Methodology: the structure of the database

Methodology: the structure of the database: places and names

A place is a geographical location with a grid ref and describable physical characteristics. Every place has one or more names, and each of those names might have had many forms over time.

As with other place-name databases the DoSH stores the data on place apart from that on name as this facilitates the kind of complex searches required.

We have chosen to call a place by the name which is likely to be the most familiar to most people. Included in the label is some further geographical information which should help people to gather, at a glance, to what place reference is being made. For more on this see Methodology: conventions for data entry: places.

Methodology: the structure of the database: places, names and saints

Two main kinds of evidence reveal that a saint is associated with a place: onomastic and documentary. This database takes as its start-point the former, but the latter is of equal weight in building up a picture of the devotion to saints in Scotland.

Documentary evidence detailing links between saints and altars, churches, chaplaincies, and other objects was the subject of an AHRC funded project based at Edinburgh University which created a searchable database of texts drawn from a wide range of charters and other material. It is envisaged that links will be made from DoSH directly to material here, but in the meantime it can be reached at

Methodology: the structure of the database: saints

One of the most difficult aspects of the study of saints is the way that the identity of one saint can merge into that of another. Cults can split, creating two or more saints out of single original, and they can merge, resulting in the identity of a minor local saint being subsumed within that of a more familiar saint or one whose cult has more powerful backers. The problem is compounded by the complex naming practices employed in places speaking Gaelic or British languages, whereby a saint can be known by a number of names. Some of these affectionate or nick-names have a transparent linguistic relationship with the root name, some do not.

The most important concept to grasp regarding our treatment of saints is that of the non-specific saint. The non-specific saint is not a particular Colum, but any saint called Colum or any of the many names related to Colum. By linking a place-name to a non-specific saint one is not making any statement about whether the commemoration evident in the name reflects devotion to a local saint, to a specific saint from elsewhere, or indeed to a saint whose original identity included both these saints. Every hagiotoponym (or possible hagiotoponym) in the database is linked to a non-specific saint. In cases where even the identity of the non-specific saint is unclear a place-name might be linked, doubtfully, to more than one such saint.

In addition, most place-names are linked with a specific saint. In some cases there is solid evidence for making such a link, but in others the evidence is weaker. A certainty rating – from certain to doubtful – will be applied accordingly.

The creation of the non-specific saint was motivated by the need to manage two opposing aims. On one hand there was a desire to present a range of possibilities with regards the identity of saints in place names in the hope of seeing new patterns, hitherto un-noticed. On the other it was felt to be imperative that any speculative attachment of saints to place-names should not appear to have more authority than the evidence merited. The existence of the non-specific saint enables the user to voyage from a relatively safe interpretation of the data, to a progressively more risky one. This is helped by the fact that all links between place-name and saint are given a certainty rating, and that these are colour-coded on the distribution maps.

The non-specific saint did not remove the need for hard decisions to be made. It was still a difficult task deciding whether to allow for a local Conval of Eastwood as well as a Conval of Inchinnan, for example. Ultimately such decisions were guided by evidence for local traditions and local feast-days and fairs.

Methodology: conventions for data entry

Methodology: conventions for data entry: places

Places / known as

This is a useful label for the place and includes information extra to the name. At the very least consists of a place-name, an object classification (ecclesiastical, settlement etc), and a location, usually the parish. The place-name is not always exactly the same as associated head-name, though usually it is. It will usually be an OS form if there is one. The object classification is the one considered to be most significant (ecclesiastical rather than antiquity, for example). If the place is hypothetical then the object classification will be preceded by a tilde ~. (for hypothetical names see Place and Name help notes: the head name). The location will usually be the 1975 parish but sometimes some further orientation will be given (when two places in a parish have the same name, for example. Parishes themselves are described, in brackets, as 'former parish' which means that the parish did not exist in 1975, or simply 'parish' which means that it did.

Grid Reference, and accuracy ratings

These are usually six figures, but if only a more vague location is known there might be only four figures, in which case this will be stated. A vague location might alternatively have a six figure NGR based on, say, a particular settlement to which the vague location is reasonably close.

An accuracy rating, in brackets, follows the NGR:

  1. Accurate Position.
  2. Assumed Location: known from documentary sources or oral evidence but never mapped
  3. General Location 1 km: known to lie somewhere in the locality within any of the adjacent kilometre-squares around a given 4-figure NGR (i.e. within a 1 kilometre radius of a given 1 kilometre square).
  4. General Location 5 km: assumed to lie within a 5 km radius of a given 4-figure NGR.
  5. Vague Location: we know only the county - or some other large defined area such as an island.
  6. Not Placed: could be anywhere in Scotland. Such places are assigned an NGR in grid-square NP.

Object Classification

These are chosen from the following

  • Antiquity: all features named by the OS in Gothic or Roman print styles e.g. castle, tower, fort etc., including battlefields.
  • Barony
  • Coastal
  • County
  • District
  • Ecclesiastical: other than parish.
  • Field
  • Island
  • Lordship
  • Not known. This is for a place attached to an obsolete or hypothetical name whose meaning does not reveal the likely characteristic of the place.
  • Other i.e. any other named feature not otherwise categorised e.g. cairn, quarry, road, bridge, etc.
  • Parish (extant). Related NGR will be that of the site of the earliest identifiable parish kirk.
  • Parish (non-extant) Related NGR will be that of the site of the earliest identifiable parish kirk.
  • Regality
  • Relief [hill, cliff, valley, glen]
  • Settlement: this refers to anything from a single dwelling to a big city.
  • Shire
  • Stewartry
  • Thanage
  • Townland [For Ireland] Small but important Irish territorial unit, the building-block of parishes.
  • Vegetation: e.g. wood, forest etc.
  • Water i.e. all features named in blue on OS maps other than coastal features e.g. streams, lake, river, river- or burn-mouth, well.

Methodology: conventions for data entry: saints

Many of the entries on saints are incomplete, but work is work is underway to rectify this. Note that there will never be more than two sections completed for non-specific saints: the introduction and the section on related saints.

The name of the saint

If the saint is cited in Ó Riain 1985 (CGSH ) that is the form that has been used. Forms for Anglo-Saxon saints come from PASE ( For universal and non-insular saints, ODS (Farmer 1975, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford) has been used.

Extra information has usually been added to the name of the saint, to make his/her identity clear at a glance. This might be a place – 'of Bangor' – and / or – an office – 'bishop', or anything that helps clarity.

Non-specific saints might be labelled with a single name – Donnán (ns), for example – or there might be a number of names - Cóemgen, Cóemán, Mo Chóemóc, Coemi (ns), for instance. Remember that a) the title for the non-spec saint does not necessarily include all related names – for example, the Colum, Colmán, Commán group could not reasonably be expected to include all of the many related names, and b) the names are usually related linguistically, but they don't have to be – Conall, Conual, Conval, Cynfal (ns) is an example; Conall and Conval are unrelated linguistically, but they are often confused.

Remember that every saint and saintly object belongs to a (ns) saint group. For more on specific and non-specific saints, and the thinking behind the distinction see methodology: the structure of the database: saints.

Other names

Names in popular use which clarify who this saint is (Brendan the navigator, for instance) are entered here. Sources are given, in brackets, for names found in Lives, calendars and other hagiographical material.


This is a brief overview. ODS (Farmer 1978, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford) is much drawn on for universal and non-insular saints (Farmer 1978. Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford). For Irish saints Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints has been invaluable.


There are three possibilities here. The option 'uncertain' has been applied to Holy Blood, Cross etc.

Associated places

Places in Ireland are in OG orthography (as in Ó Riain 1985 index) with the exception of major centres (Kildare, Armagh, Dublin) which are well-established in anglicised form. An anglicised form will often be given too, in brackets.


If there is an obit. for a saint in the Irish annals it is given here. The texts for AU are taken from


A summary of a saint's perceived genealogy or genealogies is presented, often drawing from Ó Riain's Dictionary of Irish Saints. Texts from CGSH are given only when their addition significantly enhances the entry. Reference is made not just to CGSH as a whole, as edited by Ó Riain in 1985, but to constituent parts: the Recensio Maior, the Recensio Metrica, the Tract on the Mothers of the Saints etc.

Territory or Ethnicity (Broad)

This is chosen from the following list:

  • Anglo Saxon / English (including Northumberland)
  • British (North British, Welsh, Cornish, Breton)
  • Gaelic (from Ireland, Scotland or Isle of Man)
  • Non-insular, non-Scandinavian (ie everyone else from Mary and Martin to the Rood)
  • Scandinavian
  • Pictish
  • Scottish (post 1050)
  • Unknown

Territory or Ethnicity (Refined)

This is only completed for Gaelic saints, and is taken from the following list:

  • Airgialla
  • Connachta
  • Dál Fiatach
  • Dál nAraide / Cruithni
  • Dál Riada
  • Déise
  • Fotharta
  • Laigin
  • Mumu
  • Osraige
  • S. Uí Néill
  • N. Uí Néill
  • Unknown

Related Saints

Every specific saint will belong to a non-specific saint group through the relationship 'belongs to the group' . For example 'Brénainn m. Findloga' will be linked to 'Brénainn (ns)' via 'belongs to the group'. Meanwhile 'Brénainn (ns)' will be 'a group which contains' 'Brénainn m. Findloga' (and any other Brénainn who has been included in the database).

Other relationships are the following:

  • Sometimes confused with (This applies to recent antiquarian or modern confusion)
  • Cult sometimes merges with (This is where stories attached to one saint have leaked into traditions about another; it might be a Medieval confusion)
  • Belongs to the group (This will be selected for every specific saint, and refers to that saints association with a (ns) saint)
  • Is a group with includes (This will be selected for every non-specific saint, and refers to the specific saints included in the (ns) group)
  • Same as (ie The saints might have their origins in a single individual)

Related personal names

For all specific saints at least one entry will be made here: the primary name of the saint. This does not need a source. For example, Berach m. Amairgin with be linked with the name Berach (obviously). Otherwise, the other personal names attached to a saint must be given sources (Lives, Martyrologies etc). An entry will not be made for (ns) saints.

Feast Days

Saints frequently have more than one feast day, so each one is listed together with the source of information. For most insular saints a reference to the saint in a calendar is given, but for some insular saints, and most non-insular and universal saints a reference might instead be given to a source such as ODS which summarises the evidence from calendars.

Many calendars, especially early Irish calendars such as the Martyrology of Tallaght, do not identify a saint by more than a personal name: Berach, Fintan, Eithne, or whatever. It will be noted when this is case, as the attachment of a particular saint to a specific feast day can therefore be insecure.

Work on feast days is not yet complete, so the absence of a feast day associated with a saint does NOT mean the saint does not have one. When this section of the project is finished, however, it can be assumed that a consistent culling of data from calendars has been done, using the guidelines which follow.

For insular saints the following calendars will be searched. All appearances of the saint will be entered. So if a calendar from the list is not mentioned with respect to a particular saint, it means that the saint is not present there, NOT that we simply have not noted it:

Irish Calendars

  • FO (main text only – the notes added to the various manuscripts will be in the 'notes' section)
  • Mart T
  • Mart G
  • Mart Do

The Irish / Latin will be usually given in full. Translation will be given in most cases. When the entry is very long (eg Mart. Do) the most important sections of Irish is given, along with a summary of what is in the whole, in English.

Scottish Calendars

  • Mart. Ab
  • K. Brev. Ab.
  • Adam King
  • Glenorchy Psalter
  • Ferne
  • Easter Foulis

The actual entry is not quoted in every case.

Entries from other calendars are made, but it is to be understood that they have not been comprehensively used.

For universal or non-insular there may only be a reference to ODS. This will be entered in the 'secondary source' field. Apart from ODS the only other feast-day source that will be always be consulted for universal or continental saints is the Calendar of the Aberdeen Breviary.