Friday, October 9, 2015


Hello, readers!

Since becoming more involved in the name community, I've wondered - is there a field of study that focuses on names? I'm an academic at heart - BA in History of Art, French Lit minor, Dec 2013, UC Berkeley - and I'd love to find classes or some kind of program to study names.

However, I haven't been too successful. Here are some of the sites I've come across:

First, to Wikipedia!

Onomastics - An excellent definition, but not too much more information.

Anthroponymy - More specific in what I'm interested in, but still not great.

George R. Stewart - Cool, a Berkeley reference. Interesting fact - he "prompted the National Weather Service to use personal names to designate storms".

Now to societies!

American Name Society - "The American Name Society was founded in 1951 to promote onomastics, the study of names and naming practices, both in the United States and abroad. It is a non-profit organization that seeks to find out what really is in a name, and to investigate cultural insights, settlement history, and linguistic characteristics revealed in names."

English Place-Name Society - "The EPNS was established in 1923 to conduct a county-by-county survey of the place-names of England." It's connected to the University of Nottingham, so I'm glad to see an academic reference.

Guild of One-Name Studies - "The Guild will strengthen its position as the centre of excellence for surname studies by educating the worldwide genealogical community in one-name studies and empowering members to share their knowledge and expertise." Genealogy and surnames, but not too much about first names.

International Council of Onomastic Sciences - Excellent! Academia! Wish I had known about the conference earlier, I would love to attend their symposium in Paris this December.

Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland - "A society devoted to the study of names (place-names, personal names, and other names) from linguistic, historical, and sociological perspectives". So I'm seeing a lot of conferences, but no real singular departments. I guess I should have expected names to be more interdisciplinary!

Dictionary of Names from Medieval European Sources - An excellent site that I discussed at length on my blog yesterday.

But are there classes?

Academic Courses on Onomastics - This thorough PDF lists classes in Great Britain, Croatia, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, Sweden and the Czech Republic - at least, as of 2002. I do notice that many of the courses fall under the relevant language departments - Scandinavian, English, etc.

But nothing in the USA!

Any more information on onomastics and its academic presence would be really appreciated! I'm wondering if working with a language or literature department and creating an interdisciplinary Masters or PhD in Anthroponymy would be possible?


  1. In academic contexts, onomastics is often treated under linguistics, but you're right: There are very few places that specifically offer onomastic-oriented training (I too am not familiar with anything in the US). In Europe, there are a few more options: The English Place-Name Society based at the University of Nottingham occasionally has PhD positions doing place-name related research. Glasgow University has a Professor of Onomastics, Dr. Carole Hough, and Glasgow has connections with the onomastics programme at the University of Copenhagen.

    More often, you're likely to find people who study onomastics but are in sociology, anthropology, or history departments. I did once find a programme in Italy that was a master's course in onomastics, but, alas, I have not been able to re-find it in the last few years, so it may no longer be functioning.

    1. Thank you for this info! It sounds like I'll have to do a bit more research before throwing my hat into the ring.

  2. There is also some onomastics going on at the University of West England (UWE) in Bristol. For example, Prof. Richard Coates () and Prof. Patrick Hanks (one of the authors of the 'Oxford Dictionary of First Names') are there in Language/Linguistics. There seems to be some onomastics as part of the English Language and Linguistics degree, but again no course exclusively on names, unless for a research degree.

    Perhaps this is the universe telling you to come to Europe ;)

    1. By the way, Emily, have you come across these databases, the products of research projects? They might be of interest:

      Celtic personal names of Roman Britain

      Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (a bit clunky to use, but it does have tons of names)