Iona is a site of exceptional historical, archaeological, and religious interest, and has been since its foundation as a monastery c.563. Despite the multiple ways in which Iona has been of interest, its complex legacy of place-names has never been the subject of sustained scholarly investigation.

This 3-year project, funded by the AHRC,  interrogates the dynamics of the namescape (the historical and changing landscape of names) of Iona and its environs, shedding light on its past and its complex present, and proposing new ways of curating place-names as part of heritage management.

What were, and are, the dynamics of the namescape of Iona and its environs?

Specific questions propelling this research will be:

–What is the history and evolution of the namescape of Iona and its environs?

–What does this namescape reveal about distinct periods in Iona’s settlement history ?

–To what extent does this namescape reflect distinct groups of naming agents in Iona’s history and its contemporary use (for instance: ecclesiastics; the Gaelic-speaking crofting community; antiquarians, travellers and tourists; modern heritage organisations)?

–What are the implications of this complex namescape for theoretical and practical onomastics, specifically in relation to where the authority lies in name-giving, and the nature of ‘authenticity’ in naming?

This project will research and bring to fruition a series of outputs:

  • An online interactive web resource which will both act as the repository for research data, and also allow both the public and researchers to engage with the rich history of Iona’s namescape (scehduled to be available in 2022).
  • A full survey of the place-names of Iona and the nearby island of Staffa, to be published in the Survey of Scottish Place-Names [SSPN] series (scheduled to be published in 2023).
  • A popular guide to the place-names of Iona and Staffa, designed for visitors to the islands, based on the data uncovered in our research.
  • An essay collection, based on a conference on ‘The Curation of Names: Authority and Authenticity’ considering the situation of Iona and comparable locations internationally.
  • The project will also produce a series of articles relating to aspects of Iona’s namescape, based on our research.

We hope to host two conferences during the course of the project: one on St Columba and Iona in early December 2021; and one on ‘The Curation of Names: Authority and Authenticity’, in 2022.

An important further objective of the project is to enhance awareness of place-names as historical, human artefacts, and argue for their attentive ‘curation’ by heritage bodies. As such our intended outreach will include workshops with our key partners, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the public bodies with main responsibility for Iona, Staffa and parts of Mull, as well as knowledge exchange events with local communities, on Iona and on Mull.