Old English -ingas

I’ve started writing the first draft of an article taking a fresh look at place-names containing (usually as a suffix) the Old English term -ingas. To my mind it’s clear current translations and interpretations proposed and applied by place-name scholars are inadequate, and I imagine that I’ll post what I come to write at some point in the future. For now I’ve gathered together links to several useful resources relevant to the subject.

The obvious place to begin is John Dodgson’s article published in the journal Medieval Archaeology in 1966 which overturned the idea that occurrences of the term in place-names denote the sites of settlement by the first Anglo-Saxon immigrants from the Continent (embarrassingly the first Google search result still asserting the original interpretation is the Wikipedia entry for my own “home” Hundred of Godalming). However, re-reading the article today makes you realise that, for all its impact, it was very much of its time. The key concepts it deals with (immigration, colonisation) are outmoded, or at least I would argue not as crucial to the application of the term as things like social stratification and territory. I would also go so far as to suggest that its conclusions would have been far less compelling without the substantiation of Audrey Meaney’s appendix of “settlement”-era archaeology, and more credit for the lasting impact of Dodgson’s study should be given to its other contributing author.

Another article I was pleased to come across, having not read it before, was Margaret Gelling’s 1975 analysis of the Essex place-names Mucking and Fobbing. It has proven to be almost as influential (and certainly more controversial in some quarters) as Dodgson’s regional study, and although she repeated elements of it in her later, more widely-published work, the level of detail here adds greater persuasiveness to her arguments.

Something I was not aware of until today is the plethora of names incorporating ingas found in the ninth-century poem known as Widsith. The Modern English translation, accompanied by a bit of background on the text and editions of it, can be found here; for those feeling a bit more adventurous, the original Old English wording is available via the Georgetown University website. The implications (and possible identifications) of the names in it are certainly something I will need to consider, especially if all of them were located across the North Sea. This last point links in with an article in volume 19 of the journal Anglo-Saxon England in which Gillian Fellows-Jensen noted interesting Continental scholarship on the relationship between English -ingas/-ingaham and names in France and the Low Countries ending in -ing(a)heim (via Google Books, pages 18-19).

The present consensus among British place-name scholars over the meaning(s) and age ofingas in English place-names was neatly summed up by Barrie Cox in a contribution to The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England (via Google Books, page 252). This is further reflected by the correspondence from Dr Paul Cullen reproduced on glaucus.org.uk (confusingly the website of the British Marine Life Study Society!), part of which appears to be a post on the message board sussexpast, which had one or two popular threads on the matter in 2002. Also worth seeking out are a couple of regional overviews, both dealing with more than just -ingas: a rewarding overview of Anglian place-names in Yorkshire (possibly authored by Barry Rawling) and the initial paragraphs of a note by Steve Pollington on the much rarer Old English territorial/group term *ge in eastern England, published in an edition of Withowinde, Tha Engliscan Gesithas newsletter.

Staying in eastern England, and specifically East Anglia, the Wuffing’s website written by occasional Time Team contributor Sam Newton includes a presentation of his reconstruction of the lineage of the East Anglian royal house, the Wuffingas. It is my belief that the use of -ingas in royal descents, when taken with the substantial body of scholarship on the emergence of kingdoms and ruling dynasties, can go a long way towards explaining its much more common usage in place-names – but elaboration of this point must take place another day.

Several studies of -ingas-names at various levels have been published in recent years. Unfortunately, few of these are available for free online (those with use of institutional electronic journal subscriptions or enough money to pay the sometimes extortionate 24-hour access fees will have more joy). Indeed the only one I could find was Susan Laflin’s interesting investigation of the apparent pairing of some -ingas place-names. However, it could be said to replicate Dodgson’s mistake of arguing that the settlements which bear such names today are congruent with those that first did so well over a millennium before, and gives little new insight into what ingas represents in place-names.

Finally, being from Surrey and given the name of this blog I can hardly overlook Gavin Smith’s contributions to the interpretation of -ingas at a local and national level in recent years. First published at length in his 2005 book Surrey Place-names, much of what he says in it regarding -ingas is reprised in an online article entitled ‘Recovering the lost religious place-names of England’, to be found on a number of sites but seemingly first posted on At The Edge. There are many flaws in his arguments concerning the dating and meaning of -ingas in Surrey and beyond outlined in both of the above-mentioned, and it is regrettable that these were not corrected (or any criticisms acknowledged) in his 2008 article for the journal Nomina, entitled ‘-ingas and the Mid-Seventh Century Diocese’. Many moons ago Gavin was kind enough to send me a PDF offprint of this article, which prompted an enjoyable exchange of many emails on this and other topics. In view of Nomina not being an easy journal to get hold of in my experience, I’m going to be a little cheeky and finish by posting it here (if its author or anyone else connected to Nomina or the SNSBI has any objections please let me know and I’ll take it down straight away).

1 Response to Old English -ingas

  1. Pingback: Post no bills? Reflections on visits to place-names in the Surrey Weald | Surrey Medieval

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