English Place-Name Society

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The English Place-Name Society is a learned society concerned with toponomastics and the toponymy of England, in other words, the study of place-names (toponyms).

Its scholars aim to explain the origin and history of the names they study, taking into account factors such as the meaning of the elements out of which they were created (which can be in languages such as Old English, or early Welsh, Danish, Norwegian or Cornish etc.); the topography, geology and ecology of the places bearing the names; and the general and local history and culture of England.


In 1922 Professor Allen Mawer read a paper to the British Academy about setting up an English place-name survey. He obtained the formal and financial support of the Academy. Within a year he had brought into being a society composed of interested persons, provided it with a constitution and laid down the lines of its future conduct.[1] The headquarters of the Society were first at the University of Liverpool where Mawer was Professor of English Language. The publications of the Society began in 1924 with two volumes, a collection of essays and a dictionary of place-name elements. Mawer and Aileen Armstrong acted as General Editors for the annual volumes of county place-name surveys. From 1929 J. E. B. Gover collected material and was sub-editor of the volumes.

In 1929 Professor Mawer was appointed Provost of University College, London and the Society moved there at the end of the year. When World War II came the Society moved briefly to University College, Aberystwyth, back to London and then to Stansted Bury on the Hertfordshire/Essex border. In July 1942 Sir Allen Mawer died and Sir Frank Stenton became General Editor. The Society moved to the University of Reading until 1946. When Professor Bruce Dickins succeeded as Honorary Director the Society moved to the University of Cambridge and Miss Margaret Midgley (later Dr Margaret Gelling) was appointed Research Assistant.

When Professor Hugh Smith assumed the position of Honorary Director in 1951, University College, London became once more the Society's headquarters, with Margaret Midgley continuing research there until 1953. Hugh Smith produced two new "Elements" volumes and 14 others on county place-names. On his death in 1967 Professor Kenneth Cameron became Honorary Director and the Society's offices were split between London and Nottingham, where the university provided room for the Library and Archives, as well as the services of a secretary. In 1972 the Society moved completely to Nottingham where it remains at the Centre for Name Studies. Victor Watts became Honorary Director in 1992 until his death in 2002 when he was succeeded by Professor Richard Coates.


In 1969 the Society commenced publishing its annual "Journal", which contains essays on various place-name topics. Most English counties are now covered in its place-name survey, however its early volumes are not as detailed as its later ones. From the 1960s there has been a change in the interpretation of some place-names, resulting from the detailed comparison of distributions of the place-name types which had been thought to be early Saxon and archaeological evidence. There was originally also a bias towards interpreting names as Anglo-Saxon, and some have now been shown to be more likely Celtic. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson advised on Celtic names. By 2007 it had published 82 volumes of the county-by-county Survey of English Place-Names, aimed mainly at scholarly and academic users, and a range of books and booklets on names organized by region or by category (e.g. field-names), as well as some county dictionaries aimed mainly at a non-specialist audience. The Society is starting to publish a new series of booklets on place-name elements, but it is likely to be some time before this is complete. The Survey has been consistently supported, morally and practically, by the British Academy, and from 2005 to 2010 was supported by a large grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. English Place-Name Society material was used as the basis of the The Cambridge dictionary of English place-names published in 2004. In March 2016, the society published its first volume on the county of Suffolk, a dictionary in the Popular Series.


  1. ^ Journal of the English Place-Name Society, Volume 25
  1. Journal of the English Place-name Society, Volume 25.
  2. Journal of the English Place-Name Society, Volume 31.


  • Smith, A H, English Place-Name Elements (2 volumes), English Place Name Society, Cambridge University Press (1987).
  • Mills, A D, Dictionary of English Place-Names, Oxford University Press (1991).
  • Cameron, Kenneth, English place-names (new edition), Batsford (1996).
  • Watts, Victor, Cambridge dictionary of English place-names, Cambridge (2004).

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