On our newly-built virtual home for onomasts!

Ellen Bramwell, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, University of Glasgow

At last! Someone has decided to take it upon themselves to build us an academic (virtual) home!

Anyway, now that we have begun to settle in, I have found myself musing on my fellow onomastically-inclined webmates. After agreeing to write this blog-post I set myself the task of thinking about what united us all in our onomastic endeavours. Of course there are all the usual, vague points you will find anywhere in academia, such as a shared commitment to using systematic approaches and a reliance on evidence. But that doesn’t really unite us as onomasts (or indeed onomasticians, onomatologists or whatever you prefer to call yourself). I would say it unites us as half-decent researchers.

My own PhD research was in anthroponymy. It could even come under the fuzzy umbrella of socio-onomastics (I hope I’ve conjured up an appropriate image there!). Really though, it took its cue from linguistic anthropology. I became a bit of a magpie, appropriating the shiny bits from sociolinguistics, anthropology, sociology, cognitive semantics, philosophy of language and whatever else helped me to make sense of my topic and my data.

I don’t believe that this is a bad thing. Interdisciplinarity tends to be one of these things that we are told that the research councils want; the discipline-hopping, all-encompassing way of the future. However, it is rather disappointing when you come to realise that this is one of those aspirational assertions which has little grounding in reality. This realisation tends to occur when it comes to ticking boxes on the funding forms for those same organisations.

But as onomasts we are interdisciplinary to our very core. It is almost impossible to be otherwise and this is because of our unified, if diverse, focus on names. Our object of study spans language, history and culture. Therefore there is a wide web of historians, linguists, archaeologists, literary scholars and sociologists, among many others, who make up the onomastics community. This is lovely from the point of view of potentially swapping ideas with other fields and producing some pretty exciting work as a result. But I have always felt that there has been a problem as to where we all meet in this interdisciplinary dance. I spent my PhD in the hope that I would meet other people at conferences who were as intensely interested in studying personal names as I was during those years. Or, even better, who might want to collaborate in putting a different spin on the kinds of research questions I was asking. I found a few, especially when I ventured to conferences abroad, but in a small field like ours isolation can be a bit of a problem. Of course (you may well be saying) but isolation is the meat of postgraduates, otherwise they would simply get nothing done! Perhaps that’s right, but I would like to think that there might be some time and space for places where we can connect over a fondness for unusual bynames, runic inscriptions or Grimston hybrids.

All of this brings me rather neatly back to our newly-built virtual home for onomasts. I would have been overjoyed to have had something like this in my postgraduate years. Information on onomastics-related events would have been hugely helpful, but even more important I think would have been the forum in which to bounce ideas off others, forge new collaborations and create a bit of a national and international community. Now it exists and huge thanks go to Leonie, Alice and Scott for putting the site together! But it will only benefit us if we use it. So I hope to see you all down in the forums – I’ll bring the (virtual) biscuits.

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