Margaret Gelling

We spent last Saturday walking in Swaledale, in the Yorkshire Dales, starting from Gunnerside. Our walk book pointed out that this name comes from Norse “Gunner’s saetr”, meaning “Gunner’s slope”, which reminded me of the recent death of Margaret Gelling, an expert in the field of place names and their origin, which fascinates me. I love how language allows us to see a very real connection between a place and its past, and this is particularly evident in Yorkshire, where traces of Viking settlers are everywhere.
Her main theory was that English place names were coined with reference to the geographical landscape: she studied them not just from a linguistic point of view, but also took into account their archeological and physical contexts. Her work covered mainly the counties of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Shropshire. Her obituary in the Economist is an excellent read.
Place names in the Yorkshire Dales.
Swaledale, near Crackpot (Old English Kraka, a crow and Norse word Pot, usually a cavity or deep hole often in the bed of a river, but in Crackpot’s case refers to a rift in the limestone)
Swaledale, near Muker, from Norse Mjor-aker (narrow piece of land)

By |2009-06-04T15:31:43+00:00June 4th, 2009|Language|1 Comment

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.

One Comment

  1. Jack Kirby November 3, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I had the great pleasure of attending a course of lectures by Margaret Gelling as part of my degree at Birmingham University. Her exposition of the links between place-names and landscape features is a fine example of a multidisciplinary approach to history: even now some scholars never go beyond documents in their studies, but an approach using a variety of sources (artefacts, buildings, landscape, documents) is by far the richest way to understand a place.

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