A view of Helsinki harbour with bright blue skies

Attending an Onomastics Summer School

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Onomastics is the study of names, such as but not limited to personal names or place-names. It is an interdisciplinary field that is as relevant to statistics as it is linguistics. In August 2017, I presented at my first conference, the International Congress of Onomastic Sciences Conference in Debrecen, Hungary. During this conference, I participated in a student-led round table discussion on young Onomasticians and creating a student network for us. There was some mention of a summer school, and interest for this idea was gathered, but no guarantee that such a thing would be possible or when.

Fast-forward two years later to August 2019, when 21 young Onomasticians from 15 countries gathered together in Helsinki, Finland to learn about and discuss all things Onomastics. The theme of the summer school was ‘Methods of Onomastics’ which made a very applicable and interesting programme for all of us, despite our varied interests.

One of the things I absolutely loved about this summer school was how engaging the programme was. Instead of sitting in lecture after lecture all day, our week was broken up by activities like a text workshop and three-minute thesis, as well as mini-excursions to significant sites like the Institute of Languages in Finland and the Helsinki University Almanac Office.

Calendar with a picture of an animal and a description of it in Swedish
The Almanac Office had name calendars even for pets!

Three-minute thesis

We started the week off by presenting ourselves and our research to the group with a Three-Minute Thesis presentation, a concept that came out of Australia and has developed into a worldwide competition. This was a fantastic way to get acquainted with everyone in a reasonable timeframe, as it was enough of a ‘taster’ that we all had lots of questions for each other by the end! Sometimes when you get PhD students talking about their research which we are all so passionate about, it turns into an hour-long lecture, so I thought this was a brilliant move by the organisers to avoid that in the kindest way possible!

Text workshop

Mid-week we had a full-day text workshop, which seemed really daunting at first but it turned out to be a very productive and positive day. Before the summer school, we were all asked to send in a piece of writing anywhere from 2,000-10,000 words. We were then assigned a group and a piece of writing by another attendee and had the month before the summer school to peer edit it our assigned piece and read the four other pieces of work. While it was nerve-wracking editing someone else’s work-in-progress, it was fantastic practice peer editing and a good skill to have moving forward. Everyone was in the same boat, so all the criticism was very constructive and done with the best of intentions.

A slide titled 'Names of Cats'
THIS is the content I signed up for!

I personally found the entire week extremely helpful as Onomastics is a field in which I had no prior formal training in, despite dealing with its themes daily. I feel better equipped to handle the data I’m working with in my thesis thanks to the fantastic workshops on Onomastic methods we had throughout the week.

Bringing Onomastic methods back

At the University of Glasgow, I convene the Onomastic Reading Group and was able to discuss my experience at the summer school with our group, which included some new members. The structure of the summer school really inspired our group. We are going to take a page out of their book and organise our sessions this semester around the theme of ‘Methods of Onomastics’. As a group, we thought this was a particularly relevant theme as we have some new young Onomasticians joining us and I wish I had had this introduction at the start of my research rather than towards the end.

There is talk of organising another summer school in a few years’ time, and I hope that this does come to pass. I had never attended a subject-focused summer school before, and I found it extremely beneficial. I am extremely grateful to the University of Glasgow Research Support Award for relieving some of the financial pressure that would have made it impossible for me to attend otherwise. Opportunities like this do not come around often for such small disciplines, so I am absolutely thrilled I was able to take part and grow as an Onomastician and as a researcher.


Brittnee Leysen-Ross is a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, focusing on introduced place-names and migration in New Zealand. Previously, Brittnee obtained her BSci degree in Anthropology, and MLitt in Celtic Studies. Currently, Brittnee convenes the University of Glasgow’s Onomastics reading group and works as a GTA in Celtic Civilisations.

Twitter: @brittneeleysen

Post Author: Kelly Arnstein

Kelly is Digital Content Officer for the College of Arts.

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