertation and the references cited there)? Reliable philological analogues are scarce for Surrey in this period, but we can at least note the early attestation of Bermondsey, another early Surrey minster with strong Mercian links, as Vermundesei 708 x 715 (c. 1200) < OE *Beornmundesēg (PNS, 16; CDEPN, 52).

What seems to emerge from the above is that Getinges as a place-name spelling belongs to a date later than the formulation of the diploma on which the received version of S 1165 is based, but maybe not as late as the time, circa 1260, when it was written into the Chertsey cartulary. Kelly posits various episodes of fabrication of charters and/or tampering with existing documentation: around the time of the application for a papal privilege from Victor II in the years 1055 x 1057 (2015, 28); in the closing years of the 11th century (2015, 31); in the reign of Henry II (2015, 42); and at points during the first two-thirds of the 13th century (2015, 33). Particularly in the years either side of 1066, say 1055-1100, there is no shortage of contexts ripe for the reworking of old charters and concoction of” new” ones to secure or extend the interests of the abbey and its community. It is conceivable that there arose a need to alter the seventh-century base charter (or a later recension of it), either adding the place-name Getinges or updating an earlier spelling to fit contemporary orthography. S 1165 certainly warrants being looked at again for other signs of alteration during the Saxo-Norman transitional period.


To summarise, the onomastic connections made between Eaton Park and Getinges do hold up under close scrutiny. Getinges has the hallmarks of a place-name spelling emended from an OE archetype *Geotingas, *Geatingas, or possibly simply *Getingas. The balance of probability is firmly tilted in favour of the first part of the name to derive from a male personal name Gēot/Gēat (or a hypocorism of one or the other ending in -a). What this means in turn is that we have a group-name whose prototheme is most likely derived from a name associated directly or indirectly with a tribal deity-cum-eponym, whose ultimate origin is either Gothic or Geatish (or just possibly Getic). If this is indeed the case, it opens up a really tasty new avenue for assessing OE -ingas names and groups, by making connections – not necessarily direct ones, I must stress – between them and prominent historical (or pseudo-historical) figures from Germanic mythological culture. A brace of other possible examples that occurred to me this afternoon will have to suffice for now.

The first is the lost Frankingham, somewhere not so far from the Thames in historic north-east Surrey, which I could do no more than note in passing on page 56 of my dissertation. It can be derived from the OE personal name Franca, borne by an abbot who witnessed a credible early East Saxon charter (S 65b) as well as in the early-ninth-century portion of the Durham Liber Vitae (Insley & Rollason 2007, 176). But might we now be able to contemplate that this represents an Anglicisation of the name and memory of Francio (or Francus), legendary leader of the European Franks who migrated from Macedonia to Francia (here’s the Wikipedia summary of the Frankish foundation myth featuring Francio – sorry it’s not a more scholarly reference but I’m trying not to place too much emphasis on this point!) Likewise, can we detect a memory of another Frankish “king”, Sunno, in the name of the *Sunningas mentioned earlier? What might this imply about the past or present, real or imagined, connections between these -ingas groups and the Franks? (For what it’s worth, the two names – or their approximate locations – lie on the peripheries of two Frankish ‘corridors of activity’ proposed in Harrington and Welch 2014, 189 Figure 57.)

How then should we seek to understand the name Gēat(a) or Gēot(a) as seems to be present in the place-name Getinges/Eaton? Maybe as a more mythical analogue of ethnic bynames like Wealh (present in the -inga place-names Wallingford and the lost Wealingawirth 771 x 786 of S 1183 (14th)), meaning “Briton, foreigner”, and the related Welisc (attested as the name of a priestly witness to S 235, another early Surrey charter), “British, foreign”? Going down this route feeds into the debate on the location of the tribal heartland of the Geatas at the heart of (but not settled by) Leake’s book, and whether there might be any correlation with the archaeological records of those places in part named after individuals with ethnic bynames. The current evidence bases for Frankingham and *Sunningas/Sonning would appear to cast doubt upon the possibility, but there is clearly scope for more targeted work to be done on the matter.

Another way of interpreting the name would be as the figurehead of a Kultverband – for want of a better translation a “cult-group”, or group of people whose shared identity was based around a religious cult with a named leader. This has been put forward by Insley as an explanation for the *Gumeningas associated with Gumeninga hergae 767 (Harrow on the Hill), ‘the heathen shrine of a group of people led by a certain Gumen’ (Insley 1999, 192)? This would place Geot-Geat(a) as a real-life leader figure, perhaps one who was considered or claimed to be a god or god-like. Not impossible, I suppose (I was reminded of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, although in this case Koresh changed his name to that of the cult), but a bit of a stretch of the imagination.

Arguably more relevant in this conjunction could be the Ingham place-names discussed by Sandred, who interpreted them as stemming from PGmc *Ingwia-haimaz (Sandred 1987). This has been adopted by Green in respect of the Lincolnshire example, for which she supplies the translations ‘the estate of the Inguione‘, that is of a king of the Inguionic dynasty, or ‘the estate of the devotees of the deity Ing‘ (Green 2012, 101-103). If there was a direct and authentic link between the early kings of Lindsey and Geot, then North’s proposition that the latter stemmed from ‘an epithet of Ingui’ (1997, 171) could be cited in support of Ingham’s royal associations. However, the indications are that Geot was an ancestor common to many or all Anglo-Saxon royal lines confected in the eighth century rather than Lindsey alone, which weakens the contention. Getinges, meanwhile, is an uncompounded group-name, capable of interpretation as “the people/followers/devotees of the deity Geot/Geat” but this is by no means the most credible or best paralleled of the various possible interpretations.

Alternatively, adhering to a more prosaic line of interpretation, Getinges/Eaton Park at the very least admits that, by the second half of the seventh century, Gēot, Gēat may have been in use in the OE anthroponymicon for male personal-names, either as a simplex name or as a prototheme of a dithematic name which was shortened for the purposes of the -ingas compound. Furthermore, contrary to the suggestion of North (1997, 153) that Geot, Geat, etc., ‘were constructed on the basis of the suffix -geot in older Anglian names’, it opens up the scenario that they were based on monothematic names, or dithematic names commencing with the same element, of non-Anglian background. The ambiguous spelling of Getinges, about which I think there is still more to be said on a linguistic level, hints at early sound-changes, but mostly embodies the complex and perhaps not fully-understood history of reworking of S 1165 at intervals between the later-seventh and later-13th centuries.


What I find most thought-provoking about Getinges is that it points to the existence of an ethnically-charged element in the personal- and/or group-naming lexicon by the late seventh century. To my mind it’s clear that there’s much more of an ideological dimension to -ingas name formations than has been acknowledged by previous academic contemplations of them, and Getinges would appear to be a prime example of the way they conveyed powerful messages about origins and legitimacy. They make little sense as formal commemorations of real-life migrant folk-leaders that decades’ worth of published studies had them pegged as prior the Dodgson-initiated step change of the 1960s (and which some Continental scholars have continued to assert: e.g. Kleinschmidt 2003, 56-68). Instead, they seem to be cut from much the same cloth of the royal genealogies and heroic poetry – in between fact and fiction, history and myth. Whether they had a real-life basis and so were unique to a given group, or were entirely imaginary and picked out from a pool of Germanic mythological greats-cum-gods, and regardless of their role in any seminal migratory movement or military victory (and each of these on its own or in combination with another may be applicable to certain -ingas), the protothematic elements of these name formations invented were rooted in the construction of group mythologies that are all but irretrievable to us now.

We cannot know therefore whether the*Geotingas/*Geatingas/*Getingas whose name is preserved as Getinges (and thus Eaton) were the same group whose name is found in Yattendon (OE *Gē(o)t-, Gēatingadenu), or if the two place-names merely recall separate groups who happened to exist not so far apart (but not necessarily at the same time) and whose members based their collective identity on the same figure (or conceivably on two different personages of the same name). There is no documented historical link between the two, nor any topographical logic for why they should have been associated. On the other hand, both place-names are not so many miles from the Thames, and connections between certain artefacts from the early cemeteries of Surrey and the Upper Thames region have been noted before (e.g. Welch 1977, 28 – not the most relevant source, but the best I have to hand). It’s one of the main aspirations for my PhD research that archaeology, even in the form of single finds as opposed to excavated cemeteries, may help to establish the nature of the links between places with names which could derive from the same social group. In the process, I hope it will also reveal meaningful things about such groups and the people who comprised them.


CDEPN = Watts, Victor, The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names (Cambridge: CUP, 2004) 

Dumville, David N., ‘The Anglian collection of royal genealogies and regnal lists’, Anglo‑Saxon England, 5 (1976), 23-50

Dumville, David N., ‘Kingship, Genealogies and Regnal Lists’ in Early Medieval Kingship, ed. by P. H. Sawyer and I. N. Wood (Leeds: The School of History, University of Leeds, 1977), 72-104

Green, Caitlin R., Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400-650, Studies in the History of Lincolnshire, 3 (Lincoln: History of Lincolnshire Committee, 2012)

Harrington, Sue, and Martin Welch, The Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of Southern Britain AD 450-650: Beneath the Tribal Hidage (Oxford and Philadelphia: Oxbow Books, 2014)

Insley, John, ‘Gumeningas’ in Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 13, ed. by Rosemarie Müller (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1999), 191-93

Insley, John, ʻSurreyʼ in Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 30, ed. by Rosemarie Müller (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2005), 137-41

Insley, John, and David Rollason, ʻEnglish monothematic namesʼ in The Durham Liber Vitae, Volume 2: Linguistic Commentary, ed. by David Rollason and Lynda Rollason (London: The British Library, 2007), 165-87

Kelly, S. E., ed., Charters of Chertsey Abbey, Anglo-Saxon Charters, 17 (Oxford: OUP for The British Academy, 2015)

Kleinschmidt, Harald, People on the Move: Attitudes toward and Perceptions of Migration in Medieval and Modern Europe (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 2003)

Leake, Jane Acomb, The Geats of Beowulf: A Study in the Geographical Mythology of the Middle Ages (Madison, Milwaukee and London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967)

North, Richard, Heathen Gods in Old English Literature, Cambridge Studies in AngloSaxon England, 22 (Cambridge: CUP, 1997)

Orchard, Andy, Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript (Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press, 1995)

PNS = Gover, J. E. B., A. Mawer and F. M. Stenton, The Place-Names in Surrey, English Place-Name Society, 11 (Cambridge: CUP, 1934)

Sandred, Karl Inge, ‘Ingham in East Anglia: a new interpretation’, Leeds Studies in English, new series, 18 (1987), 231-40

Sisam, Kenneth, ʻAnglo-Saxon Royal Genealogiesʼ in British Academy Papers on Anglo-Saxon England, ed. by E. G. Stanley (Oxford: OUP for The British Academy, 1990), 145-204

Welch, Martin G., ‘Early Anglo-Saxon Sussex: from Civitas to Shire’ in The South Saxons, ed. by Peter Brandon (Chichester: Phillimore, 1978), 13-35

About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Annals, Charters, Chertsey, Genealogy, History, Nottingham, Old English, PhD, Place-Names, Surrey and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Getting to the root of Getinges: tribal memory and group identity in Early Anglo-Saxon Surrey

  1. Pingback: Not in my name or theirs: plotting my future in early medieval studies | Surrey Medieval

  2. Pingback: Not in my name or theirs: in defence of the complexity and diversity of what I study | Surrey Medieval

  3. Pingback: Understanding the Old English -ing3 patronymic constructions in the ‘Historia de Sancto Cuthberto’ | Surrey Medieval

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