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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

'Find the Lady': The Term "Lady" in English and Scottish Place Names

Author(s):
C A Hough
University of Glasgow, Scotland

The term "lady" serves as the qualifying element of a number of place names in England and Scotland, and has a range of applications. Some occurrences can be identified with historical characters, while others designate otherwise unknown female landholders or members of the community. A substantial proportion comprises dedications to Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, sometimes with a broader application relating to monastic ownership. In a few instances the referent may be notional (e.g., Ladyford ‘ford that could be crossed by a lady’?), and in others a legend associated with the name may either have given rise to it or have developed later.

Taken as a group, these place names have important implications for the role of women in early society, and for the understanding of religious and cultural attitudes. However, their interpretation is not always straightforward, and it may be difficult to differentiate between secular and religious names, or to establish secure identifications with known individuals. This paper presents and discusses a corpus of names in Lady- from north-west England and south-east Scotland, drawing attention to recurrent compounds that may be indicative of name-types rather than of ad hoc formations, and to comparative evidence that may suggest a religious context for some names previously considered to be secular. It concludes by offering a new explanation of the place name Ladyford mentioned above.

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