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Name: Joshua Neal

PhD: Place-names.

Thesis Title: Danelaw Borders: the place-name evidence in context.


Thesis Description:

My research investigates early medieval Scandinavian influence in Anglo-Scandinavian England, using place-names as historical evidence where traditional textual evidence is limited.

The Alfred-Guthrum treaty of c. AD 886 (AGu), a peace between Alfred, king of Wessex, and Guthrum, a viking leader, ostensibly divided England politically: much territory in the north and east of England came under Scandinavian rule, and a large area of north-eastern England became socially and legally scandinavianised to such an extent that it was later referred to in eleventh-century Old English as Dena lagu, 'the Danelaw'. The reality of AGu's boundary as a sociopolitical and socio-ethnic border has been and is much debated by historians; the place-name evidence, however, indicates that it was not a sociolinguistic border.

This thesis began with a large-scale analysis of the Scandinavian nomenclature in the eleven modern English counties that are adjoined or bisected by the historical AGu boundary. This analysis revealed two main points: i) the relationship between the sociopolitical and sociolinguistic borders of Anglo-Scandinavian England is notably variable; ii) there are a series of linguistic 'borders' within the apparent Danelaw territory itself. 

My research is focused on these borders or, more appropriately, the 'cores' and 'peripheries' of Scandinavian influence on English place-names. This investigation is centred on an analysis of 754 place-names that contain the element Old Norse -bý 'farmstead, village', which I have collated from multiple sources. Old Norse -bý is accepted as evidence for the presence of Scandinavian-speakers. This analysis will identify what is notable about bý-names in the core and peripheral areas of their distribution, and consider factors affecting their distribution: topography; political borders; numbers of speakers; etc.

My research will be of interest not only to place-name scholars, but more widely to early-medieval historians for whom the nature of Anglo-Scandinavian England in the early medieval period is of continued importance.

Supervisors and Institution(s): Dr Jayne Carroll (University of Nottingham); Dr John Baker (University of Nottingham).

Public Engagement Activities:


  • 'Old English and the Anglo-Saxons' (After-school Lecture at President Kennedy School, Coventry, March 2018).
  • 'Northamptonshire is really a border county': a historiographical re-analysis of The Place-Names of Northamptonshire's Scandinavian Place-Names' (Paper presented at The Háskóli Íslands Student Conference on the Medieval North, Reykjavík, April 2018).
  • 'A historiographical re-analysis of The Place-Names of Northamptonshire's Scandinavian Place-Names' (Paper presented at The Midlands Viking Symposium, Nottingham, April 2018).

Other Research Interests:

  • Old English and Old Norse linguistics.
  • Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England.
  • Beowulf.


Email address:

Twitter handle: @jljneal

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